Democracy failing: India

Western commentators frequently extoll the benefits of liberal democracy, living in a bubble that democracy is the only good system, the system that will undoubtedly bring the most net benefit to the world and its people.

However, the divergence in living standards and difference in governance efficiency between India and China since the 80s have shown that such a view is extremely narrowminded and not steeped in reality.


India has fallen into the communalism trap that is a common pitfall of democracies with non-homogenous, uneducated populations.

In recent years, India’s founding principles secular pluralism have been eroded. Indian democracy has led to the majority electing a Hindu nationalist government and people of all communities being attacked by other communities. Their recently passed laws that attack citizenship rights of Muslims led to riots which killed at least 46 people, injured hundreds and set houses, shops, mosques on fire.

Such communal violence is usually instigated by politicians who benefit from its effects. It’s not the fault of the individual politicians, its a symptom of the problem with democracy in less developed countries, where an uneducated population is more easy to get riled up and instigated, hence politicians play with communal issues to drum up support in elections.

India’s communal violence proves that liberal democracy is not a magic bullet that will automatically be better in terms of human rights, compared to one-party or autocratic states.


Another common trap for democracies is populism, whereby leaders, due to the need to gain votes in elections do things that are popular but is a negative in the long term.

This is perhaps the reason why India has been unable to match China’s growth, because it creates bad policies that pander to the uneducated voting bloc, rather than good policies that are unpopular.

Some examples include:

  • subsidies to farmers, causing unskilled labour to remain unskilled and reducing social mobility
  • land rights that make it hard to acquire land, thus making infrastructure more expensive and harder to build
  • allowing states to enact their own official languages

Political bickering

Populism is very often exacerbated by political bickering from opposing forces such as opposition parties, foreign NGOs, environmental groups, etc.

Political bickering is part and parcel of democracy. Even developed Western countries are full of petty politicians that bicker and exaggerate issues in order to attack their opposing side.

In India it is particularly brutal due to the nature of being the world’s second most populous country in addition to being split into dozens of states with powers of their own. As a result it is hard to pass laws regardless of whether they are good, and the monster of bureaucracy and corruption are allowed to fester, greatly reducing the country’s efficiency, creating an environment bad for business and economic growth.


India shows that the thinking that as long as a country is democratic, it will definitely be better than an autocratic one is deeply flawed.

India is particular relevant because it proves that China’s model of one-party meritocracy can function better than democracy. It proves that democracy neither guarantees development nor better human rights, and autocracy neither guarantees economic failure nor human rights violations.

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