An English grandee of the East India Company depicted riding in an Indian procession, 1825-1830.

Illusions of empire: Amartya Sen on what British rule really did for India

It is true that before British rule, India was starting to fall behind other parts of the world – but many of the arguments defending the Raj are based on serious misconceptions about India’s past, imperialism and history itself

T he British empire in India was in effect established at the Battle of Plassey on 23 June 1757. The battle was swift, beginning at dawn and ending close to sunset. It was a normal monsoon day, with occasional rain in the mango groves at the town of Plassey, which is between Calcutta, where the British were based, and Murshidabad, the capital of the kingdom of Bengal. It was in those mango groves that the British forces faced the Nawab Siraj-ud-Doula’s army and convincingly defeated it.

British rule ended nearly 200 years later with Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous speech on India’s “tryst with destiny” at midnight on 14 August 1947. Two hundred years is a long time. What did the British achieve in India, and what did they fail to accomplish?

During my days as a student at a progressive school in West Bengal in the 1940s, these questions came into our discussion constantly. They remain important even today, not least because the British empire is often invoked in discussions about successful global governance. It has also been invoked to try to persuade the US to acknowledge its role as the pre-eminent imperial power in the world today: “Should the United States seek to shed – or to shoulder – the imperial load it has inherited?” the historian Niall Ferguson has asked . It is certainly an interesting question, and Ferguson is right to argue that it cannot be answered without an understanding of how the British empire rose and fell – and what it managed to do.

Arguing about all this at Santiniketan school, which had been established by Rabindranath Tagore some decades earlier, we were bothered by a difficult methodological question. How could we think about what India would have been like in the 1940s had British rule not occurred at all?

The frequent temptation to compare India in 1757 (when British rule was beginning) with India in 1947 (when the British were leaving ) would tell us very little, because in the absence of British rule, India would of course not have remained the same as it was at the time of Plassey. The country would not have stood still had the British conquest not occurred. But how do we answer the question about what difference was made by British rule?

To illustrate the relevance of such an “alternative history”, we may consider another case – one with a potential imperial conquest that did not in fact occur. Let’s think about Commodore Matthew Perry of the US navy, who steamed into the bay of Edo in Japan in 1853 with four warships. Now consider the possibility that Perry was not merely making a show of American strength (as was in fact the case), but was instead the advance guard of an American conquest of Japan, establishing a new American empire in the land of the rising sun, rather as Robert Clive did in India . If we were to assess the achievements of the supposed American rule of Japan through the simple device of comparing Japan before that imperial conquest in 1853 with Japan after the American domination ended, whenever that might be, and attribute all the differences to the effects of the American empire, we would miss all the contributions of the Meiji restoration from 1868 onwards, and of other globalising changes that were going on. Japan did not stand still; nor would India have done so.

While we can see what actually happened in Japan under Meiji rule, it is extremely hard to guess with any confidence what course the history of the Indian subcontinent would have taken had the British conquest not occurred. Would India have moved, like Japan, towards modernisation in an increasingly globalising world, or would it have remained resistant to change, like Afghanistan, or would it have hastened slowly, like Thailand?

These are impossibly difficult questions to answer. And yet, even without real alternative historical scenarios, there are some limited questions that can be answered, which may contribute to an intelligent understanding of the role that British rule played in India. We can ask: what were the challenges that India faced at the time of the British conquest, and what happened in those critical areas during the British rule?

T here was surely a need for major changes in a rather chaotic and institutionally backward India. To recognise the need for change in India in the mid-18th century does not require us to ignore – as many Indian super-nationalists fear – the great achievements in India’s past, with its extraordinary history of accomplishments in philosophy, mathematics, literature, arts, architecture, music, medicine, linguistics and astronomy. India had also achieved considerable success in building a thriving economy with flourishing trade and commerce well before the colonial period – the economic wealth of India was amply acknowledged by British observers such as Adam Smith.

The fact is, nevertheless, that even with those achievements, in the mid-18th century India had in many ways fallen well behind what was being achieved in Europe. The exact nature and significance of this backwardness were frequent subjects of lively debates in the evenings at my school.

An insightful essay on India by Karl Marx particularly engaged the attention of some of us. Writing in 1853, Marx pointed to the constructive role of British rule in India, on the grounds that India needed some radical re-examination and self-scrutiny. And Britain did indeed serve as India’s primary western contact, particularly in the course of the 19th century. The importance of this influence would be hard to neglect. The indigenous globalised culture that was slowly emerging in India was deeply indebted not only to British writing, but also to books and articles in other – that is non-English – European languages that became known in India through the British.

Figures such as the Calcutta philosopher Ram Mohan Roy, born in 1772, were influenced not only by traditional knowledge of Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian texts, but also by the growing familiarity with English writings. After Roy, in Bengal itself there were also Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Madhusudan Dutta and several generations of Tagores and their followers who were re-examining the India they had inherited in the light of what they saw happening in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Their main – often their only – source of information were the books (usually in English) circulating in India, thanks to British rule. That intellectual influence, covering a wide range of European cultures, survives strongly today, even as the military, political and economic power of the British has declined dramatically.

The Gateway of India in Bombay, a monument commemorating the landing of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911.

I was persuaded that Marx was basically right in his diagnosis of the need for some radical change in India, as its old order was crumbling as a result of not having been a part of the intellectual and economic globalisation that the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution had initiated across the world (along with, alas, colonialism).

There was arguably, however, a serious flaw in Marx’s thesis, in particular in his implicit presumption that the British conquest was the only window on the modern world that could have opened for India. What India needed at the time was more constructive globalisation, but that is not the same thing as imperialism. The distinction is important. Throughout India’s long history, it persistently enjoyed exchanges of ideas as well as of commodities with the outside world. Traders, settlers and scholars moved between India and further east – China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and elsewhere – for a great many centuries, beginning more than 2,000 years ago. The far-reaching influence of this movement – especially on language, literature and architecture – can be seen plentifully even today. There were also huge global influences by means of India’s open-frontier attitude in welcoming fugitives from its early days.

Jewish immigration into India began right after the fall of Jerusalem in the first century and continued for many hundreds of years. Baghdadi Jews, such as the highly successful Sassoons, came in large numbers even as late as the 18th century. Christians started coming at least from the fourth century, and possibly much earlier. There are colourful legends about this, including one that tells us that the first person St Thomas the Apostle met after coming to India in the first century was a Jewish girl playing the flute on the Malabar coast. We loved that evocative – and undoubtedly apocryphal – anecdote in our classroom discussions, because it illustrated the multicultural roots of Indian traditions.

The Parsis started arriving from the early eighth century – as soon as persecution began in their Iranian homeland. Later in that century, the Armenians began to leave their footprints from Kerala to Bengal. Muslim Arab traders had a substantial presence on the west coast of India from around that time – well before the arrival of Muslim conquerors many centuries later, through the arid terrain in the north-west of the subcontinent. Persecuted Bahá’ís from Iran came only in the 19th century.

At the time of the Battle of Plassey, there were already businessmen, traders and other professionals from a number of different European nations well settled near the mouth of the Ganges. Being subjected to imperial rule is thus not the only way of making connections with, or learning things from, foreign countries. When the Meiji Restoration established a new reformist government in Japan in 1868 (which was not unrelated to the internal political impact of Commodore Perry’s show of force a decade earlier), the Japanese went straight to learning from the west without being subjected to imperialism. They sent people for training in the US and Europe, and made institutional changes that were clearly inspired by western experience. They did not wait to be coercively globalised via imperialism.

O ne of the achievements to which British imperial theorists tended to give a good deal of emphasis was the role of the British in producing a united India. In this analysis, India was a collection of fragmented kingdoms until British rule made a country out of these diverse regimes. It was argued that India was previously not one country at all, but a thoroughly divided land mass. It was the British empire, so the claim goes, that welded India into a nation. Winston Churchill even remarked that before the British came, there was no Indian nation. “India is a geographical term. It is no more a united nation than the equator,” he once said.

If this is true, the empire clearly made an indirect contribution to the modernisation of India through its unifying role. However, is the grand claim about the big role of the Raj in bringing about a united India correct? Certainly, when Clive’s East India Company defeated the nawab of Bengal in 1757, there was no single power ruling over all of India. Yet it is a great leap from the proximate story of Britain imposing a single united regime on India (as did actually occur) to the huge claim that only the British could have created a united India out of a set of disparate states.

That way of looking at Indian history would go firmly against the reality of the large domestic empires that had characterised India throughout the millennia. The ambitious and energetic emperors from the third century BC did not accept that their regimes were complete until the bulk of what they took to be one country was united under their rule. There were major roles here for Ashoka Maurya, the Gupta emperors, Alauddin Khalji, the Mughals and others. Indian history shows a sequential alternation of large domestic empires with clusters of fragmented kingdoms. We should therefore not make the mistake of assuming that the fragmented governance of mid-18th century India was the state in which the country typically found itself throughout history, until the British helpfully came along to unite it.

An illustration of British soldiers capturing Bahadur Shah II, the last Mughal emperor, in 1857.

Even though in history textbooks the British were often assumed to be the successors of the Mughals in India, it is important to note that the British did not in fact take on the Mughals when they were a force to be reckoned with. British rule began when the Mughals’ power had declined, though formally even the nawab of Bengal, whom the British defeated, was their subject. The nawab still swore allegiance to the Mughal emperor, without paying very much attention to his dictates. The imperial status of the Mughal authority over India continued to be widely acknowledged even though the powerful empire itself was missing.

When the so-called sepoy mutiny threatened the foundations of British India in 1857, the diverse anti-British forces participating in the joint rebellion could be aligned through their shared acceptance of the formal legitimacy of the Mughal emperor as the ruler of India. The emperor was, in fact, reluctant to lead the rebels, but this did not stop the rebels from declaring him the emperor of all India. The 82-year-old Mughal monarch, Bahadur Shah II, known as Zafar, was far more interested in reading and writing poetry than in fighting wars or ruling India. He could do little to help the 1,400 unarmed civilians of Delhi whom the British killed as the mutiny was brutally crushed and the city largely destroyed. The poet-emperor was banished to Burma, where he died.

As a child growing up in Burma in the 1930s, I was taken by my parents to see Zafar’s grave in Rangoon, which was close to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda. The grave was not allowed to be anything more than an undistinguished stone slab covered with corrugated iron. I remember discussing with my father how the British rulers of India and Burma must evidently have been afraid of the evocative power of the remains of the last Mughal emperor. The inscription on the grave noted only that “Bahadur Shah was ex-King of Delhi” – no mention of “empire” in the commemoration! It was only much later, in the 1990s, that Zafar would be honoured with something closer to what could decently serve as the grave of the last Mughal emperor.

I n the absence of the British Raj, the most likely successors to the Mughals would probably have been the newly emerging Hindu Maratha powers near Bombay, who periodically sacked the Mughal capital of Delhi and exercised their power to intervene across India. Already by 1742, the East India Company had built a huge “Maratha ditch” at the edge of Calcutta to slow down the lightning raids of the Maratha cavalry, which rode rapidly across 1,000 miles or more. But the Marathas were still quite far from putting together anything like the plan of an all-India empire.

The British, by contrast, were not satisfied until they were the dominant power across the bulk of the subcontinent, and in this they were not so much bringing a new vision of a united India from abroad as acting as the successor of previous domestic empires. British rule spread to the rest of the country from its imperial foundations in Calcutta, beginning almost immediately after Plassey. As the company’s power expanded across India, Calcutta became the capital of the newly emerging empire, a position it occupied from the mid-18th century until 1911 (when the capital was moved to Delhi). It was from Calcutta that the conquest of other parts of India was planned and directed. The profits made by the East India Company from its economic operations in Bengal financed, to a great extent, the wars that the British waged across India in the period of their colonial expansion.

What has been called “the financial bleeding of Bengal” began very soon after Plassey. With the nawabs under their control, the company made big money not only from territorial revenues, but also from the unique privilege of duty-free trade in the rich Bengal economy – even without counting the so-called gifts that the Company regularly extracted from local merchants. Those who wish to be inspired by the glory of the British empire would do well to avoid reading Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, including his discussion of the abuse of state power by a “mercantile company which oppresses and domineers in the East Indies”. As the historian William Dalrymple has observed: “The economic figures speak for themselves. In 1600, when the East India Company was founded, Britain was generating 1.8% of the world’s GDP, while India was producing 22.5%. By the peak of the Raj, those figures had more or less been reversed: India was reduced from the world’s leading manufacturing nation to a symbol of famine and deprivation.”

While most of the loot from the financial bleeding accrued to British company officials in Bengal, there was widespread participation by the political and business leadership in Britain: nearly a quarter of the members of parliament in London owned stocks in the East India Company after Plassey. The commercial benefits from Britain’s Indian empire thus reached far into the British establishment.

Calcutta in 1912, illuminated for the occasion of a British royal visit.

The robber-ruler synthesis did eventually give way to what would eventually become classical colonialism, with the recognition of the need for law and order and a modicum of reasonable governance. But the early misuse of state power by the East India Company put the economy of Bengal under huge stress. What the cartographer John Thornton, in his famous chart of the region in 1703, had described as “the Rich Kingdom of Bengal” experienced a gigantic famine during 1769–70. Contemporary estimates suggested that about a third of the Bengal population died. This is almost certainly an overestimate. There was no doubt, however, that it was a huge catastrophe, with massive starvation and mortality – in a region that had seen no famine for a very long time.

This disaster had at least two significant effects. First, the inequity of early British rule in India became the subject of considerable political criticism in Britain itself. By the time Adam Smith roundly declared in The Wealth of Nations that the East India Company was “altogether unfit to govern its territorial possessions”, there were many British figures, such as Edmund Burke, making similar critiques. Second, the economic decline of Bengal did eventually ruin the company’s business as well, hurting British investors themselves, and giving the powers in London reason to change their business in India into more of a regular state-run operation.

By the late 18th century, the period of so-called “post-Plassey plunder”, with which British rule in India began, was giving way to the sort of colonial subjugation that would soon become the imperial standard, and with which the subcontinent would become more and more familiar in the following century and a half.

H ow successful was this long phase of classical imperialism in British India, which lasted from the late 18th century until independence in 1947? The British claimed a huge set of achievements, including democracy, the rule of law, railways, the joint stock company and cricket, but the gap between theory and practice – with the exception of cricket – remained wide throughout the history of imperial relations between the two countries. Putting the tally together in the years of pre-independence assessment, it was easy to see how far short the achievements were compared with the rhetoric of accomplishment.

Indeed, Rudyard Kipling caught the self-congratulatory note of the British imperial administrator admirably well in his famous poem on imperialism:

Take up the White Man’s burden – The savage wars of peace – Fill full the mouth of famine And bid the sickness cease

Alas, neither the stopping of famines nor the remedying of ill health was part of the high-performance achievements of British rule in India. Nothing could lead us away from the fact that life expectancy at birth in India as the empire ended was abysmally low: 32 years, at most.

The abstemiousness of colonial rule in neglecting basic education reflects the view taken by the dominant administrators of the needs of the subject nation. There was a huge asymmetry between the ruler and the ruled. The British government became increasingly determined in the 19th century to achieve universal literacy for the native British population. In contrast, the literacy rates in India under the Raj were very low. When the empire ended, the adult literacy rate in India was barely 15%. The only regions in India with comparatively high literacy were the “native kingdoms” of Travancore and Cochin (formally outside the British empire), which, since independence, have constituted the bulk of the state of Kerala. These kingdoms, though dependent on the British administration for foreign policy and defence, had remained technically outside the empire and had considerable freedom in domestic policy, which they exercised in favour of more school education and public health care.

The 200 years of colonial rule were also a period of massive economic stagnation, with hardly any advance at all in real GNP per capita. These grim facts were much aired after independence in the newly liberated media, whose rich culture was in part – it must be acknowledged – an inheritance from British civil society. Even though the Indian media was very often muzzled during the Raj – mostly to prohibit criticism of imperial rule, for example at the time of the Bengal famine of 1943 – the tradition of a free press, carefully cultivated in Britain, provided a good model for India to follow as the country achieved independence.

Corpse removal trucks in Calcutta during the famine of 1943.

Indeed, India received many constructive things from Britain that did not – could not – come into their own until after independence. Literature in the Indian languages took some inspiration and borrowed genres from English literature, including the flourishing tradition of writing in English. Under the Raj, there were restrictions on what could be published and propagated (even some of Tagore’s books were banned). These days the government of India has no such need, but alas – for altogether different reasons of domestic politics – the restrictions are sometimes no less intrusive than during the colonial rule.

Nothing is perhaps as important in this respect as the functioning of a multiparty democracy and a free press. But often enough these were not gifts that could be exercised under the British administration during imperial days. They became realisable only when the British left – they were the fruits of learning from Britain’s own experience, which India could use freely only after the period of empire had ended. Imperial rule tends to require some degree of tyranny: asymmetrical power is not usually associated with a free press or with a vote-counting democracy, since neither of them is compatible with the need to keep colonial subjects in check.

A similar scepticism is appropriate about the British claim that they had eliminated famine in dependent territories such as India. British governance of India began with the famine of 1769-70, and there were regular famines in India throughout the duration of British rule. The Raj also ended with the terrible famine of 1943. In contrast, there has been no famine in India since independence in 1947.

The irony again is that the institutions that ended famines in independent India – democracy and an independent media – came directly from Britain. The connection between these institutions and famine prevention is simple to understand. Famines are easy to prevent, since the distribution of a comparatively small amount of free food, or the offering of some public employment at comparatively modest wages (which gives the beneficiaries the ability to buy food), allows those threatened by famine the ability to escape extreme hunger. So any government should be able stop a threatening famine – large or small – and it is very much in the interest of a government in a functioning democracy, facing a free press, to do so. A free press makes the facts of a developing famine known to all, and a democratic vote makes it hard to win elections during – or after – a famine, hence giving a government the additional incentive to tackle the issue without delay.

India did not have this freedom from famine for as long as its people were without their democratic rights, even though it was being ruled by the foremost democracy in the world, with a famously free press in the metropolis – but not in the colonies. These freedom-oriented institutions were for the rulers but not for the imperial subjects.

In the powerful indictment of British rule in India that Tagore presented in 1941, he argued that India had gained a great deal from its association with Britain, for example, from “discussions centred upon Shakespeare’s drama and Byron’s poetry and above all … the large-hearted liberalism of 19th-century English politics”. The tragedy, he said, came from the fact that what “was truly best in their own civilisation, the upholding of dignity of human relationships, has no place in the British administration of this country”. Indeed, the British could not have allowed Indian subjects to avail themselves of these freedoms without threatening the empire itself.

The distinction between the role of Britain and that of British imperialism could not have been clearer. As the union jack was being lowered across India, it was a distinction of which we were profoundly aware.

Adapted from Home in the World: A Memoir by Amartya Sen, published by Allen Lane on 8 July and available at

This article was amended on 29 June 2021. Owing to an editing error, an earlier version incorrectly referred to Karl Marx writing on India in 1953. The essay was written in 1853.

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India ‘One of the Worst Autocracies’: V-Dem Report on Democracy

India ‘One of the Worst Autocracies’: V-Dem Report on Democracy Blog Image

What’s in Today’s Article?

  • Why in the News?

About V-Dem

About democracy report, key findings of the democracy report 2024.

essay democracy in india

Why in News?

V-Dem Institute has the ‘Democracy Report 2024’ that tracks democratic freedoms worldwide.

  • The V-Dem Institute (Varieties of Democracy) was founded by Staffan Lindberg in 2014. Staffan Lindberg is a Swedish political scientist.
  • The V-Dem institute studies the qualities of government.
  • The headquarters of the project is based at the department of political science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
  • The V-Dem Institute publishes a number of high-profile datasets that describe qualities of different governments, annually published and publicly available for free.
  • These datasets are a popular dataset among political scientists, due to information on hundreds of indicator variables describing all aspects of government.
  • The V-Dem Institute publishes the Democracy Report that describes the state of democracy in the world, with a focus on democratization and autocratization.
  • Liberal Democracy, Electoral Democracy, Electoral Autocracy, and Closed Autocracy.
  • It is based on 71 indicators that make up the Liberal Component Index (LCI) and the Electoral Democracy Index (EDI).
  • The LCI measures aspects such as protection of individual liberties and legislative constraints on the executive.
  • The EDI considers indicators that guarantee free and fair elections such as freedom of expression and freedom of association.
  • Egalitarian Component Index (to what extent different social groups are equal),
  • Participatory Component Index (health of citizen groups, civil society organisations),
  • Deliberative Component Index (whether political decisions are taken through public reasoning focused on common good or through emotional appeals, solidarity attachments, coercion).
  • The Democracy Report is published annually in March.
  • The Democracy Report 2024 is a collaborative project involving 4,200 scholars from 180 countries, and is based on 31 million datasets that cover 202 countries from 1789 to 2023.
  • In 2023, 42 countries (home to 35% of the world’s population) were undergoing autocratization.
  • 71% of the world’s population — 5.7 billion people — live in autocracies, an increase from 48% ten years ago.
  • The level of democracy enjoyed by the “average person in the world is down to 1985-levels”, the report said.
  • The sharpest decline occurring in Eastern Europe, and South and Central Asia.
  • The report singled out freedom of expression, clean elections, and freedom of association/civil society as the three worst affected components of democracy in autocratising countries.
  • In a separate section on the 60 countries that go to the polls in 2024, the report observed that more than half of these (31) were in periods of democratic decline.
  • India, which was downgraded to the status of an electoral autocracy in 2018 , has declined even further on multiple metrics to emerge as “one of the worst autocratizers”.
  • As per the V-Dem classification, a liberal democracy is one where, in addition to the requirements of electoral democracy such as regular free and fair elections, mechanisms for judicial independence and constraints on executive overreach are robust, alongside rigorous protection of civil liberties and equality before law.
  • In an electoral autocracy — the category India falls into — multiparty elections coexist with insufficient levels of basic requisites such as freedom of expression and free and fair elections.

Q1) What is the difference between a monarchy and a dictator?

In a dictatorship, a ruler or small group with absolute power over the people holds power, often through force. Monarchy is a government in which authority over the people is retained through a trade of allegiance. All parts to this government unit can stand alone and can be taught as individual lessons. 

Q2) What do you mean by Freedom of Speech and Expression?

The heart of the Article 19 says: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Source: India ‘one of the worst autocratisers’: V-Dem report on democracy  

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Insights into Editorial: Is the future of Indian democracy secure?

essay democracy in india


Over the past few months, in discussions and rhetoric surrounding the parliamentary elections , there had many instances struck by the disjuncture between the concerns expressed.

On the one hand, by the liberal elite who write in the English press and engage in debates on the more serious talk shows and, and on the other, the preoccupation of the majority of Indian voters who will decide the winner of the electoral contest.

This article merely seeks to highlight the disconnectedness between elite and mass concerns and bring out its implications for the future of Indian democracy .

In this article, author explained about two aspects of democracies which are substantial and procedural in nature.

Two aspects of Indian democracy:

Successful democracy is a holistic idea.

It encompasses both procedural aspects – political equality, effective institutions, free and fair elections, legislative assemblies and constitutional governments, and good voter turn outs.

Substantive aspects – socio-economic equality of citizens, tolerance for different opinions, ruler accountability, respect for the rules, and a strong political engagement.

Both aspects are complementary and dependent . They reinforce one another and also interfere with one another.

Socio-economic inequality will interfere with the achievement of political equality.

Thus, successful functioning of procedural aspects of democracy requires some aspects of substantive – tolerance, equality etc.

It is precisely the successful implementation of the procedural aspects (particularly the principle of one man one vote) which has the potential to and led to the achievements in the substantive front, especially by breaking down (even though in a very limited way) rigid hierarchical caste structure and thereby achieving (partial) equality.

Procedural democracy issues: (Elite group worries):

  • Members of the liberal elite are greatly worried about the future of political institutions that the founders of the republic had nurtured with great care .
  • Several of these institutions, including the Supreme Court, the Election Commission of India and the Central Bureau of Investigation .
  • These institutions are constitutionally mandated to be autonomous agencies , but have recently come under a cloud because of their perceived inability to work independently of the political executive or because of the lack of transparency in their performance.
  • The other major apprehension is the threat posed to the “idea of India” as a plural and inclusive polity by the rise of Hindutva and its political instrument .
  • This is why many members of the liberal elite are greatly worried about the visible transformation in the ideology of India’s Grand Old Party.
  • The third major concern is the discernible rise in populist and authoritarian tendencies in the country reminiscent of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency that threaten to reduce India to merely a procedural democracy where elections are held primarily to anoint populist leaders .
  • This outcome, if it occurs, will be antithetical to the democratic ethos enshrined in the Constitution that Mrs. Gandhi had tried to subvert unsuccessfully.

Substantive democracy issues:

Their concerns as they relate to the electoral process are limited to three types of issues:

  • Jobs and livelihood; caste and communal considerations; and demonstration of Indian strength especially vis-à-vis Pakistan .
  • The first is perfectly understandable since a substantial segment of the population lives just above the poverty line and is constantly worried that it may be pushed below that line.
  • Even middle-class Indians feel economically vulnerable in the absence of a social safety net and are incessantly nervous about job insecurity.
  • This explains the attraction of underpaid government jobs that provide life-long security and the fight for and against reservations in the public sector.
  • The economic distress in the agricultural sector makes the rural population even more acutely aware of threats to their financial well-being, indeed to their physical survival.
  • Caste and community continue to play a very important role in Indian politics.
  • Several parties are explicitly based on caste or sub-caste coalitions . All parties choose their candidates based on caste and community calculations within individual constituencies and engage in mobilising caste-based support for their candidates.
  • Voting on caste lines is taken as a given in elections and political pundits frequently base their prognoses of electoral outcomes on the caste arithmetic.
  • At the same time, right-wing parties emphasise the religious divide in order to take advantage of communal consolidation on the basis of religion.

Favoured strategy to gain votes in Substantial democracy issues:

One factor that appears to cut across caste and linguistic divisions is the attraction for many voters to hyper-nationalism , sometimes bordering on jingoism.

Hyper-nationalism has always been the favourite strategy of populist leaders seeking to retain or to attain power .


A combination of the factors outlined above — lack of concern for institutions, preoccupation with livelihood issues, obsession with caste and community benefits, and the propagation of hyper-nationalism taken together facilitate populism, which, as history shows, can easily lead to authoritarianism .

The danger of this occurring is reinforced by the fact that there seems to be an innate desire among many Indians that a “strong leader” should rule the country and that institutions are redundant when it comes to people’s daily concerns .

Liberal intellectuals have been fixated on subjects such as the erosion of institutions, the rise of majoritarianism and the proliferation of populist and authoritarian tendencies, most voters are unconcerned about these issues.

It is true that India has been able to remain as a democratic country for the last seven decades proving many political analysts wrong.

At least, the first four decades of its democratic journey has been in a very inhospitable regional as well as global environment.

In spite of the country’s long commitment to democracy and repeated peaceful transition of power, Indian democracy is still vulnerable with a number of soft spots.

The framers of the Indian Constitution were inspired by principles of social equality and political justice to introduce adult suffrage immediately–a big step forward to protect our Indian Democracy.

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Elections in India Essay in 500 Words in English for School Students

essay democracy in india

  • Updated on  
  • May 4, 2024

Elections in India Essay

Essay on Elections in India : PM Modi, during the Lok Sadha session, said,’ said on April 27, 2024 “We do not have government by the majority… but by the majority who participate.” Elections in India, the world’s largest democracy, are a testament to the vibrancy and diversity of its political landscape. Conducted on a massive scale, they involve millions of voters, numerous political parties, and rigorous oversight by various institutions. This essay will delve into the key aspects of elections in India, including the conducting body, the role of election development, and concluding insights.

                 Quick Read: Essay on the Role of Youth in Nation-Building

Table of Contents

  • 1.1 Elections Conducting Body 
  • 1.2 Importance of Election in India
  • 1.3 Conclusion
  • 2 Paragraph on One Nation, One Election

Essay on Elections in India in 500 Words

Elections in India are like a season where political parties, the election commission, government officials, bureaucrats, and people of India, aged 18 and above, cast their votes and actively participate in the election process. India’s democratic system largely relies on elections and its people’s active participation. Elections in India are conducted at multiple levels, such as Lok Sabha, Vidhan Sabha, and local bodies, which include municipalities and gram sabhas.

Elections Conducting Body 

The Election Commission of India (ECI) is the apex body responsible for overseeing the conduct of elections in India at all levels. Established in 1950, Sukumar Sen was the first election commissioner of India. The ECI operates as an autonomous constitutional authority. Its primary functions include delimitation of constituencies, voter registration, issuing electoral guidelines, conducting polls, and enforcing the electoral code of conduct.

Importance of Election in India

Elections in India represent a cornerstone of its democratic ethos, enabling citizens to exercise their fundamental right to choose their representatives. The Election Commission of India, as the apex conducting body, plays a pivotal role in ensuring the conduct of free, fair, and transparent elections. Moreover, ongoing efforts in election development are essential to bolster democratic principles, foster inclusivity, and uphold the sanctity of the electoral process.

1. Democratic representation: Elections in India offer citizens the chance to choose representatives, fostering democratic accountability and governance.

2. Political stability: Regular elections ensure stability via peaceful power transfer and governance continuity.

3. Participation and empowerment: Elections empower citizens, fostering voice, participation, belonging, and national responsibility.

4. Policy direction: Election outcomes shape policy through party manifestos, reflecting the electorate’s will.

5. Accountability: Elections ensure leaders face scrutiny, as voters decide re-election based on performance, fostering accountability.

6. Social inclusion: Elections promote inclusivity by giving marginalised communities a platform to assert their rights and interests, leading to more equitable representation in governance.

7. Legitimacy of government: Free and fair elections enhance the legitimacy of the government and its actions, ensuring that the authority to govern is derived from the consent of the governed.

8. Peaceful resolution of conflicts: Elections provide a peaceful mechanism for resolving political disputes and grievances, reducing the likelihood of violence and promoting social cohesion.

Quick Read: Essay on Voting Rights in India: 500 Words in English for Students

As India continues to evolve as a vibrant democracy, it must remain committed to strengthening its electoral institutions, enhancing voter participation, and safeguarding the integrity of its electoral processes. Through concerted efforts in election management and development, India can further consolidate its democratic foundations and serve as a beacon of democratic governance for the world.

Paragraph on One Nation, One Election

A.1 Democracy means rule by the people. There are different ways this can be done: People meet to decide about new laws and changes to existing ones. This is usually called direct democracy. It is never used except in small countries, or perhaps in towns.

A.2 The voters who live in an area elect one representative. For Lok Sabha elections, India is divided into 543 constituencies. The representative elected from each constituency is called a Member of Parliament or an MP.

A.3 There are different ways of organising a democratic society and as a result, there are different types of democracies. The two types of democracy in practice around the world are direct democracy and representative democracy.

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Essay on Constitution of India

500+ words indian constitution essay for students and children in english.

A Constitution is a set of rules and regulations guiding the administration of a country. The Constitution is the backbone of every democratic and secular fabric of the nation. The Constitution of India is the longest Constitution in the world, which describes the framework for political principles, procedures and powers of the government. The Constitution of India was written on 26 November 1949 and came into force on 26 January 1950. In this essay on the Constitution of India, students will get to know the salient features of India’s Constitution and how it was formed.

Constitution of India Essay

On 26th January 1950, the Constitution of India came into effect. That’s why 26th January is celebrated as Republic Day in India.

How Was the Constitution of India Formed?

The representatives of the Indian people framed the Indian Constitution after a long period of debates and discussions. It is the most detailed Constitution in the world. No other Constitution has gone into such minute details as the Indian Constitution.

The Constitution of India was framed by a Constituent Assembly which was established in 1946. Dr Rajendra Prasad was elected President of the Constituent Assembly. A Drafting Committee was appointed to draft the Constitution and Dr B.R. Ambedkar was appointed as the Chairman. The making of the Constitution took a total of 166 days, which was spread over a period of 2 years, 11 months and 18 days. Some of the salient features of the British, Irish, Swiss, French, Canadian and American Constitutions were incorporated while designing the Indian Constitution.

Also Read: Evolution and Framing of the Constitution

Features of The Constitution of India

The Constitution of India begins with a Preamble which contains the basic ideals and principles of the Constitution. It lays down the objectives of the Constitution.

The Longest Constitution in the world

The Indian Constitution is the lengthiest Constitution in the world. It had 395 articles in 22 parts and 8 schedules at the time of commencement. Now it has 448 articles in 25 parts and 12 schedules. There are 104 amendments (took place on 25th January 2020 to extend the reservation of seats for SCs and STs in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies) that have been made in the Indian Constitution so far.

How Rigid and Flexible is the Indian Constitution?

One of the unique features of our Constitution is that it is not as rigid as the American Constitution or as flexible as the British Constitution. It means it is partly rigid and partly flexible. Owing to this, it can easily change and grow with the change of times.

The Preamble

The Preamble has been added later to the Constitution of India. The original Constitution does not have a preamble. The preamble states that India is a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic. The objectives stated by the Preamble are to secure justice, liberty, and equality for all citizens and promote fraternity to maintain the unity and integrity of the nation.

Federal System with Unitary Features

The powers of the government are divided between the central government and the state governments. The Constitution divides the powers of three state organs, i.e., executive, judiciary and legislature. Hence, the Indian Constitution supports a federal system. It includes many unitary features such as a strong central power, emergency provisions, appointment of Governors by the President, etc.

Fundamental rights and fundamental duties

The Indian Constitution provides an elaborate list of Fundamental Rights to the citizens of India. The Constitution also provides a list of 11 duties of the citizens, known as the Fundamental Duties. Some of these duties include respect for the national flag and national anthem, integrity and unity of the country and safeguarding of public property.

Also Read: Difference between Fundamental Rights and Fundamental Duties

India is a republic which means that a dictator or monarch does not rule the country. The government is of the people, by the people and for the people. Citizens nominate and elect its head after every five years.

Related Read: Constitution of India – 13 Major Features

The Constitution serves as guidelines for every citizen. It helped India to attain the status of a Republic in the world. Once Atal Bihari Vajpayee said that “governments would come and go, political parties would be formed and dissolved, but the country should survive, and democracy should remain there forever”.

We hope that this essay on the “Constitution of India” must have helped students. For the latest updates on ICSE/CBSE/State Board/Competitive Exams, stay tuned to BYJU’S. Also, download the BYJU’S App for watching interesting study videos.

Also Read: Independence Day Essay | Republic Day Essay | Essay on Women Empowerment

Frequently Asked Questions on Constitution of India Essay

Who is the father of our indian constitution.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar is the father of our Indian Constitution. He framed and drafted our Constitution.

Who signed the Indian Constitution?

Dr. Rajendra Prasad was the first person from the Constitution Assembly to have signed the Indian Constitution.

What is mentioned in the Preamble of our Indian Constitution?

The preamble clearly communicates the purpose and emphasis the importance of the objectives of the Indian Constitution.

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Essay on Is Democracy a Success in India?

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