Author: Krzysztof Dębnicki
Institution: Uniwersytet Warszawski
Year of publication: 2008
Source: Show
Pages: 96-121
DOI Address:
PDF: ap/11/ap1108.pdf


The Indian political system is an interesting case of a transplanted Western multi-party democracy functioning within a society largely dominated by traditional values that are inherently contradictive to the system. To some extent the system resembles a Western constitutional and legal “sphere”, covering a society that hardly fits it. Western democracy is based on the fundamental principles of freedom, individualism and equality. In India, on the contrary, social life is based on traditional norms such as:

  • dominance of group rather than individual interest;
  • the idea of natural inequality of individuals and groups;
  • the paramount authority of charismatic leaders;
  • the unique role of the all-embracing state;
  • social acceptance of violence;

By the time of independence the Indian society consisted of two main parts: masses of traditionally minded population adhering to old values and a group of well educated and westernised leaders who wished to modernise the country in accordance with their own deeply held convictions. Since then, the political system of India is undergoing an interesting process of mutual adaptation of traditional and Western values. It is at the same time a process of “traditionalising modernity” and of “modernising tradition” both necessary to save the country from excessive jolts. On the constitutional and legal level, Western values predominate, while traditional ways hold sway in everyday life, including practical politics. Castes, not recognised under the constitution (castes are not even included in the national census questionnaire), remain nevertheless the main factor for any political party in its drive towards electoral victory. In fact, India has chosen a slow process of social change as opposed to revolutionary changes in China or in post-war Japan. It probably saved the country millions of victims which revolutions inevitably bring in their wake. However, although largely traditional, the Indian society is in no way static. The society is changing, especially since economy begun to grow rapidly in the past fifteen years. That this is not a smooth process is understandable in a society as diverse as the Indian.

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