Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Varshney in New York Times: India's Political Battle to Deepen Democracy

October 30, 2011

Ashutosh Varshney, the Sol Goldman Charitable Trust Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences, continued to reflect on the anti-corruption movement in India on Sunday in the New York Times, which included his observation that “The countryside is where the vote is; the city is where the money is. Villages do have corruption, but the scale of corruption is vastly greater in cities.”

In the midst of a “remarkable social movement” protesting corruption in India, it is the urban middle class, "a child of India’s rising prosperity," that has formed the base of the movement, Varshney wrote in an earlier op-ed piece in the Financial Times. "That also means it will have the internal resources to last. A political battle has begun to make democracy deeper. The political class should be concerned," he wrote in the FT.

The New York Times piece cited Varshney's August commentary in the Indian Express, where he had asked: “Why has India’s urban middle class become the social base of this movement? And why has this class chosen the route of movement politics led by civil society, as opposed to electoral politics led by political parties?”

In the Express op-ed, titled “Has Urban India Arrived?”, he concluded that, “The urban middle class should use the new political moment to return to electoral politics, but the [current] movement is so opposed to electoral politics and representative democracy. A reliance on civil society alone will not fix India’s governance problems, urban or rural.”

During the summer, Varshney also commented in the Express on the subject of rioting. In an op-ed titled "Rethink the Communal Violence Bill," Varshney called on the Indian Parliament to reject a proposed bill on communal violence for its likely expansion of state bureaucracy and its flawed assumptions about future outbreaks of rioting.

“The question for India is obvious. Riots may well decline in India in the future, but will prejudice and discrimination against the Muslims, Dalits, and Adivasis also go down? That is a bigger question than riots. But it requires construction of an anti-discrimination law and an equal opportunity commission, not a new bureaucracy to prevent riots,” Varshney concluded.