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India’s democracy has its flaws but it is still a democracy

July 30, 2009
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India is very proud of her democracy, despite the wheeling and dealing that goes on. But according to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy* India is not a full democracy. It’s a flawed democracy. That’s difficult to argue with. It’s not just the electoral process, political culture, political participation, and pluralism which is taken into account while taking the democracy score, but also indicators like voter turnout, civil liberties, the functioning of government and political participation.

The 165 countries and two territories which were measured were categorised under four types of regimes:

Full democracies (30 countries)
Flawed democracies (50)
Hybrid regimes (36)
Authoritarian regimes (51)

Full Democracies: It isn’t surprising to know that countries in Western Europe as well as the U.S.A, Australia, Canada, Japan and the UK are in this group. What may not be so commonly known is that countries like Malta, the Czech Republic, Costa Roca, Slovenia, Uruguay and Mauritius are also full democracies.

Flawed Democracies: India is a flawed democracy and for company we have countries like South Africa, Chile, Taiwan, Poland, Hungary, Israel, Thailand, Mexico, Argentina, Indonesia, Peru and the Philippines.

Hybrid regimes: Singapore, Hong Kong, Ghana, Kenya, Pakistan, Russia, Bhutan and Iraq fall in this category. It’s a little disconcerting to see a successful state like Singapore clubbed alongwith Iraq and Pakistan.

Authoritarian regimes: Countries like Jordan, Egypt, Rwanda, Kuwait, China, Afghanistan, Iran, the UAE, Cuba and Saudi Arabia are in this category.

Overall democracy trends show that there has been a stagnation in the growth of democracy in the world in the past few years. According to The Economist, the democratic ideal has suffered due to the tarnished image of American democracy and also the fact that America supports certain authoritarian regimes while trying to impose democracy on others.

A democracy gene?
But why are countries the way they are? There is no single factor like economic status, size or even geography which explains why some are democracies and some aren’t or never were. The history of the nation seems to be a critical factor and makes me wonder if, like people, countries too have genes, genes developed over hundreds and hundreds of years. But just like in people, environmental factors can override the genes or trigger them. At times the country is a victim of circumstances and is plagued with problems almost beyond its control.

However what seems to be true is that democracy cannot be enforced. It’s like hitting a person over the head and telling him to become something.  Democracy, like any human trait, is developed over many years, and it needs the right environment. However, unlike people, countries need never lose hope because they live on indefinitely. But if the country thinks that democracy is useless, there is no point.

Where Russia is concerned this is what the Economist report says:

Most Russians appear unperturbed by the trend towards authoritarianism. During the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, many Russians came to associate the term “democracy” with chaos, and “capitalism” was synonymous with rigged privatisations, the rise of the “oligarchs” and widespread poverty.

Finally, it depends on the people.

The countries in Eastern Europe made efforts to improve their democratic values to get themselves into the EU (this is what the Economist says) but now they are sliding back to their “natural” state. True, there hasn’t been any change in regime type but their democratic scores have decreased over the last couple of years. One cannot say what this portents for the future but it does seem as if it is going to be two steps forward and one step backwards for Eastern Europe.

The Chinese government is resisting pressure to turn itself into a democracy, although there have been people like Lord Chris Patten (the man who was at the helm in Hong Kong when it was handed over to the Chinese), who believe that economic progress will make the Chinese people demand democracy. However the history of China goes against this happening anytime soon, however well it develops economically. And considering what is happening to Hong Kong today it doesn’t seem as if the Chinese government is going to allow democracy in a hurry. In the last couple of years Hong Kong changed from a flawed democracy to hybrid regime. One step backwards. What is the next step? The history of  Hong Kong is in its favour, its people are not going to take kindly to any type of authoritarianism…unless it happens so slowly that they don’t even know what happened. If anyone has patience, it’s China.

Another country in Asia, Bangladesh, changed from a flawed democracy to hybrid regime and this was a backward step.

The good news for Asia is that South Korea became a full fledged democracy from a flawed one, and Thailand became a flawed democracy from a hybrid regime. Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan went from from authoritarian to hybrid.

Democratic trends in the developed west are not healthy
Italy is doing well (became a full democracy from a flawed one) but many western countries had lower scores as compared to the previous few years. This is said to be because of the rise of  “extreme political parties and anti-immigrant forces” and also because of a curb on civil liberties due to terrorism. There has also been a significant decline in political participation in the UK. In fact the UK has the lowest score on political participation in the developed West and this “includes voting turnout, membership of political parties, willingness to engage in and attitudes to political activity”. If this goes on I think the definition of democracy itself will have to change!

Where India is concerned we have our problems. Weak state institutions, insurgencies, terrorism, illiteracy, poverty…. but the great thing we have the democracy gene and can hope one day to be a full democracy. The good news is that no dictator will be able to get such a huge geographical and diverse area such as India under his/her thumb. No invader has managed it in India’s history.

*Note: The Index provides current state of democracy worldwide for 165 independent states and two territories (this covers almost the entire population of the world and the vast majority of the world’s independent states (27 micro states are excluded).

Related Reading: Our elected representatives don’t really represent us
Some reasons for the outcome of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections
India’s dynasty politics needs to go
Antulay’s vote bank politics
Between horse traders and traitors who is left?
Does India see itself as sharing common values with the west?

105 Comments leave one →
  1. vasudev permalink
    July 30, 2009 11:59 am

    is india democratic? i thought it was autocratic.

    • July 30, 2009 3:22 pm

      I am challenging your verdict and expressing my thoughts freely. Hence, it is democratic. If my comment is barred by Nita, certainly this blog (of an Indian citizen)will become autocratic 🙂

    • vasudev permalink
      July 31, 2009 3:01 pm

      i had a point in mind when i asked this question.
      democracy in india represents those odd or even parliamentary seats.
      each parliamentary seat represents a certain section of the society.
      each section of the society puts forth candidates based on its own lack of comprehension.
      and because a people, who lack comprehension, put together a system (which they did not understand to start with) called it ‘democracy’ and elected a certain chap (or chappies) from their society and these chappies got together to elect their own masters and these masters got together to pay homage to a certain family, the retention of their seats and honors being dependant upon continuous submission before the petal feet of the ultimate home of autocrats.
      so whither democracy?

  2. July 30, 2009 12:19 pm


    Thank you very much for this wonderful, painstakingly written post. Worth every word’s weight in gold.

  3. July 30, 2009 12:29 pm


    I have experienced both India and the UK as “democracies” as an adult. I read the EIU article but not going over all the tables in detail, instead focusing on definitions of “full” and “flawed”. The 4 criteria are duly noted. My minor comment here is that it is laughable to suggest that somehow the UK is a full democracy and India is a flawed one.

    You have known me long enough to know that I do not say this out of some misplaced pride for India or out of some grudge against the UK. I love the ability to live in both the countries and prefer them to all the other countries I have lived in.

    But objectively speaking, if any of the civil servants here in the UK were transposed to India’s enormous and highly heterogeneous context of policy implementation, most would run back home. I say this based on the royal mess they make of running this country with 65M people with around 1M civil servants at various levels. As they say in America, do the maths 🙂

    Proof, pudding, eating come to mind and it is safe to say, that as far as the democratic as a citizen is concerned, I have eaten enough pudding in both countries :-/

    • July 30, 2009 12:30 pm

      Erratum: the democratic “experience”. Sorry about the oversight.

  4. July 30, 2009 12:41 pm

    ” that no dictator will be able to get such a huge geographical and diverse area such as India under his/her thumb. No invader has managed it in India’s history.”

    Which why it is more other places ,the people are together even under a different rule. Where as here , we have had quarrelsome kings and rulers in the past. Also it is very easy to divide the society on the whole , because all it takes is to say , “our religion says this…..” and there you have riots , people being burnt etc..

    I don’t doubt our democratic genes , for we have had the worlds greatest thinkers among us..but then let us not forget that it takes a lot get any sort of acceptance from our people..and the second someone does gain acceptance , we have the tendency to worship them..

    Apart from that , we have seen our politicians and/or goondas having “control” over certain areas..we can for all we know have them trying to take over some state…

    Yet democracy never the less becomes the biggest of all hypocrisies because of the various forces…but then a hypocritical system is the only one which can rule hypocrites 😛

  5. July 30, 2009 2:31 pm

    Singapore is not a true democracy because it is not an electoral democracy…Since independence, the country has had only one party – the PAP…It’s success is therefore not due to democracy but rather its market related economic policies which it has been able to achieve because it is not a democracy…

  6. July 30, 2009 3:25 pm

    I believe in justice and freedom of thought ,not in democracy. Since democracy fulfill my needs, hence it is best optimum solution for governance in India.

  7. July 30, 2009 3:39 pm

    Indian democracy means,
    100 % of Indian People Eligible to vote.
    In that about 75% will have Voting rights due to various reasons including transfers,nonregistration of names…etc.
    In that 50 % of polling.
    In that finally the winning candiate will get about 3o% of votes due to multi party system.
    The final 30% votes of winning candiate is equal to less than 10% of eligible voters.
    This is Indian Democracy.
    Their should be negative voting or first vote,second vote,third vote choice.

  8. July 30, 2009 4:01 pm

    Nita,what surprised me was the list of full Democracies.I must confess I would never imagine that some of the countries in that list are full Democracies.
    As far as we are concerned,well,most of the institutions have been systamtically corrupted by taking us into the list of flawed Democracy.The least one would expect is free press and justice.We have accepted this form of governance in India so long as it does not take us towards the state of affairs as in our neighbourhood.

  9. July 30, 2009 5:40 pm

    India with Thailand? No!
    For all our flaws, I still believe India is a democracy, and one that functions well most of the times! We are a young country, and still grappling with the enormous population and bad leaders….we should give ourselves a pat on the back and a kick on the backside of the politicians!
    The best part is, we can be sure that India will never turn authoritarian or military like Pakistan has…….India Gandhi tried it and failed when she was voted out!

  10. July 30, 2009 6:32 pm

    The factors of measurement are:
    1. “Whether national elections are free and fair”;
    2. “The security of voters”;
    3. “The influence of foreign powers on government”;
    4. “The capability of the civil servants to implement policies”.

    I’m curious to know which metric hampers India’s rating. Currently India’s rating is 7.8. Full democracies lie in the 7.9+ range. So we are almost there (according to the people who apparently could measured this.)

    • July 30, 2009 6:57 pm

      Don’t you think India falls short in the first two. There are enough places in India where the elections are not fair.
      Maybe that’s why the rating fall short a little bit.

  11. wishtobeanon permalink
    July 30, 2009 7:27 pm

    Great post, Nita. I liked the way you mentioned a country gene. I like to compare a country to a family. If the parents or one of the parents are authoritarian, the family may seem outwardly successful, but the children may not be happy and will rebel. If the parents are permissive, they will not set any standards or expectations for their children. The children will go unpunished even if they misbehave. Authoritative or democratic parents will set clear boundaries for children. Rules are enforced consistently and children are also expected to do chores around the house. I guess India falls somewhere between ‘permissive’ and ‘authoritative’. I remember that you had written a post on parenting in this blog.

  12. wishtobeanon permalink
    July 30, 2009 7:41 pm

    Oops…I meant democracy gene.

  13. Vinod permalink
    July 30, 2009 8:02 pm

    I think India’s democracy is weak due to –

    (i) the dominance of the minority upper castes over the majority lower castes, keeping them politically and administratively ignorant

    (ii) the unthinking opening up of the economy to multinational corporations without a clear development philosophy, the real price of which is paid by the rural poor and the adivasis. I don’t think there is a democratic basis for the development decisions being made in India; corporations, the World Bank and city populations are dictating the terms of development.

    (iii) a fractious society with historical antagonisms that is still to get democratic values in its blood; parochialism rules in India.

    • July 30, 2009 8:36 pm

      Vinod , I think it is not because of caste. It is because minority rich decides for majority poor.

    • Vinod permalink
      August 1, 2009 8:38 am

      There is a distinctly identifiable caste problem that should not get obfuscated by the factors that interplay in it.

      • August 1, 2009 9:58 am

        Vinod, can you deny the fact that a rich OBC have much more voice in Indian Politics than a poor Brahmin?

      • rags permalink
        August 1, 2009 11:44 am

        I agree with Vinod.. If you’re born a poor Dalit in rural India there’s a good chance that you will remain at the bottom of the barrel till you die. Social mobility is quite low in India inspite of reformations and caste is an important reason for that.

        • vasudev permalink
          August 1, 2009 1:18 pm

          rags…u say that despite reservations in some states exceeding 70% while the constitution allowed 50%?

          do u think the obc/sc/st parliamentarians have done anything to improve their rural lot? do u think famine in mp/orissa/bihar and other such lower cate dominated remote locations have been brought about by the apathy of upper caste when their own people are in the seats in majority?

          vinod: do u want to see brahmins working in sulabh sauchalay, pan shops, selling bananas and working in almost all sorts of dirty jobs (including assistants in butcher shops?)

          • rags permalink
            August 1, 2009 4:17 pm

            Yes, I say that despite “reservations in some states exceeding 70% while the constitution allowed 50%?”
            This 70% includes OBC reservations and I do have a lot of problem with the way they are implemented ( I feel they should be totally scrapped in some states).. But I don’t think reservations have helped the SCs and STs as much as we want them to be.

            Besides there are very few SC and ST parliamentarians so I don’t know what you’re complaining about.

            “do u think famine in mp/orissa/bihar and other such lower cate dominated remote locations have been brought about by the apathy of upper caste when their own people are in the seats in majority?”

            You’re confusing two problems here. The inefficiency in administration has nothing to do with them being lower caste or upper caste nor am I indicating that upper caste people have exclusively contributed to caste discrmination (the OBCs too discriminate against Dalits). You need to see this at a broader social level. Caste system is quite rampant at the village level (there are several villages in TN which still use the two tumbler system, maybe others can give examples from their own states) and caste is still a serious handicap for Dalits in all spheres of life like education, employment, opprtunities etc..

            “do u want to see brahmins working in sulabh sauchalay, pan shops, selling bananas and working in almost all sorts of dirty jobs”
            I don’t consider these jobs dishonourable or dirty, maybe low paying.. I don’t think there’s anything wrong if a Brahmin wants to sell bananas as long as he’s not forced to sell them (unlike people from certain castes who are not accomodated in other jobs because they were previously manual scavengers….) Yes, there has been several such cases and I think it’s really sad.

            • vasudev permalink
              August 1, 2009 4:30 pm

              [But I don’t think reservations have helped the SCs and STs as much as we want them to be.]

              so who or what is the problem here? (in relation to vinod’s statements)

              [The inefficiency in ‘administration’ has nothing to do with them being lower caste or upper caste]

              and yet you complain there aren’t many sc/st parliamentarians.

              • vasudev permalink
                August 1, 2009 4:52 pm

                [Caste system is quite rampant at the village level (there are several villages in TN which still use the two tumbler system]

                i agree here. this should go. there are walls separating the two. someone broke the wall recently. more walls shud go. no objection.

                [do u want to see brahmins working in sulabh sauchalay, pan shops, selling bananas and working in almost all sorts of dirty jobs]

                recently there was a case in up when dalits objected to brahmins encroaching upon their ‘traditional’ job. so what do they want?” do they want to retain the scavenger job while aiming and aspiring for administator post? i am confused here.

                and the oft repeated story about oppression for 5000 yrs is quite boring. i think all the reserved category must consider themselves as the ‘ragged’ and take an oath not to ‘rag’ when they are in similar position. what riles me is that they quickly forget the purpose for which they came into power and run after the so called ‘upper casts’ and prostrate before them to have a portion of the cake. this happens in political/administrative/govt circles and yet the blame eventually falls on the upper castes. so who is doing a bit of self sacrifice for the benefit of their ilk?

                • rags permalink
                  August 1, 2009 7:06 pm

                  “recently there was a case in up when dalits objected to brahmins encroaching upon their ‘traditional’ job. so what do they want?”

                  Are we going to use exceptions to prove a point? I don’t exactly see people falling over themselves to do manual scavenging and given a chance most would want do something more hygienic.

                  “and the oft repeated story about oppression for 5000 yrs is quite boring. ”
                  It can never be repeated enough. Especially in a country like India with whitewashed textbooks and people in constant denial about themselves and their history.

                  “what riles me is that they quickly forget the purpose for which they came into power and run after the so called ‘upper casts’ and prostrate before them to have a portion of the cake. this happens in political/administrative/govt circles and yet the blame eventually falls on the upper castes. ”
                  If that is the case then you’re criticism is well deserved.

              • rags permalink
                August 1, 2009 6:57 pm

                Yes, I’m complaining that there aren’t enough SC,ST parliamentarians. This is not because I think that they are going to do a better job in administration than people from other castes or that they would somehow improve the state of other Dalits and tribes. What I want is visibility and recognition for Dalits at the political level (not just a token Mayawati) at a large scale. I want them to get more recognition and power.

                • vasudev permalink
                  August 1, 2009 7:49 pm

                  rags…merely putting them into parliament won’t help while they go there unrefined.

                  there is a famous theory by adam smith: the gist of which says:

                  ‘if all the wealth in the world were to be equally divided amongst all the earth’s inhabitants then the next second would be born a poor and a rich. ’cause as economists can only distribute wealths but not mend habits’

                  if you look deeper into it you would find that there is a profound sense in saying this. a junta cannot be put on steroids. that is false health and sense of well being. that will not cure. cure should be slow and root seeking.

        • August 1, 2009 3:19 pm

          Rags precisely my point. Poverty is the primary factor. Even a lower middle class Dalit can gain respect and power as proved by our honourable Supreme Court Chief Justice and Lok Sabha Speaker

    • vasudev permalink
      August 1, 2009 7:40 pm


      all your above statements are obscure to me. pray please elucidate…

      • Vinod permalink
        August 2, 2009 11:57 am

        Vasudev, I don’t mean to be rude but I’m pressed for time and can’t quite get into details. I can only leave some pointers.

        Have you heard of the Renuka dam story that is being constructed for providing water to the city of Delhi?
        And you’ve heard of the NBA movement – there are many other projects that are being implemented without thinking about the welfare and dignity of the people displaced by such projects or even if a plan is made for resettling them they are always short changed. The project gets priority over the lives of the poor and all this to feed the consumerism of the the city dwellers.
        As a nation of diverse cultures, we are yet to have the enlightenment of mind in handling such diversity, especially when certain cultures wish to assert theirs. And that is partly because of an aggressive national identity that gets peddled trampling over other sub-identities, which may be equally strong, if not stronger. We don’t quite understand the complexities in identity preservation movements.

        • vasudev permalink
          August 2, 2009 12:15 pm

          my uncle just lost half his house to make way for a kochi-calicut container road. so what?
          we lost a sizeable portion of our property for the nh47 expansion. so should not the nation build super-highways?
          plenty of people lost their entire land to allow the kochi international airport. and now vizhinjam port is claiming real estate which make many homeless. and remember…the govt compensates at govt rate which is not even 1/4th of the actual prevailing rate. all of us have to shell out our own savings to find new homes. so you can see that in one way or another someone somewhere is touched to make way for the nation’s progress. how would you make irrigation/power/highway/
          infrastructure projects etc unless you inconvenience someone else? it is a bit short-sighted (and i do not expect you to say this) to say that all these are being done to make city dwellers happy. everyone benefits from expansion plans which are progressive. more and more villages get electrified when power projects come up. village producr reach the farthest points the quicker if we have super-highways. industries come up which cater to the occupational needs of the rural and urban alike. so what are we complaining of? nehru did one good thing when he assumed charge. he went about industrialising india. at least today we are somewhat independant because of this far-sightedness of nehru.

          [As a nation of diverse cultures, we are yet to have the enlightenment of mind in handling such diversity, especially when certain cultures wish to assert theirs.]

          is it you who says this? c’mon man. which culture is trying to impose what and on whom? you need to come out openly with it! and as regards national identity! what identity are you talking about? that a nation tramples its own majority to the dust and gives all sorts of sops to the minority? can you name one such other nation which is so very tyrranical?

  14. July 30, 2009 8:09 pm

    Thank you Nita for posting abt this interesting study. Even though there may be a western bias it is a good exercise. Democracy in USA with so much emphasis on raising money from corporate donors for election funding is in my opinion inferior to many of the Western European countries. The fact that Obama is finding it difficult to pass a health bill that will ensure all Americans are assured of quality health care shows the strong links between the Senators and the Health/Insurance industry. I think Bangladesh will be promoted soon as the recent election was fairly free and fair.

  15. July 30, 2009 8:19 pm

    vasusdev, 🙂

    Mahendra, thanks.

    Shefaly, it was good to hear what you had to say. I am not a person to judge as I don’t know too much about the UK but you have seen both and its great to hear what you think about India.

    vishesh, i see what you mean. Our circumstances are a two-edged sword.

    sraboneyghose, its interesting to hear you say that you don’t think that Singapore could have achieved what it did if it had been a democracy.

    yayaver, justice and freedom of thought…that is what democracy aims to deliver, but it doens’t always. I agree with you about the optimum solution.

    Kumar, yes India has some way to go to improve its system.

    BK Chowla, me too was surprised by some of these countries.

    shilpadesh, Indira failed badly didn’t she! yes, I too thought of her.

    Priyank, now you are making me feel guilty. When I was writing this post I thought I should analyse what they said about India (the information is there somewhere) but I was short of time.

    • rags permalink
      July 30, 2009 8:58 pm

      Democracy is one thing we Indians can be proud about. As of now Naxalism seems to be the biggest threat to it.

      This govt. says they are going to tackle Naxalism on a war footing. They should take lessons from Pak. Home grown terror will swallow up Indian democracy. – Nita

      • vasudev permalink
        July 31, 2009 10:34 am

        rags…naxalism is the offshoot of democracy suppressed. so we already have side-effects.

  16. Naveen permalink
    July 30, 2009 9:22 pm

    When it comes to Democracy, my hero is Thomas Jefferson. It always wonders me how this one man could think of equality, pluralism and representative democracy in 1700s, when the entire world at that time was built on heirarchial structures. America, I think, has never lived up to the vision of its Founding fathers.

    Democracy started on a wrong note for us. T.N.Seshan has to be credited with atleast the present state of democracy in India. Although, it is interesting to note that he had to take an authoritarian role to correct the flawed democracy.

    • July 30, 2009 9:52 pm

      Regarding jefferson – You should read a book like “Native America – Discovered and Conquered” (look it up on Amazon) to know that his “equality, pluralism, representative democracy” etc. was well ….. selective 🙂 ! Sure, him and some people of his time had great, progressive ideas, but they had skeletons in their closets, and also deep rooted flaws (which went against the grain of those exact ideas) as well.


      • Naveen permalink
        July 30, 2009 11:32 pm

        Yes, there were atrocities committed on Native Americans during that time. But Jefferson, I think, was an exception. He urged his countrymen to abandon hostility to the natives (the first to do so).

        Yes, he moved natives to the west of mississipi after all talks failed. We have to realize that we are talking about a different timepoint in history. Talking about his rationality here is like complaining that Mahatma Gandhi was a Homophobe. We certainly have the advantage of seeing everything in a more refined view point today. And we should not forget that this progress has been made by people like Jefferson. As for Critics, they are aplenty- whose life, if put under the same microscope- will tell an entirely different story.

        • July 31, 2009 12:31 am

          Please read the book – you may change your mind. He was certainly no exception but in fact was a huge proponent at expanding the then American nation at the expense of the Native Americans (basically cheating them out of their own lands). But it was not like he advocated slaughter or anything – may be you thought I meant that.

          The trouble is that at the heart of it all is a legacy of colonization (it was “law” then) that as soon as Europeans (i.e. countries that colonized) landed on the American soil (or any new land for that matter), and planted a flag on the coast, the land immediately “legally” belonged to them, and thus (a) the native inhabitants lost their right to own them (without ever participating in any deal) (b) lost their right to do commerce with any nation other than the European nation whose representatives did the first landing.

          Now these were of course the old Colonization rules. The american nation was supposedly fighting for their own self representation – but conveniently hung on to these rules, when it fit them. And Jefferson in particular used them aggressively to basically force the Native Americans to simply accede more and more (forced economics played a rule too). Now is this unique? Not really – they simply played t he part of conquerer. But it rings a highly discordant note in that “tune” of being “completey free” nation which they proclaimed – that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. It didnt really apply to all men did it? Or more brutally, they never though to include the people whose lands were colonized among “men”. Of course, that would have meant that the morality for them being the owners of very land would have been in serious jeopardy. Note also that its not like at that time it was history. During Jefferson’s time, the interaction between these people and native americans (good and bad) was still going on. Basically, morality here was also selective – but it is only so because it was a matter of survival 🙂


          • July 31, 2009 1:04 am

            Arun, you make good points in your comments and I agree. Two questions, and please excuse my lack of knowledge here. Were the Native Americans living in perfect harmony with each other before the Europeans arrived? Did they not attack and kill members of other tribes and take their lands?

            My questions are not to excuse or justify the wrongdoings done to Native Americans, or to excuse the injustices done to them even today.

            • July 31, 2009 1:57 am

              Most certainly they were fighting with each other. Land exchange was by conquest like elsewhere in the world and through history. Although not really better, atleast there both parties engage themselves and thus know what is at stake, and who lost etc. The colonization “rule” is especially devious in that all you had to do was plant a flag – and you attained ownership of the land. No thought is given to the rights of those who already inhabited it. The colonizers basically believed them to be uncivilized (and thus stuff like ownership etc. didnt apply) and that colonization is a way of improving their lives. The only thing given is inhabitants can reside in that land as long as they want – but that they already had 🙂

              Anyway, this is besides the topic at hand. I suggest you read the book. It is very good – and although it is certainly from the Native American point of view, support for views are gathered from actual official papers (since lot of the above was actually law).


              • July 31, 2009 8:38 pm

                This “planting of flag to claim the territory” forms the basis of several computer games too!

            • Vinod permalink
              July 31, 2009 7:59 am


              There was a code of honour in the way native Americans fought among themselves. The whites had no such code when they fought the native Americans. Anything was game.

              • July 31, 2009 6:46 pm


                A code of honor would imply that a nation-wide meeting was held with representatives from different tribes, and a code of honor agreed upon. I’d love to read about it – could you please suggest a book or a link? Thanks.

              • Vinod permalink
                August 1, 2009 8:41 am

                I saw it in a documentary. There is a google video titled ‘history of racism’. I think it was in that. If not that, there is another google video on the history of the English language. It may have been in that too.

        • July 31, 2009 12:38 am

          To clarify: I am not saying we should forget the progressive ideas of people like Jefferson – or that we should discount them because of these. They certainly shaped a lot of very good ideas. But we shouldn’t presume those people were all good, of impeccable ideals or “overall they were only good” – it obviously wouldn’t be so for the native americans.


          • Naveen permalink
            July 31, 2009 10:07 am

            I borrowed the book from the Library and browsed through it. I am impressed and thank you for bringing it to my attention. This part of the story somehow got out of the history books. As you said, with these revelations we cannot discount Jefferson’s contributions. It certainly reveals to the world that the ‘oracle’ of reason competed with the contemporary British, French and the Spanish colonial powers for expansionism -at the cost of native lives.

      • August 1, 2009 3:09 am

        He should write a similar book on Australia too. 😉

  17. July 30, 2009 9:45 pm

    Come on Nita! All democracies as flawed 🙂 – because humans aren’t perfect.

    It is a flaw to depend to arbitrarily draw a line saying all democracies above this line are “full” in spite of flaws (i.e. < 10 score across the board), and those below are "flawed". So a government with 7.99 on the scale is a "flawed democracy" but one with "8.00" is a "full democracy"? When you look at it this way, you see the downright in this labeling.

    But then is perhaps modeled after the US grading scheme (i.e. A B C D). The report would be be lot more useful without this noise.

    Although I am skeptical if it accounts for all the wheelings and dealings in the advanced countries, I think the study is still very useful. Irrespective of above, one can compare how your country does in some important areas against others, and see where we can do better.


    Arun, I know what you mean. A grading system needs to be taken with a pinch of salt but as you said it is still better than nothing. – Nita

  18. July 30, 2009 10:23 pm

    After India’s freedom, the poverty in midst of so much social hierarchies, geographical and cultural variations, illeteracy and orthodox thoughts, our Democratic system’s efficiency has been highly reduced.How can a population of low intelligence choose a right goverment? I still beleive in democracy but not its sudden acceptance just after 1947.

    Amit, don’t ever underestimate the intelligence of poor voters. – Nita

  19. July 30, 2009 11:06 pm

    Thanks for posting it Nita. Since you explicetly mentioned Russia I have to comment 🙂

    The spirit of democracy shoul be there, I think I got your point right. The thing is Russia does not know any other form that authoritarian (at least not in the last 1000 years) and moreover people are being said that they need “a strong hand” – this brainwash goes on all the time. It is a certain mentality which is not easy to get rid of. Same for many Easten- European countries.
    On the one hand I see it like something shoudl be done about it, but on the other – is the so called democracy the real thing? I mean the real democracy is not being practiced anywhere.
    Democracy had many roots, from the Icelandic council to the Swiss “Landsgemeinde”. All these communities were small by today`s standards. According to the Greek founding fathers, the people cannot assume power beyond the size of a relatively small city. As larger collective grew, checks and balances were lost, leaving the modern ship without mooring.
    ““Demos” means the people, “kratos” means power. However, who is the real ruler when the people rule? Nobody? Everybody? Or somebody. ” my fav quote.

    Axinia, as you said real democracy is hard to practice but one needs to have an ideal to aspire to. – Nita

  20. July 31, 2009 2:07 am

    I think that, before anything, we should understand democracy as a principle of authority. As a principle of authority, democracy says that people are sovereign and power has to come from them. If the people feel that someone should not be power than he or she shouldnt, and in India we seem to have that part of democracy down, from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu.

    But in as much as democracy is a principle of authority it is prone to some of the shortcomings that authority inherently brings, we see this in the nature of laws sometimes passed, not only in India but also in the developed world.

    However, the big problem in India is the nature of authority in our society. Right from a husband in a home to a ‘central’ bureaucrat in Delhi, authority, once established is seen as a divine right to dominate. This is evident in every social interaction in our country, from that between maids and their employers to that between a policeman and a civilian.

    Can changing the principle of authority in a society change the nature of authority in it ?

    This is the big question for Indian democracy.

    Thats a very good point Vikram. We tend to see authority figures with a certain element of awe and fear. This I think will start to happen when those in authority are held accountable and punished by the judiciary for their misdemeanors. – Nita

    • Vinod permalink
      July 31, 2009 7:52 am

      Vikram, isn’t there an aspect of democracy that has to do with post-election governance and accountability? Usually this aspect is not emphasized enough and having elections is seen as sufficient to establish democracy. Democracy has to be kept alive even between elections. Don’t you agree? How good is India in that?

      • July 31, 2009 8:26 am

        Vinod, at the minimum democracy is a principal for establishing authority. And I feel, India has succeeded at establishing this principle. But like you say, this is only a very minimalist idea. Try to think of Indian democracy beyond this point and it comes across as very weak and patchy.

        The keys here are information and social relations. The more substantive aspects of democracy rely on the majority of the people being well informed and people respecting each others dignity and self-respect. As far as information is concerned I think India is headed in the right path, I will refer you to the book ‘India’s Newspaper Revolution’ by Robin Jeffrey. Do take a look, you will learn a lot.

        As far as social relations are concerned, I am not so sure. Much of urban, well-to-do India today displays a very callous and aggressive materialism and for the most part practices a very territorially possessive nationalism. Without the active involvement of the middle class masses accountability will be very difficult. I hope that this is just a phase and the Indian middle class grows up, and that middle class India learns to respect the values of the Republic.

  21. July 31, 2009 7:11 am

    An important point that this Economist group ignored is whether there is public funding of election or not. Many of the democracies has become flawed because of the strong links between big money and the election.
    In India for example the National Election Watch has shown that the more rich you are more the chance of becoming an MP. If you are worth less than 1 million your chance of winning is 0.44%while if you are worth more than 50 million your chance of winning is 33%.See the details here
    This is regarding the declared personal assets of candidates only and if you include Corporate donations also things become murkier.

    Charakan, I think the survey just looked at the symptoms and not the causes. I agree with you that funding of political parties is something that needs to be streamlined. It will help better candidates to come along. – Nita

  22. July 31, 2009 7:44 am


    In Singapore, free speech is banned…You cannot disagree with the government or support opposing ideas…The media is controlled by the government…It is because of this that I say Singapore has been able to achieve what it has in such a short period of time (44 yrs.)…

    • Vinod permalink
      July 31, 2009 7:58 am

      While that is true about Singapore, what catched me as astonishing is that the people in Singapore trust their authoritarian govt immensely!! And to the credit of this govt, they have done a splendid job over the decades since 1960. They do have a long term vision of their country. They pick leaders who have such visions and the qualities to work through differences. The MPs are highly qualified (professors and lawyers).

      One has to ask whether this is sustainable. It is no doubt systemically flawed. But few think about this when the country is doing as good as Singapore is. I think it ranks fourth in the world on the Happy Planet Index. (I believe it’s the best place on earth to be – my personal opinion). The mentality of the people is “Why change it if it works?”. It’s hard to argue free speech in such a scenario.

      • July 31, 2009 8:33 am

        I am not sure if we can compare governance in a tiny island state with its borders completely closed to the more poorer neighbors around it with India. There are many other factors also involved considering the colonial status of Singapore and its location on trade routes.

      • Vinod permalink
        July 31, 2009 10:31 am

        Singapore is hardly comparable with India when studying democracy. But it is more comparable with Hong Kong which took a different approach than Singapore and achieved an equally good economic success with a more liberal polity.

    • vasudev permalink
      July 31, 2009 10:49 am

      therefore india is a hybrid regimental flawed democacy. here the media is controlled by the govt as and when they feel like acting regimental. most of the time they are flawed of course. but at times when they feel like lying through their teeth to cover-up for their flaws they threaten the media and tell them to print the official version only.

  23. July 31, 2009 10:25 am

    Surprisingly i have not scene people here mentioning the biggest drawback of India’s democracy..

    Politicians here have discovered a formula to win votes from the sick people..And that is to divide people on the name of Religon,Region and Caste..First two of above 3 criteria have attracted politicians to even kill people from certain religions and regions to win vote from the sick people…And the formula works well….. The win of BJP in Uttar Pradesh in the nineties, Win of again BJP(Modi) in Gujarat in recent years and the rise of MNS in maharashtra recently are glaring examples ………But we cant blame politicians solely for that…they do it because they know they will win votes by this

    Yes ofcourse Vivek. Caste and communal politics is a big flaw of our democracy and a direct result I think of our diversity. We should not blame our country for this because there will always be politicians who try and exploit the insecurities of people. I dont know at this point what is the solution for this. – Nita

  24. July 31, 2009 12:53 pm

    I also have the feeling that it depends from what really people are within and not from any definition or forms of governament. It’s really possibly that in the future these terms will not be used or researched like now because attention of the masses is shifting within their personal being and not towards the external controlling factors.

  25. July 31, 2009 5:53 pm

    but is india a functioning democracy ? largest of course. – with all the dynastic politics ? – i am not so sure.

    governance is both a science and an art , that every generation has to build for itself.

    Anrosh, I do believe that we are a functioning democracy, with flaws. And we have an ideal to aspire to. – Nita

  26. vasudev permalink
    July 31, 2009 9:37 pm

    my old friend, atanu dey, at whose site i was blogging prior to nita’s, has a philosophy called : ‘cargo cult democracy’.

    you can read about it here. quite interesting!

  27. July 31, 2009 10:37 pm

    Flawed or not, Indian Democracy does need to mature quickly. To begin with we need to overhaul our party system and to ensure democratic way of deciding electoral candidates instead of the present arbitrary nomination system. Candidates for a constituency must be required to announce their candidature at least two years in advance and electorate should be given a chance to evaluate their relative performance with respect to each other as well as the incumbent.

  28. August 2, 2009 1:58 pm

    I was in Tibet 2 years ago for a fortnight. You should have seen the animosity of Tibetans in Lhasa against the Han Chinese. Our guide did not speak much. ( He opened up after I told him my father actively fought against the Chinese in 1962). He said only one thing — the Governor of Lhasa town is always a Beijing Han Chinese, while free and fair elections are held to elect our city representative. That free and fair elected representative has no powers.

    He said that the Han Chinese have done lots to develop us economically. But we always remember that only a yellow skin from outside the borders of Tibet will hold power.

    • Vinod permalink
      August 3, 2009 1:03 pm

      The independence of Tibet is an example of POLITICIDE practiced by the Chinese, something that Indians plan to do with Kashmir.

  29. August 2, 2009 10:40 pm

    Nita, these are some of the people due to which we are still a democracy,

    They are the ones who have been imprisoned or even killed trying to fight against corruption and exploitation.

    We should have a day to commemorate these fighters.

    Thanks Vikram. I am glad that someone made such a list and I am sure many more names can be added to it. I agree with you, a memorial should be built in their name, because they too are soldiers, only unmourned ones. – Nita

    • Vinod permalink
      August 3, 2009 1:01 pm

      Vivek, thanks for sharing that. A much needed list for India.

  30. Vinod permalink
    August 3, 2009 1:01 pm

    Vikram, thanks for posting that. A very sobering appraisal of India.

  31. August 7, 2009 11:15 pm

    Like Singapore, Bhutan is also a classic example of how things went right with a traditional kingdom type of ruling. I think basically it depends on the type of people. If the people are good, anything works. Like for example in Germany, there is no one monitoring newspaper selling on streets it seems. People put the required amount and take the paper they require. Honesty needs to be in the blood, which we don’t have and are proud about it! Nothing will work with people like this.

    Destination Infinity

    • vasudev permalink
      August 7, 2009 11:22 pm

      how right!
      germany has this severe sense of national pride. do you think the fuhrer had anything to do with it?

    • August 8, 2009 5:04 pm

      Maybe in spite of the Fuherer? They are teaching the younger generation about the evils committed during the Nazi regime and are very particular to not repeat the mistakes and that the world does not see their country as Nazi’s.

      See this attitude in contrast with the British: They were the people who actually invented the ‘concentration camps’, exploited whole nations in the name of colonies and still are not ashamed about their activities!!

      Destination Infinity

      • vasudev permalink
        August 8, 2009 11:19 pm

        the german army was one proud and upright military force. with the ss breathing down their necks many top officers managed to keep their decency on. quite a few of the german military deserved the title ‘an officer and a gentleman’. particularly the ‘desert fox’ rommel. of great interest to me was the captaincy shown by the masters of ‘bismark’ and later the ‘scharnhost’ german battle ships which braved the hostile seas and finally met her watery end with no less than three british and four american battleships giving her full broadsides. german were great at technology even during those days when there was a virtual embargo upon germany due to the deeds of hitler. but still she managed to bring out great panzer divisions out of scrap.

      • August 9, 2009 12:15 am

        Germans have always been great with technology. Had they started their ship building earlier, they would have surpassed the British. But I don’t think they had the impetus to do so… except maybe during the Nazi regime. What particularly impressed me with Germany is their ability to face an enemy much larger than themselves. “They fought the whole world twice and almost won both the times” in the words of Winston Churchill says the story. And yes, Rommel was a great general no doubt.

        Destination Infinity

  32. vasudev permalink
    August 8, 2009 11:25 pm

    as regards the british, from once an empire where the sun never sets to now a kingdom from where the britishers leave in droves by the day. i met a britisher the other day. a youngish fellow who told me how difficult it was getting day by day and how many of them are shifting base to the us of a. from a once mighty christian empire with proper dress code, mannerisms and jeeves type butlers to long haired mannerless youngsters of today and 60% of britain converted to islam by hardcore pakistani mullahs. breeding ground of islamic militancy! that is what britain is today!

    • August 9, 2009 12:02 am

      That is surprising. The mullahs seem to have a talent or two… I thought it was the other way – christians converting muslims! That shows how much I am out of touch with world affairs. Good to know such things in blogs.

      I can understand if someone from India ‘wants’ to go to America. But people from Briton leaving to America en masse surprises me! Reasoning, given to human beings is the least of all used traits I guess! 🙂

      Destination Infinity

    • Vinod permalink
      August 9, 2009 7:36 am

      There are many statistics that show Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, in terms of converts only. Vasudev, warn your kid!! 😛

      • vasudev permalink
        August 9, 2009 9:39 am


        as of now we seem to be ok and my kids seem to have very ‘deep’ cultural values. we see to it that they continue to be in touch with their own gods. but future? who knows?

        • rags permalink
          August 9, 2009 3:10 pm

          Being in touch with God. Hmm.. I wonder.. Why is is that when we talk to God we’re praying,but when God talks to us we’re schizophrenic?

          • vasudev permalink
            August 9, 2009 5:04 pm

            good question! search me! but i think we are not that threatened as are all those with sri repeated twice and those who do not pay barbers or those who have a hugging disease.

      • rags permalink
        August 9, 2009 10:25 am

        Yep, people do have a tendency to gravititate towards black and white mode of thinking , heuristic shortcuts, extremism and life is much more easier when they have a set of rules to do everything. As much as we’d like to believe most people value free thinking and independent thought, history is littered with instances which point to the contrary.

      • Vinod permalink
        August 9, 2009 10:55 am

        Rags, you spoke my mind. Humans tend to opt for the crudely simple ways of making sense of the world than to deal with the mind blowing complexity and uncertainty in it.

      • Vinod permalink
        August 9, 2009 9:30 pm

        I must also admit faith has strong emotional benefits, which I sorely miss now. Crying tears of repentence is the most beautiful and uplifting thing to happen to me. I miss all that now.

        • rags permalink
          August 9, 2009 9:37 pm

          Go back to believing. Good for your mental health. Not joking here. There have been several studies which have proved that religious people (not the sabre rattling ones but the spiritual ones) have a more happier and contented life. Atheism is going to die out anyway.

          • August 9, 2009 10:54 pm

            Rags I am interested in the subject of comparison of mental health of believers and non believers. Can you give me some references of such studies you mentioned?

          • Naveen permalink
            August 10, 2009 1:11 am


            There are many fMRI studies to prove Rags claims. But my point is different -do we need a randomized, double-blinded study to prove that grass need water to survive? There is a big conflict there itself -you are searching the ‘truth’ in the wrong place-like losing your wallet in the bus and searching it in the park.

            Here is an excerpt from Dr. Vernon Smith (Nobel Laureate) article:
            “Another example of the hidden economic function of culture is the magical practice of the Naskapi Indians of Labrador, who, when the caribou were scarce and the tribe hungry, resorted to scapulimacy, a divination in which the shoulder blade bone of a caribou was heated by fire until it cracked. As cracks appeared they were interpreted by a diviner in terms of the local geography as caribou trails, one of which the hunter should follow if he was to be successful. All this is commonly interpreted as showing the capacity of Naskapi for belief in magic. But is scapulimacy functional? One function is to sharpen the hunter’s concentration, and to impress upon all the need for great dedication. But another effect was to cause the hunter to choose a random route, steering him away from previously successful hunting routes, and preventing the caribou from being sensitized to regularities in hunter behavior. This is precisely the normative argument for using mixed strategies in certain games of conflict. What the Naskapi in effect seem to have discovered was that reading shoulder blades had survival value.” Today’s science will claim their tradition/religion as ‘grave stupidity’ and bring a bulldozer to run down the forest. Count is what finally matters for our ‘science culture’, not what we lost.

        • vasudev permalink
          August 9, 2009 10:01 pm

          vinod…believe me you my gods get their share of my anger in equal proportion to the love and affection and prostrations they get from me. i have a regular running dialogue with my gods. sometimes it is happiness and thanksgiving, sometimes pure anger and sometimes it is just a friendly banter. i discuss everything with my gods, including office politics, the woes of the world and world affairs. rags might call me an active stage 1 schizophrenic. but whatever, i end up feeling happy and relieved at the end. yes. there are tears too which i share with my gods. faith has strong emotional values and rather than investigating and experimenting new faiths i am sure one can find the emotional values in whichever faith one got born into. above all, it is ego which can destroy faith as well as sustain it!

        • Naveen permalink
          August 9, 2009 10:27 pm

          Vinod, Very interesting and there are more advantages to religion. Dean Ornish (a renowned Doctor/Nutritionist) had an interesting experience that he shared in a meeting. In Virginia medical center, a Swami was invited to take a class on meditation and its advantages. After the class in the Q&A part, a student asked the Swami- what is the difference between Illness and Wellness? Swami rose from his chair, walked to the board, wrote the words ‘Wellness’ and ‘Illness’ and then circled the first two letters in Wellness and the first letter in Illness and went back to sit. The bottom line is Individualistic ideologies kill. Unfortunately the only collectivism we know today is Communism- where humans are nothing but a bunch of mouths that need to be fed at the cost of everything. Anyway, no one can deny that religions/ traditions are time-tested and have value.

          • Vinod permalink
            August 10, 2009 11:04 am

            Yes, the comminity value of faith is very healing. I’m fast reduced to being utterly lonely and unconnected. I reckon irrationality is as much a part of human. One shouldn’t try too hard to reduce ourselves to being rational beings. It is painful.

            • Naveen permalink
              August 10, 2009 8:33 pm

              “reduce ourselves to being rational beings”


            • Vinod permalink
              August 10, 2009 9:42 pm

              Naveen, the more I know about human beings, the more I realize that what makes us human is not so much our rational side, but our irrational side – the way we make meaning out of our experiences and express that in various art forms and beliefs; the way we imperfectly reduce complexities to easily recollected heuristics; the way we are so drawn to stories, whether real or imagined, that have a cathartic connection to our past experiences; the way we are internally compelled to support a view that we have been holding for long though we no longer know how we got that view in the first place; the way we all need to look at beauty and look away from ugliness; the way vague shapes and forms have to be cast into familiar shapes; so on and so forth.

              • Naveen permalink
                August 10, 2009 10:01 pm

                Computers are probably the only ‘perfect’ rational beings. It is obvious that there will not be a single soul in the universe who will make rational or reasoned judgements without taking their beliefs (Whatever they are), emotions and experiences into account. And remember, when you damage the Amygdala, you will essentially create a monster not a noble person- as you might imagine.

        • Vinod permalink
          August 10, 2009 10:57 am

          Rags, wish I could do that. But I cannot then live with the fact that my rational faculties don’t follow my emotional ones. I reckon I will start to believe once again when I start to find my sanity slipping. Till then, I have to live with this painful unfulfilled existence.

  33. rags permalink
    August 9, 2009 10:26 am

    That was in reference to people converting to Islam.

  34. vasudev permalink
    August 9, 2009 1:41 pm

    There are reasons why people change religions. For one, the deeply devout tend to be the most radically inclined. They give-up too easily when they find the test too hard.

    Secondly, religion is like passing an exam to earn a degree. if the exam with the current set of values, virtues, habits, systems becomes tough to assimilate there might be a few who would resort to cheating or fall prey to offered goodies. Unethical, of course. Such people often pay the price.

    There are the opportunists as well. Those who like to have the best of both. Make hay while the sun shines. These are the unstable. Like politicians.

    But quite often, in highly modernised societies, children tend to become radicalised easily when they miss the cultural values, the care and concern of their parents. For them conversion becomes nothing else but a dirty stabbing dagger acquired cheaply to get their point across to the society.

    Love is another factor which converts the young lovers to another religion. This is an infactuation oriented conversion and ends up in the dirt sooner than later.

    Indisciplined life, drugs, sex, skin shows etc also lead to conversions from current to another. It is not born out of faith. It is born out of revulsion and such are poor candidated to acquire.

    Basic character imbibing, care and timely course corrections etc, instilling values in children and making them feel proud of their family virtues, upbringing etc can, to a certain extent, prevent children from going wayward (but not prevent them entirely). Conversions in such cases also result in extremism, disappointments etc.

    But above all, suicidal cases may find it necessary to convert to suicidal religions because if possible they too would like to attain nirvana, even if suicide is a disease.

    There are many more possibilites…

  35. rags permalink
    August 9, 2009 3:03 pm

    I’m curious… What’s a suicidal religion? A religion with suicide as a basic tenet would die out pretty soon I’d assume. 😉

    • vasudev permalink
      August 9, 2009 4:56 pm

      sure. sure. the last flare of an extinguishing flame.

  36. toy permalink
    September 8, 2009 3:32 pm

    40% of the voters can not even read in India, how are they gonna make informed decisions

  37. October 16, 2009 9:50 am

    They can’t read, but they are well informed.

    And yes, I do think Singapore falls into the category of a pseudo democracy.

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