I want to know why did democracy survive in India, whereas in other countries, especially in Africa, which gained independence around the same time, it didn't? What factors and reasons have been suggested towards this?

  • I was tempted to answer, but it seems like a cliche about how freedom isnt free and all it takes for tyranny to thrive is for good men to stand by and do nothing. So I think ill not. Commented May 6, 2014 at 21:58

6 Answers 6


As a comparative assessment of India's independence in 1947 versus the wave of African decolonisation in the 1960s - existing civil infrastructure and the extent to which vested tribal interests had been crushed prior to independence influenced whether a newly re-independent country could or would proceed along democratic grounds.

India already had extensive civic administration which made the progression of democratic principles before and after formal independence easier to establish. An orderly transition, instead of a violent revolt or catastrophic collapse, also reduced the likelihood of thugs setting up their own kleptocracy.

India was also too large a country for the the US and USSR to directly tamper with during the Cold War; whilst many smaller countries around the world had their democracy undermined or overthrown entirely.

Finally, as far as colonial masters went, India could have done a lot worst than England. France held on to its colonies too long; Belgium treated its sole colony as giant personal plantation of the king; Spain wasn't democratic at the time that its colonies seceded so the new countries had nothing to start with; Germany was pulled out of the game by 1918; Tsarist Russia annexed territory it didn't necessarily have the competency to administer; and the US offloaded their regional interests to the private sector like United Fruit Co.


As the other answerers have pointed out, there was already a democratic infrastrucure present in India long before independence. The reason why establishing a democratic system often fails is because such systems require an enormous consensus in society for keeping that system in place. At the end of the day, there will be a government that calls the shots, while you may consistently vote for parties that do not make it in the government. So, the real issue is whether people are able to agree to disagree with the outcome of the system. If not and they value a particular outcome more than the system that denies them that outcome, the system will collapse. And for that only a small fraction of the population needs to have that negative attitude about the system (a few percent is enough).

This is a very important aspect of democratic systems that is paradoxically usually ignored by the Western powers. The reason for that is that democracy became gradually established over centuries in the West, the fact that each generation ends up being indoctrinated by the system as it exists at the time is then not apparant. We tend to focus a lot on the need to have the necessary institutions and a constitution based on democratic values and freedom, but this is not sufficient. Western theories about democracy are in this respect completely flawed, and it has been falsified in Russia, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Somalia, etc. etc.

What makes a democratic system so unlikely to succeed after a dictator has been overthrown, is the desire of the population to have more power. While the people want to have more freedom to express themselves, etc. that same desire is inevitably going to clash with the authority of any new elected government. After having fought so hard to get rid of a dictator, it's a lot to ask of the people to allow the newly elected government (that many may be strongly opposed to) to impose laws on them that they don't want to stick to.


Any political uprising which isn't democratic (which isn't including the citizens as followers) will be a result of a single person's ideology shared by several others in power. (Often times, the hands of foreign nations might be behind the local revolutions, but they can only get in if the nation is already divided in opinions, no matter how small the division.) This isn't that hard when you only have to take care of your opposition when they are few in numbers. In India this is hardly possible for quite a few reasons - But I think it's majorly due to the sheer size and the diversity in terms of language, way of thinking, political ideologies and the population.

That said, there once was a time when it came close to being undemocratic - during the Indira Gandhi regime - Check this out to understand what transpired then: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emergency_(India)

  • 2
    ` In India this is hardly possible for quite a few reasons ` --> Could you explain those, please? Your answer would profit from that.
    – uuu
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 20:32
  1. Democracy is not a sudden phenomenon in India. Even before indian Independence, there is someform of democracy under British rule. There is an already established political system of parties and many institutions are already in place. Democracy evolved over a period of time and by the time of independence it was in a position to sustain itself.
  2. Indian Independence movement is largely peaceful and more of a political movement. All those leaders had complete faith in Democracy which helped in smooth transition of political system after Independence to modern democracy.

Because people like Mahatma Gandhi, and almost all the other leaders, worked hard to ensure this.

Consider this : The non-cooperation movement was a peaceful movement against the British, making life difficult for them to rule the country. When it turned violent (a police station was burned down and the inmates were killed), he called it off! In other words, democracy doesn't stick unless it's made to stick.

Another point, is the existence of leaders at every level, which smoothly form a continuum between the locality level to the central government. I don't know if this exists everywhere, but I imagine this makes dictatorial power takeover much harder.

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    Sorry -1. You are making a wholly unwarranted assumption about links between nonviolence and democracy (see 1991 uzbekistan and 1700s usa for counter examples of each side)
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 12:55
  • @user4012 It's unclear that the USA is more than a semi-democracy then or now. Whilst the concept of Responsible Government was created after the loss of the American colonies, an unbiased observer can note that anglosphere colonies that detached more slowly and peacefully from the mother country have healthier democracies. Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 0:03
  • @LateralFractal - USA isn't a democracy and wasn't meant to be. By design. It's a constitutional republic. The founders were AFRAID of democracy, for good reason.
    – user4012
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 1:16
  • @user4012 Ah. Well in that case, USA is an example of nothing between nonviolence and democracy. Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 1:19
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    @LateralFractal - it serves as a good enough proxy for democracy if compared to 1991 Uzbekistan :) . Or to be more technical, a country with more democratic form of government/society, which is what I meant in my original comment.
    – user4012
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 4:24

Im writing about india and south africas transition to democracy, i came to the conclusion that India was better of for a number of reasons.

1) britain allowed for indians to represent some areas , these areas were not essential to colonial rule so they could allow it , but it allowed for development of buaracratic principles and practices as well as expirience

2) the movements in Africa were mainly run by upper middle classes , this is also true for india untill they slashed the cost of joining the INC indian congress to become affordable m allowing to poor to have a say in the running of the party.Africa on the other hand had a more tribal approuch in that there were opinions and they were voiced , but the popularity of the "chief " was not often challenged

3) ghandis ability to relate to the poor and insight to teach the non violence which allowed for a smooth transfer of power and the survival of many public institutions. This is not the case in Africa as many institutions were never introduced for the most part and those that were implemented were imperialistic to ensure puppet leadership. belgium congo had almost no form of education other than those brought by the christian missionaries. in south africa there were institutions but they were separate and heavily undefunded, white got the best blacks got the worse.

4) the political power in india had achieved legitamacy and authority which was challenged non violently ... Until it became violent. In Africa legitamacy was a massive issue due to tribalism the who gets what when why and how , were much bigger issues in africa than india.

5)there were a number of existing companies and businesses in the hands of indians and they were privatly owned, africa chose to institute co opt practises such as farming without actually co ordinating or training.

6)india chose pragmatism rather that autocratic shock policy

  • 1
    This answer needs, at least, grammar check and proof links. Commented Oct 25, 2015 at 3:06

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