Indiana University

Skip to:

  1. Search
  2. Breadcrumb Navigation
  3. Content
  4. Browse by Topic
  5. Services & Resources
  6. Additional Resources
  7. Multimedia News

Media Contacts

George Vlahakis
University Communications

Tim Callahan
India Studies

Last modified: Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Professor's book marking 60th anniversary of India's democracy gets national attention there

Book being released in ceremony at the home of India's vice president

Dec. 5, 2007

Editors: Professor Ganguly will be available in Bloomington for interviews until Saturday (Dec. 8). Media in India can reach him by contacting George Vlahakis in the United States at 1-812-855-0846 or

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A new book co-edited by an Indiana University professor marks the 60th anniversary of India's independence and subsequent transition to democracy and will receive major recognition when released there next week.

The new book, The State of India's Democracy (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), will be released in New Delhi next Tuesday (Dec. 11) in a ceremony at the official residence of Mohammed Hamid Ansari, vice president of India. It will be widely distributed nationally afterwards. It already is available in the United States.

Sumit Ganguly, the Rabindranath Tagore Professor of Indian cultures and civilizations, professor of political science and director of the India Studies Institute at IU, co-edited the book. Other co-editors are Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution of War, Revolution and Peace; and Marc F. Plattner, vice president for research and studies at the National Endowment for Democracy.

"Perhaps what interested me most (about this project) is that this was kind of a stock-taking of Indian democracy; what has been accomplished over the last 60 years and what are the challenges that still remain," said Ganguly, a native of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). "While we should celebrate the success of India's democracy, we should also not be complacent. We should always recognize that democracy is a work in progress.

"There are millions of Indians who do not get to benefit from the democratic structure of India because they are bereft of education, because they are bereft of health care, because they do not have adequate employment, who are the subjects of social and political neglect," he added. "This constitutes between 25 and 30 percent of the population and it's that bottom that we must always remember -- we must never forget their plight."

The book emerged from a conference held at IU in April 2006, where participants resolved to produce a collection of essays on Indian democracy. Arvind Verma, associate professor of criminal justice and academic director of the India Studies Program, contributed a chapter to the book on policing in India.

"For the most part, it is a success story. Against all odds, India has managed to preserve democracy," said Ganguly, the author or co-editor of 14 books on South Asian politics.

"In the 1950s and 1960s, a number of fairly thoughtful Western commentators said that democracy simply cannot survive in a country that has such a high level of illiteracy, such extraordinary poverty and such great social diversity; that it would eventually fall prey to the temptations of authoritarianism," Ganguly said, adding, "Most of those doomsayers have been proven wrong."

This skepticism largely was because democracy had not taken root in other former British colonies, where dictatorships have been more common. Also, contrary to popular belief, the British did little to foster democracy either, Ganguly said.

"They encouraged the most anti-democratic elements within India," he said. "For example, during the war years (World War II), they allowed the Communist Party to flourish, but the (National) Congress -- the most representative and most democratic party -- most of their leaders were languishing in jail."

Under the influence of Mohandas K. Gandhi, liberal democratic principles appropriated from the United Kingdom by Indian nationalists were disseminated by the National Congress party. Unrelenting political agitation citing democratic principles enabled Indian nationalists to make steps toward self-rule.

Today, 60 years after independence and 57 years after the adoption of a constitution, democracy thrives in India with involvement of numerous regional political parties. The federal structure of the country is represented in parliament, where a "fuller range of India's social and economic diversity is represented." Participation by the poor and illiterate in state and national elections is high.

The challenges come in the areas of human rights, its institutional efficacy and secularism, Ganguly said. Some of the biggest challenges come through threats from political parties that do not believe in liberal democracy, particularly Hindu nationalists, and, to a smaller degree, illiberal Muslim elements.

Nonetheless, India's democracy stands in sharp contrast with the political strife now taking place in nearby Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma.

"India is most definitely an anomaly in the region," Ganguly said. "The only other country that had successfully consolidated a democracy was Sri Lanka and now Sri Lanka is even in a state of complete disarray with a civil war that has engulfed it with ethnic fratricide, destroying the very heart of the country.

"The lack of democracy in the neighborhood is certainly a concern, particularly because it affects the plight of large numbers of people," he added. "It also suggests to some people that the authoritarian alternative is still alive and well and that's certainly disturbing news."

India has faced uprisings within its borders -- such as secessionist movements in Kashmir and Tamil Nadu -- with a "mixture of repression and concession." It always "has held out the promise of political concessions and political accommodation if people were to eschew violence."

The book's launch is a recent example of the attention that IU and its India Studies Program have received in India. IU Press this year also published a book by India's former foreign minister, Jaswant Singh.

"Our profile in India is certainly now visible and I think it's going to become larger in the years ahead," Ganguly said.