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Indian Democracy
October 06, 2019

Indian Democracy: Procedural and Substantive

Following Independence, India adopted a democratic system of governance. Institutions of democracy in India in fact began to grow during the colonial rule. They evolved through various Acts of the British India Government and as a result of the demand within India and a section in England. India opted for the parliamentary form of government in order to make the nation-state (modernity) based on the principles of universal adult franchise and periodic election in contrast to the village-level government in the light of Gandhian principles.The assessment of democracy depends on the indices used to indicate or measure it.
There are mainly two models of indices regarding democracy –
one related to the institutional minimal, procedural democracy;
• two related to the substantive or effective democracy.

The former views democracy in terms of the presence of the institutions of democracy, political parties and other associations or organisations, periodic elections, universal adult franchise, leadership, etc.
The latter does not consider the institutional/procedural/electoral democracy as comprehensive indicator of the democracy. The electoral democracy, in fact, is minimalist, which is also marked by a large number of factors which are inimical substantive to democracy. It is rarely concerned with what happens beyond elections, in the social space. Alternatively, the substantive democracy views the phenomenon of democracy in the light of its desegregation and diffusion, re-distributive justice, human capabilities and entitlements (education, health, infrastructure, etc.), social capital/associated factors (trust, values, norms), civil society, human rights and dignities, governance (participation, accountability, efficacy, transparency, etc.).
These are contingent on development as development in turn is contingent upon democracy. The impetus of the debate on the democracy in India has been on the transition, consolidation and deepening of democracy. The first two issues dominated the debate during the first two decades of democracy in the post-Independence period and the deepening of democracy became an issue of focus in the recent period. The assertions of various identities/new social movements – the process of democratization, have contributed to the project of deepening democracy. But it is dependent on the participation of various communities cutting across the cleavages.

Procedural Democracy The observers of the procedural democracy largely believe that democracy in India has been successful. The criteria for this assessment are – participation and competition. These are indicated by the frequency of the elections in India and competition among political parties to contest elections. The percentage of turn out and the percentage of votes polled by parties are indicators of participation. The advocates of this approach are buoyant about the success of the electoral politics in India, which is taken as the general pattern of success of democracy. Those who see success of democracy in terms of elections – participation and competition, follow survey methods to measure democracy. They infer the dominant trends in the election, in terms of the turn out and the percentage of vote or use of statistical method – correlation, coefficient or the regression analysis. They see the multi-variable relationship of the turnout percentage and participation with the socio-economic data in particular constituencies. On the grounds that this analysis is based on survey, and takes into account the socio-economic and political factors of a particular region, it is also called the ecological analysis. However, some of the scholars who follow survey-based analysis feel that survey analysis are full or efforts, are not backed by the qualitative data and also do not provide data for the period between elections.

Procedural democracy was meant to contribute to the nation-building in India. The focus of studies on democracy in India in the earlier decades following independence had been to examine as to how it helped in the nation-building through the introduction of the universal adult franchise and periodic elections. It was known as the modernization theory. The modernization theory claimed that the developing countries underwent a process of modernization – whose ultimate aim would be stable democracy: it would be accompanied with the socio-economic modernization – urbanization, spread of mass media, education, wealth and equality. It was believed that the development in India would strengthen democracy and the divisions based on caste, religions, etc., would disappear.

Substantive Democracy

The critique of procedural democracy is provided by the scholars who study the substantive democracy. In their opinion, it views democracy in a limited way. Electoral democracy is minimal democracy. Free and fair elections, universal adult franchise, political parties, pressure groups and availability of constitution etc. are not sufficient conditions for democracy, though they are necessary. Democracy has to be located in the society and taken out of the institutional mode. This alternative view of democracy can be termed as the substantive democracy.

In the past two decades, in India, substantive democracy has also found a significant place in the discourse on democracy. The assessment of substantive democracy is sought to be made in relation to the role of the state (with democracy) on the issues concerning the nation-state – secularism, welfarism and development in India; and also the role of the state regarding these issues in the context of globalization. Civil Society is also an essential ingredient of substantive democracy. In India, there are two viewpoints on the civil society. One, it considers all associations and collective actions as civil society, irrespective of the issues they take up; two, only those associations which take up two issues of universal significance, not sectarian, and whose foundations is secular/universal are considered civil society. Recently a new debate has got momentum in our country: the debate between the communitarians and the liberal, the relationship between the individuals and the communities; within and between them.

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