Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Varshney: On India's Struggles with Market Economy, Democracy

January 5, 2012

India’s political conflicts as the world’s largest democracy and one of the fastest growing market economies have been analyzed in recent weeks by the Wall Street Journal India, Forbes India, and the Financial Times – all of which turned to the work of Institute Professor Ashutosh Varshney to address different facets of the situation.
 
“As recently articulated by political scientist Ashutosh Varshney there is an ’elite politics’ that ‘is constantly asking about growth rates’ and a ‘mass politics’ that is ‘asking about inclusion of the marginalized, and inclusion of the excluded,’” reported the Wall Street Journal India

However, as Varshney was quoted by Forbes India, “In a market-based economy, no assumption of equality of all is made, which is intrinsic to elections, a vital principle of democracy.”

In the specific case of the 167 million Dalits at the bottom of India’s caste system, the Financial Times reported how India’s market presents obstacles in both founding and expanding businesses, citing Varshney’s explanation that “The evidence shows that as India’s economy has grown the middle castes have benefited considerably, but so far most Dalits have not.”

Varshney also penned his own account of India's 2011 democratic record in the Indian Express: "Using democratic modes, three different groups rebelled this year: the urban middle class against corruption, farmers against land acquisition, traders against reform of retail. All three groups are numerically large. On the domestic front, the Central government remained paralysed for much of the year. Even when the government tried to break the logjam, it would move forward only to pull back. This can be read as a narrative of government bowing to citizen preferences. What could be more democratic?"