Democratization in India And the United Kingdom: Binary Comparison

Democratization in India And the United Kingdom: Binary Comparison

India and the U.K., though located on opposite sides of the global North-South divide, have closely linked socioeconomic, historical, and political ties. The close political relations between India and the U.K. can be traced back to the 125 years of British colonial rule over the Asian nation. Like all other developing nations that adopted systems of their colonial masters, India’s governance system and democratic framework were heavily borrowed from the U.K. Thus, with limited exceptions, India’s administrative institutions and democratic system are similar to that of the U.K. Although they have almost the same governance systems, democratization in both the U.K. and India have been impacted differently by several practical issues peculiar to the two nations, such as national affluence and tribal cleavages.

History of Democratization in The U.K. and India

The democratization process of both the U.K. and India is quite divergent due to the different political histories of the two nations. Democratization involves the transition to a democratic political regime and governance system and is characterized by substantive political changes, such as the adoption of the rule of law (Andersen, Møller, & Skaaning, 2014). Democratization in Britain was realized in a gradual manner characterized by moderation, gradualism, and consensus-building among divergent parties of the nation’s political divide. The history of democratization in the U.K. can be traced back to the enactment of the Magna Carta in 1215 (Hauss & Haussman, 2012). The Magna Carta launched the U.K. on a gradual trajectory of inclusive political institutions by including the masses on matters of governance, therefore, leading Britain to liberal parliamentary democracy. India, due to its overarching need of gaining self-rule did not gradually adopt democratization but rather, out of political expediency, domesticated the system of governance of its former colonial master, the U.K. (Hauss & Haussman, 2012). Though India incorporated massive elements of the U.K.’s administrative framework, it did not make a carbon copy of Britain’s governance system.

Comparison of Democratization in Both the UK and India

A written constitution guaranteeing federalism is the fundamentals of India’s democratic dispensation that distinguishes it from that of the U.K. India has a written constitution, though heavily borrowed from that of the British, that takes into consideration the unique aspects of life in India, such as its multi-ethnicity and religious diversity. The Indian constitution is one of the longest in the world, with almost four hundred articles divided into eight schedules (Tudor, 2013). Similar to U.K.’s unwritten constitution, India’s supreme law can be easily amended as an amendment only needs a simple majority in both houses of parliament (Tudor, 2013). According to Tudor (2013), by 2012, India’s constitution had been amended 97 times. India practices an asymmetrical federal system that not only grants the national government the lion’s share of power but also provides the constituent units with different constitutional powers. Currently, India has twenty-eight states and seven union territories whose boundaries are drawn to allow major linguistic groups to dominate over the rest (Hauss & Haussman, 2012). The asymmetric federalism used in India, though having several inherent weaknesses, can be viewed as democratic as it gives individuals residing in particular states more power in the political process. Moreover, federalism has devolved power closer to the people and minimized discrimination based on ethnicity and castes, a social evil deeply entrenched in India.

The U.K. has an unwritten constitution that underpins a unitary government. The U.K. has no formal written constitution as the nation’s political framework, and governance structure is regulated by a well-developed set of customs, traditions, and public sentiment (Syrett, 2014). According to Syrett (2014), public opinion is held in high regard in Britain’s political landscape that if the people express a strong identity with U.K.’s regional centers, such as Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, it would be politically unwise for a political leader not to acquiesce to them. The lack of a written constitution by the U.K. explains the nation’s adherence to the political principle of gradualism. Gradualism is concerned with the enactment of political changes by acceptance of all interested parties rather than through forced change (Hauss & Haussman, 2012). The U.K.’s unwritten constitution is also a sign of the nation’s relative homogeneity and lack of much internal strife.  U.K.’s unitary government implies that Britain is under one central government. According to Hauss and Haussman (2012), the regional centers of the U.K., such as Wales and Scotland, have over the years demanded more political power and independence from Britain. Demand for autonomy by the centers resulted in Prime Minister Tony Blair’s commissioning of regional assemblies for these member states of the U.K. (Hauss & Haussman, 2012). The creation of the regional assemblies, however, does not mean that the U.K. has a federal system such as that of India as the U.K.’s auxiliary centers remain under the full control of Britain’s governance framework.

India has made significant changes to its notion of parliamentary democracy, thus, distinguishing it from that of the U.K. India’s parliamentary system, similar to that of the U.K., has two houses of parliament; the Lok Sabha (lower house) and the Rajya Sabha (upper house). India’s parliamentary democracy is, however, different from that of the U.K. in two perspectives. First, the Indian head of state is the president, while that of the U.K. is the British monarch. Moreover, in India, the president is indirectly elected by the Indian parliament, state legislatures, and two union territories through a complex electoral process that equals the votes of parliament to that of the states (Muste, 2014). The complex voting process that determines India’s president gives more legitimacy than the British monarch that is hereditary in nature. Secondly, the Indian Rajya Sabha (upper house) reflects the federal structure of India that exists between the national government and the regional governments. The Rajya Sabha incorporates the regional governments into the national government. In the U.K. the upper house (House of Lords) represents the British upper class and was established to secure the interests of the British elite by checking on the excesses of the House of Commons (Muste, 2014). Hauss and Haussman (2012) argue that although party discipline exists in the Lok Sabha, it is weak and cannot be matched with the stringent regulations of the U.K.’s (House of Commons). The lack of stringent party discipline has negatively impacted democracy in India as it has watered down the efficacy of its parliamentary debates and action.

The varying affluence of both India and the U.K. has differently impacted democratization in the two nations. National affluence impacts, the implications of legitimacy, and the associated satisfaction of people experiencing economic development (Corbridge & Harriss, 2013). Therefore, national influence impacts democratic stability and explains the continuous state of political upheaval in unindustrialized democracies. India is a developing nation characterized by low living standards, inadequate service provision by the government, and high illiteracy levels (Tudor, 2013). According to Corbridge and Harriss (2013), India is an unindustrialized democracy with numerous illiterate voters who remain less informed and thus more vulnerable to manipulation by the political elite. The monopolization of information by the elite in India has amplified the power of political parties or leaders in the nation who generally tend to use their influence to subvert democracy. The culmination of abuse of political power in India is highlighted by the actions of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who suspended the Indian constitution in 1975 (Corbridge & Harriss, 2013). The U.K., an industrialized nation, is affluent and characterized by literate and well-informed citizens who make independent political decisions. According to Hauss and Haussman (2012), due to Britain’s affluent nature, democracy in the U.K. is characterized by citizens voting for a government that matches their ideal political stands. Moreover, democracy in Britain involves consensus building that is grounded on both political expediency and ideological commitment.

The prominent role played by both the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi family in India’s political framework reveals differences in democratization between India and the U.K. India’s post-independence politics is characterized by the dominance of both the Congress Party and the Nehru-Gandhi family (Lijphart, 2012). The Congress Party has dominated India’s post-independence political landscape as it not only led the nation to independence but has also controlled government power for most of the time since India achieved self-independence in 1947 (Corbridge & Harriss, 2013). Moreover, the congress party has strong grassroots support in India, thus, giving it unparalleled political dominance in the country. The Nehru-Gandhi family has also dominated the Indian political scene, particularly the Congress Party, with the families collectively producing more than four of India’s prime ministers. According to Corbridge and Harriss (2013), the Nehru-Gandhi family’s dominance of India’s politics is fueled by their monopolization of information, massive wealth, and political patronage. The dominance of a single-family or party is not an integral feature of industrialized democracies such as that of the U.K. In the U.K., political parties and elections are the chief way through which British citizens participate in politics. The U.K. has several national and regional parties, such as the Conservative Party and the Green Party among others, through which British citizens participate in governance.

Democratization in India, unlike the U.K., is also impacted by ethnic cleavages that derail the full entrenchment of democracy in the nation. The majority of Indians strongly identify with their caste, ethnic, and regional communities. The caste system, which is so entrenched in India’s national culture and psyche, is based on traditional Hindu beliefs, particularly the Brahma creation story. The Brahma creation story espouses that individuals are born into four different varnas or castes that range from the noble (upper caste) to the slaves (lower caste) (Tudor, 2013). In India, the minority non-Hindus, particularly Muslims, are deemed the untouchables as they are believed to belong to a group so low that they do not even qualify to be classified into a caste (Tudor, 2013). Even though the Indian constitution advocates for equality for all persons, inequality, and discrimination, based on the social caste systems, are ubiquitous and have permeated all sectors of the nation. India’s deeply entrenched caste system has fostered the political dominance of a few elite families who subjugate the majority; thus, undermining fundamental tenets of democracy in the process (Hauss & Haussman, 2012). However, India’s democratic political framework coupled with its federal system has prevented India from disintegrating into ethnic chaos that has bedeviled various multiethnic developing nations such as Sudan and Kenya in the recent past.

Though the democratic process in the U.K. is based on ideologies, there is a recent upsurge in racism and white imperialism. The political process of the U.K. is grounded on ideologies rather than on ethnic or racial differences (Loughlin, 2013). The British national political parties, such as the Labour, Conservative, and Liberal parties, are based on divergent ideologies thus enabling Britons to vote for their preferred party purely on an ideological basis. Due to the competing ideologies of the various mainstream national parties in Britain and the need for democratic stability in the nation, consensus building is considered an integral part of the nation’s political landscape (Loughlin, 2013). An example of consensus building in British politics was demonstrated by Tony Blair who continued most of Margaret Thatcher’s and John Major’s reform agenda upon assuming office in 1997 (Lijphart, 2012). However, recent political events in the U.K. have shown potential cracks in the traditional political culture of consensus politics. For example, the garnering of more than 560,000 votes by the British National Party (BNP) in the 2010 general election revealed a growing inclination towards racism in the nation (Hauss & Haussman, 2012). The BNP is an extreme right-wing party that espouses a racist and white supremacist agenda.

The political systems of the U.K. and India are closely aligned due to the protracted colonial relationship between the two nations. To gain independence from the U.K., India domesticated large swathes of the British political, administrative, and democratic institutions and frameworks. India’s independence leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, however, did not make a carbon copy of the U.K.’s constitution as they enacted political frameworks, such as federalism, that could operate effectively in heterogeneous India. India’s asymmetric federalism compounded by its parliamentary system has devolved power to the majority of the Indians and therefore stabilized democratization in the nation. The efficacy of India’s democratic institutions can, however, not be compared using the same parameters as that of the U.K. due to the inherent differences between the two nations.

References

Andersen, D., Møller, J., & Skaaning, S. E. (2014). The state-democracy nexus: conceptual distinctions, theoretical perspectives, and comparative approaches. Democratization21(7), 1203-1220. https://doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2014.960206

Corbridge, S., & Harriss, J. (2013). Reinventing India: Liberalization, Hindu nationalism, and popular democracy. John Wiley & Sons.

Hauss, C., & Haussman, M. (2012). Comparative politics: Domestic responses to global challenges. Nelson Education.

Lijphart, A. (2012). Patterns of democracy: Government forms and performance in thirty-six countries. Yale University Press.

Loughlin, M. (2013). The British constitution: a very short introduction. OUP Oxford.

Muste, C. P. (2014). PSCI 220.01: Introduction to Comparative Government. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.umt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6880&context=syllabi

Syrett, K. (2014). The foundations of public law: Principles and problems of power in the British Constitution. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Tudor, M. (2013). The promise of power: The origins of democracy in India and autocracy in Pakistan. Cambridge University Press.