Democracy and India

The Republic of India was born out of the withdrawal of British imperial forces in 1947, followed by the separation of West Pakistan and the province of Bengal into a separate Muslim polity. The remainder of the territory became a majority Hindu state that instantly found itself in conflict with Muslim Pakistan. In an effort to ensure that it retained provinces governed by dynasties or by Muslims, the Republic introduced a secular government and instating an electoral regime. In 1951, over the course of several months, India held its first elections -- considered an achievement for the extent to which the government promulgated voting among Indians even in the remotest provinces.

Until the 1970s, the Indian National Congress Party dominated Indian politics. As a result, India during that period has been referred to as a one-party state, but the Congress Party itself was extremely flexible and inclusive. Party activists represented the interests of their respective regions at the expense of conflicting politics put forward by the national government. The Congress Party's local leadership often advocated for local concerns like language and autonomy. However, this was mainly achieved by working within the political framework and sometimes, given the party's dominance on the national stage, outside of formal representative institutions and within the party's inner debates.

One issue that the country contended with early on was ethnolinguistic diversity. Sensitive to separatism, India's leaders were at first reluctant as local movements demanded more autonomy for ethnic groups and a realignment of the country's provinces. Later, local party chapters led the drive to create the so-called Three-Language System. Under this system, English and Hindi were the official national languages, but the provinces were allowed to declare an official provincial language as well. This was extremely important in the Punjab region, inhabited by traditionally separatist Sikhs, and even among the region's Hindus.

The Congress Party eventually weakened as a result of war with China, the deaths of two prime ministers in successive years and then another war with Pakistan. Indira Gandhi, daughter of India's first prime minister, pushed India's politics to the left and focused on alleviating the dire straits on India's poor. Faced with a popular protest movement, she suspended democratic procedures and clamped down on demonstrators whose leaders were encouraging the army and police to disobey the government. She lifted emergency rule in time to hold elections in 1977, which her Congress Party lost to an alliance of disparate opposition parties.

The governing coalition collapsed in 1979, and the 1980 elections restored Gandhi and her Congress Party to power. Gandhi, though, faced a new challenge with the Soviet invasion of Pakistan and simultaneous clamoring by nationalist Sikhs for independence. She initially tried to trade off the demands by redistricting the region adjacent to Pakistan, giving the Sikhs a distinct enclave.

However, Pakistan, which was being rearmed by the United States, interfere in Indian affairs, prompting an Indian operation against nationalists near the so-called Golden Temple, the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion. The staggering number of deaths during the operation provoked a Sikh mutiny within the Indian army. Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for the part she played in the incident, leaving her son the most prominent politician in the country.

Rajiv Gandhi won elections in a landslide and then concluded agreements with Sikhs and Assamese nationalists that pacified the secessionist movements. Nonetheless, his political popularity waned by the end of the 1980s, resulting in the election of the National Front and the formation of an unstable alliance between the right wing and the communists. The influence of ethnic Hindu nationalism stretched the political alliance's ability to satisfy all members of the coalition, and it collapsed in 1990. While campaigning, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by Tamil militants, giving the Congress Party substantial sympathy in addition to its strength against the perceived instability of the other parties.

The Congress Party was again ushered into office in 1991. This was facilitated by the eruption of distinctly Indian class warfare, a rebellion against the socio-religious caste legacy brought by Hinduism. Favoritism toward the poor provoked massive middle-class protests, which in turn provoked the same from the lower class.

Thereafter, the country was ruled by several short-lived and unstable coalitions, but in 2004, the political scene began to be dominated by Sikh Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A Sikh and member of the Congress Party, Singh expanded the country's relationships with the United States and Israel, and led an economic build-up. He was the first prime minister since Jawaharlal Nehru to be reelected to a second consecutive five-year term.

Democracy and India: Selected full-text books and articles

Ethnic Conflict in India: A Case-Study of Punjab By Gurharpal Singh Macmillan Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "Reassessing 'Conventional Wisdom': Ethnicity, Ethnic Conflict, and India as an Ethnic Democracy"
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