Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
20 May 2021

What ails Indian democracy today?

Yogendra Yadav joins Shalini Randeria for a new episode of Democracy in Question?

In this new episode of the Democracy in Question? podcast, AHCD Director Shalini Randeria meets with Professor Yogendra Yadav in the midst of ongoing elections in several Indian states and widespread farmers protests all over India. Indian democracy, in Professor Yadav’s words, appears to be currently “folding up”. Is this reason enough to say that the successes of Indian democracy were indeed no successes, or to write a rather simplistic story of the decline and fall of Indian democracy? How to make sense of Indian democracy today?

For Professor Yadav, “we need to move away from two very simple narratives of Indian democracy. One narrative would say well, Indian democracy was bound to fail. It was no democracy, indeed, and no wonder it has collapsed the way it has. The other narrative would say no, it was a spectacular, wonderful success, I don’t know why it suddenly collapsed. This is just a bad accident. Mr. Modi, the current prime minister, happens to be just a bad accident.” Instead, Professor Yadav argues that “it is very important to begin by noticing the successes [of Indian democracy]. My argument is that some of the failure is actually written into these successes.”

India is an exception among diverse and unequal countries: participation in democratic politics has increased over the years rather than declined. And, while India “packs as much social, cultural, linguistic diversity as the whole of Europe”, it has remained united as a nation-state. “In that sense, I would say India is a case of a spectacular success of the democratic experiment anywhere in the world. India should be credited with democratizing the idea of democracy. Because democracy existed before India, and the idea of modern democracy clearly comes in from the West.” Thus, “India made it possible for the entire world to think that democracy could actually be universalized. That is something we must record, even when we look at the rather sad and sorry state of the democratic experiment in India today”.

Download the podcast's transcript HERE


Yogendra Yadav is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi. Professor Yadav's areas of interests include democratic theory, election studies, survey research, political theory, modern Indian political thought and Indian socialism.

Shalini Randeria is the Director of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, Rector of the Institute of Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna and Excellence Chair, University of Bremen (Research Group: Soft Authoritarianism).