An Indian lesson: it’s democracy, stupid!


Democracy is more than elections. It requires institutions. It requires rule of law. It has been 63 years since India declared itself a republic. Yet the country is in many ways a de facto monarchy. At the national level, one family has largely remained in power since 1947. This has led to tragic consequences for the country.

America’s founding fathers created a system with a separation of powers. The legislative, executive and judiciary were all supposed to keep each other in check so that the young nation would not find itself under the yoke of a home grown tyrant after kicking out a foreign one. Concentration of power is generally a bad thing, whether such a concentration is with the government, a party, a church or a family.

In India, despite the existence of a democracy, power is wielded by influential families. In a country of nearly 1.2 billion people elections are hideously expensive. A mere 550 members of parliament (MPs) represent this massive population as compared to 650 representing 62 million in the UK or 435 representing 313 million in the US. Indian politicians have to reach out to massive constituencies. To fund and run a campaign, they need a lot of cash and a massive election machine. Dynasties, therefore, have a natural advantage and today, all MPs under the age of 30 have inherited power.

India no longer has functioning institutions. Power is held by families and individuals. The police are dysfunctional: they retain colonial era coercive powers but are starved of resources. Far too often, the police refuse to register crimes unless the victim is rich or powerful. The judiciary is worse. Millions of cases are pending and citizens have to bribe court officials for their cases to be put on trial. Increasingly, judges are for sale and justice is often not just delayed but denied. Simply put, the constitutional machinery of the Indian state is functioning through extra-constitutional means. This means that might is right and there is no rule of law left in the country.

India needs urgent reforms. The dynasties want the status quo to continue. No one wants to cede power or opportunities to amass wealth willingly, and the ruling families of India are no exception.

Concentration of power for too long in the hands of one dynasty is a recipe for disaster. The Nehru dynasty has created a system where all power is concentrated in its hands. The Congress party resembles the North Korean Communist Party with one generation seamlessly ascending to the throne after another. It has wrecked all institutions of the state, including the military and the judiciary. At the same time, India’s growing population has increasing aspirations. Pressure on India’s resources is increasing and different parts of this diverse country are pulling in divergent directions. Without reform, the Indian state is in real danger of collapse.

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About the Author

The Corner
The Corner has a team of on-the-ground reporters in capital cities ranging from New York to Beijing. Their stories are edited by the teams at the Spanish magazine Consejeros (for members of companies’ boards of directors) and at the stock market news site Consenso Del Mercado (market consensus). They have worked in economics and communication for over 25 years.

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