India is a functioning democracy. It has a parliamentary system that was established in 1950 with the adoption of India's constitution, which followed its independence from Great Britain. That constitution was modeled on the one that established Britain’s democratic system. There is a prime minister, elected from the Parliament by...
India is a functioning democracy. It has a parliamentary system that was established in 1950 with the adoption of India's constitution, which followed its independence from Great Britain. That constitution was modeled on the one that established Britain’s democratic system. There is a prime minister, elected from the Parliament by a vote of the majority party (or coalition of parties), who functions as head of government, and there is a president who serves a mostly ceremonial role, albeit one with a certain level of legitimacy when it comes to arbitrating disputes within the government.
India’s democratic system has proven resilient, which is a testament to the population’s commitment to individual freedom and regional autonomy. On the latter issue, India leans more in the direction of a confederacy than a federation, but there is no question that the central government in Delhi holds the ultimate authority over macroeconomic matters and the conduct of foreign and defense policies. In my opinion, where India’s democracy is imperfect—as most democracies are, to some degree—is in its adherence to the caste system that limits opportunities for those born of the lower socioeconomic classes. Also importantly, India is more ethnically and religiously diverse than many people may think. One of the country’s most important demographic characteristics is its division between a large Hindu majority and a sizable (14 percent of the total population) minority Muslim population. While India’s Muslim population accounts for only 14 percent of the population, it numbers around 180 million people, making it one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. Tensions between Hindus and Muslims are often tense and sometimes break out into violence—violence that can be exploited by India’s enemy Pakistan. These religious divisions threaten the country’s commitment to democracy because the depth of antagonism between the two groups runs so deep. Finally, the strengths of local and state governments have grown, along with challenges to the central government's authority and legitimacy.
These and other problems (e.g., corruption) aside, there is no question that India is a democratic country. Power has regularly swung back and forth between the two main political parties—the Congress Party and the more overtly nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—and elections are an important component of India’s political and social structures.