Government and Politics in South Asia

By Craig Baxter; Yogendra K. Malik et al. | Go to book overview

27
Conclusion: Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia

IT IS OFTEN SAID THAT INDIA is the world's largest democracy; that Pakistan is a model of a praetorian state; that Bangladesh, reputedly an "international basket case" economically, is also one politically; and that Sri Lanka is a model democracy inasmuch as it has a two-party system and changes rulers often. It is also frequently noted that each of these nations has inherited various liberal British traditions, despite the fact that they have also been bequeathed the heritage of viceregal rule and the "steel frame" that accompanied it. Each of these descriptions contains a kernel of truth, perhaps--but they all omit a reference to the social backgrounds of the four states.

Before looking more closely at the four countries together, we must review two definitions that are pertinent to this chapter. The term democracy, for instance, is used in a broad sense, with no differentiation made between such adjectival prefixes as representative, constitutional, and liberal. What is meant, therefore, is a system of government (a regime, if one prefers) in which the authorities are responsible to freely elected representatives of the people and operate under a freely enacted constitution, in a climate that is characterized by open channels of access such that interest groups, political parties, and the press are free to speak and act. The term South Asia refers, of course, to the seven states joined together in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

The preceding chapters dealt with the regime developments in each of the four major countries and included brief descriptions of those in the other three. They also described the social background and political cultures of each state. Now we turn to a summary of comparisons and con

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