Comparing Indian democracy to West unproductive: Author Tripurdaman Singh at India Today Conclave


Comparing the status of Indian democracy to the normative democratic ideals that prevail in Western countries, Europe, and North America is a “strange and unproductive comparison”, author and historian Tripurdaman Singh said at the India Today Conclave 2024.

Speaking at a session titled ‘Why the West gets India’s democracy wrong’, Tripurdaman Singh asserted that Indian democracy is unique, developed to address specific questions.

“Indian democracy is normatively unique. The normative comparison to the West, where you say the degree of difference somehow represents a spectrum of inferiority, in my mind, is a very strange and unproductive comparison to make,” Singh said.

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Tripurdaman Singh also said that the allegations of backsliding in India’s democracy are a “misnomer”.

“First, it misunderstands the historical context where the Indian democracy was born, it misrepresents the constitutional institutions of the way Indian democracy is structured,” Singh, who is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London, said.

“When you talk about backsliding, backsliding from which point to which point? It is either backsliding from a normative ideal which is generally taken by the advanced democracies in Western Europe and North America,” he added.

Tripurdaman Singh further said, “India has never been like the advanced democracies of Western Europe and North America. Its foundation addresses a very specific set of circumstances and addresses a very specific set of questions.”

Commenting on the alleged bias in India’s representation in the West, Tripurdaman Singh said it reflects their ignorance towards India and the scale of achievements the country has made.

“It is reflective of ignorance. There is a sense of orientalist stereotyping that fuses a lot of commentary and writing on India. It doesn’t necessarily come as bias, but it is outright ignorance, and it is quite common,” he added.

Asked about whether the Uniform Civil Code and Citizenship Amendment Act reflect the rising majoritarianism in the country, Tripurdaman Singh said the state is armed with the power to intervene in social relations.

“We have a socially revolutionary Constitution. It hands to the state vast powers to intervene in the social domain to regulate and legalise social relationships. That was precisely because Ambedkar and Nehru thought that Indian society lacked the capacity for reform from within,” he said.

According to him, when one section of society can bring do social reform and another section doesn’t, it is important for the state to intervene.

“It is not majoritarian,” he said.

However, Tripurdaman Singh noted that electoral polity is majoritarian by design as we run the government through the first-pass-the-post principle.

Published On:

Mar 16, 2024


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