ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The Authoritarian Assault on Indian Democracy, in Comparative Perspective


Manor James - School of Advanced Study, University of London


22 – The present democratic crisis in South Asia: causes, distinctive elements and historical precedents


 India’s democracy faces a grave crisis, the explanation for which differs from the crises that we find in neighbouring countries.  In India, we see a government that actively seeks to suffocate democracy — pursuing its authoritarian project relentlessly.  India’s leaders are ‘equal opportunity’ authoritarians in that their repressive campaign embraces every sector.  This stands in clear contrast to Sri Lanka where an autocratic regime has collapsed owing to its own spectacular incompetence – leaving its successors with excruciating problems as they seek to reconstruct something approaching the island’s once vibrant democracy.  India also differs from Pakistan where the current struggle to sustain a crippled democratic order is the just latest, familiar cycle in a long-running process.

     The Indian crisis is far from over.  Between 1989 and 2014, India underwent a process of political and institutional regeneration after two decades during most of which autocrats undermined institutions.  Such a regeneration is possible in India once again.  And the chances of it occurring are enhanced by the fact that the current repressive order depends on the physical and political survival of one man who is not immortal.