Kanchan Chandra

Democracy in India and its Dysfunctions

The talk is based on an essay that proposes an explanation for the puzzle of why democracy in India is both deeply legitimate and deeply dysfunctional. It is deeply legitimate in the sense that direct elections are held regularly for millions of positions, citizens participate at greater rates than most established democracies (India now has the largest number of parties in the world and probably the greatest number of contestants for office, as well as comparable turnout rates), and most believe that democracy is preferable to any other form of government. It is dysfunctional in that it is corrupt, violent, dynastic, and fails to deliver basic public goods to the very populations that vote for it in such large numbers. This essay argues that the source of both the consolidation and dysfunctions of Indian democracy is the same: a large patronage-driven state. The patronage-based nature of Indian democracy explains both why most citizens have such a strong stake in democracy and also why that democracy has taken a dysfunctional form. Efforts at reforming the dysfunctions by restructuring the state may not be easy because this also involves weakening the roots of democratic legitimacy in India.

This Lecture is part of the Mellon Foundation New International Studies Lecture Series