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Why is India called the biggest democratic country? I have seen many other countries bigger than India that still follow voting mechanisms. Why is India called so?

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    1. Define "bigger". Land area? Population? Economical strength?
    – Philipp
    Jul 31, 2014 at 8:42
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    2. Define "democracy". The definition of what is a democratic voting mechanism and what isn't differs a lot from country to country. In fact, many countries which are considered dictatorships by others call themself democratic just because they force everyone at gunpoint to vote in an election where there is only one candidate. The German Democratic Republic, for example, had the word "democratic" in it's name even though it is generally agreed that it was a totalitarian socialist state.
    – Philipp
    Jul 31, 2014 at 8:45
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    Define "Called". Give a specific example of who calls it that, so the context of where they used the term can be determined.
    – user4012
    Jul 31, 2014 at 14:48
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    India is the second "largest" country in the world by population. And it is "democratic" (by most measures) compared to China, the largest.
    – Tom Au
    Jul 31, 2014 at 16:22
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    also, 'voting' doesn't necessarily mean 'democracy'.
    – user1530
    Aug 4, 2014 at 15:39

5 Answers 5

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This question depends on two definitions:

  1. When is a country "bigger" than another? Land area? Population? Economical strength?
  2. When do you count a country as a "democracy"? Just having a voting mechanism doesn't make a democracy. When the vote is meaningless or designed in a way that the ruling party has an unfair advantage, it hardly matters. Also, there are a lot of other criterias which some people might or might not consider part of a working democracy (separation of powers, political equality, right to due process, freedom of speech...). I would argue that you won't find a country in the world which would be considered 100% democratic according to every possible definition.

India is the second largest country in the world by population. The only country with a larger population is China. The government system of China is a one-party socialist state which can hardly be called democratic, even though some government representatives are in fact elected directly or indirectly and the CPC has some democratic structures internally.

India is the 7th largest country by land area. Larger areas have: Australia, Brazil, USA, China, Canada and Russia. I will certainly not rate these countries by how democratic I would consider them, but I think that everyone can find at least one country in that list they would consider at least as democratic as India.

India is the 7th largest country by gross domestic product. Economically bigger countries are: United States, China, Japan, Germany, France and United Kingdom. Many of these countries would fulfill most definitions of a democracy (or at least those which would also be fulfilled by India).

tl;dr: The statement "India is the biggest democratic country" is solid when you measure by population, but not when you measure by area or GDP.

This, of course, under the assumption that you consider India itself a democracy. But I am not going to touch that issue with a ten foot pole.

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    But there are those who do touch that last issue... bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-56393944 Mar 16, 2021 at 18:39
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    India is the world's biggest country by population now.
    – Allure
    Aug 18, 2023 at 0:59
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    I think biggest democracy may make more sense understood as "most eligible voters in a single election meeting democratic (e.g. OECD?) standards". Since the biggest contender in numbers would be the election for the EU parliament and those are probably like half the number of voters? Aug 18, 2023 at 11:13
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    @PhilipKlöcking A cursory google search says the total population of the EU is under 500 million, whereas India has had over 600 million voters in particular elections (and that's only about 2/3 turnout of registered voters). Aug 19, 2023 at 13:16
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Besides to the population, land area and the gross domestic product, I would like – as an answer – to explain about the decentralized system in India - which is an important aspect of democracy in this country. In India, these are Panchayats that play this important rule. It has been said that it is the oldest system of local government in the Indian subcontinent. There are about 265,000 gram panchayats in India (statistics of 2002) (and that is why it might be the biggiest). According to the Article 40 of the Constitution of India (the chapter on Directive Principles of the State Policy), the Government of the country has to set up Panchayats in the villages so that they can act as local self-government. Panchayat Acts were later (during 1950s) implemented in all states and by 1960 Panchayats were almost established throughout the country. Following the 73rd Amendment Act, 1992, which came into force in 1993, democracy was introduced at the village level. There is also one-third reservation for women in the Panchayat seats.

Decentralization can be defined as transfer or distribution of decision-making powers to local people. In fact, decentralization signifies the devolution of powers, and it is a major part of the democratization process.

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    That's really interesting, but how does it answer the question?
    – Philipp
    Jul 31, 2014 at 13:27
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    It;s pretty good info, but I doubt that most people using the term "largest democracy" mean it this specific way.
    – user4012
    Jul 31, 2014 at 14:50
  • 265,000 gram panchayats - means that it is the most extensive one.
    – Saeid
    Jul 31, 2014 at 14:58
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    So, it could possibly also win by a metric of "greatest number of elected officials".
    – Hulk
    Feb 15, 2021 at 6:59
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Democracy is the government of the people. Thus, the larger the number of people involved in the democratic government, the more significant the democracy.

India is the second largest country in terms of population, after China. But China doesn't have complete democracy. Hence, India remains the largest country (in terms of population) with democracy. Therefore it is termed the largest democratic country.

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India earned the title of the "largest" democracy because it adopted "instant universal suffrage" - all indian adult citizens got the right to vote without any conditions the moment India became a democracy - and proved that it could work even with a huge population, with diverse and multiple culture.

This was in stark contrast to many of the older, stable western democracies of the same period who were still experimenting with "incremental suffrage" (only a subset of population had voting rights in the west based on gender, class, race etc.) over decades or centuries and believed "instant universal suffrage" to be a really stupid idea for any democracy.

The US took 144 years to give equal voting rights to women. Suffragettes in UK took nearly a century to win the vote. Women won the vote in some cantons of Switzerland as recently as 1974. But Indian women got the right to vote the year their country was born ... British officials had unfailingly argued that the universal franchise was a "bad fit for India," says Dr Shani. Elections in colonial India were exercises in restricted democracy with a limited number of voters casting their ballots in seats allotted along religious, community and professional lines. - Did the British Empire resist women’s suffrage in India?

Today, the fact that universal adult suffrage is naturally accepted as an integral idea of modern democracies is largely due to India's successful democratic experiment.

Turning all adult Indians into voters over the next two years against many odds, and before they became citizens with the commencement of the constitution, required an immense power of imagination. Doing so was India’s stark act of decolonisation. This was no legacy of colonial rule: Indians imagined the universal franchise for themselves, acted on this imaginary, and made it their political reality. By late 1949 India pushed through the frontiers of the world’s democratic imagination, and gave birth to its largest democracy.

India’s founding leaders were determined to create a democratic state when the country became independent in 1947. But becoming and remaining a democracy was by no means inevitable ... creation of a democracy had to be achieved in the face of myriad social divisions, widespread poverty, and low literacy levels, factors that have long been thought by scholars of democracy to be at odds with the supposedly requisite conditions for successful democratic nationhood.

The adoption of universal adult suffrage, which was agreed on at the beginning of the constitutional debates in April 1947, was a significant departure from colonial practice ... The legal structures for elections under colonial rule stipulated the right of an individual to be an elector ... Rather than defining voters exclusively as individuals, the law defined them as members of communities and groups ... British officials unfailingly argued that universal franchise was a bad fit for the people of India. The small and divided electorate was based mainly on property, as well as education and gender qualifications.

... Putting adult suffrage into practice and planning for the enrolment of over 173 million people, about 85 per cent of whom had never voted for their political representatives in a legislative assembly and a vast majority of whom were poor and illiterate, was a staggering bureaucratic undertaking. - Universal adult franchise was the greatest experiment in India’s democratic history

The scale of the electoral exercise in ensuring 100's of millions of people participate at various levels of indian democracy is a huge exercise and unmatched in the world.

Consequently, in expanding the electorate from 10% to almost 100%; in abolishing separate electorates for a conception of universal citizenship; and above all, in decisively rejecting arguments that individuals who were formally “illiterate” were incapable of exercising the franchise, the Indian Constitution – and the first general election – were truly transformative in character. How India Became Democratic argues persuasively that in transforming voting from a privilege that was accorded to a select few to a right that could be enforced by all, independent India transformed the status of its people from subjects to citizens, in important and far-reaching ways. In the realm of the political, it was a transformation from hierarchy and subordination to radical equality. - The 1947 singularity

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  • While I don't doubt that "voting rights for everyone" was important for India and the world, India was hardly the first important country to introduce it, as this is implied here. Even the United Kingdom had it since 1928, with some other colonies (e.g. New Zealand) being even earlier. Sep 9, 2023 at 0:18
  • The popular political theory on democracy from the west during that period was that democracy cannot work with universal suffrage from the get go, and that voting rights should only be given to the populace in phases (starting with the rich and educated, and then slowly to the middle class). Note that even though the UK may have had universal suffrage at some point, their colonies with some form of democracy didn't. When India became independent and chose a democratic system, the west was aghast that we had opted for universal suffrage because the poor and the uneducated (1/2)
    – sfxedit
    Sep 9, 2023 at 10:21
  • (contd.) outnumbered the rich and educated (which was a result of the colonialism). The west believed that such a voting group would invariably succumb to anarchy or communist dictatorship and could not be "democratic" in the long-term. For them, "democracy" was a feature of capitalism that could only survive in a monoculture (white / Christians). The west kept saying that Indian democracy would not last. But the indian experiments in democracy in an economically undeveloped, and vastly multi-cultural nation (India is in even more diverse than the EU) proved otherwise. (2/2)
    – sfxedit
    Sep 9, 2023 at 10:28
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India is called biggest democratic country in the world because it is the country with the biggest population in the world which, according to the constitution, practices electroral democracy. I.e., it has multi-party politics, general elections are conducted on a regular basis, and people can use their voting rights to choose members of parliament and the prime minister.


However, practically speaking, India is not the biggest democracy in the world.

India is the biggest Hybrid Regime, or Electoral Authoritarianism, or Illiberal Democracy in the world.

By definition, Democracy is a system of government where power is vested in the people, allowing them to participate in decision-making through voting and ensuring individual rights and freedoms.

Indians can vote to choose their leaders. However, the religious influence on politics is so heavy, and the Hindutva party BJP played religious cards so well that over the past few years, India gradually morphed into an authoritarian and repressive state.

In light of the above situation, India can be characterized as an "illiberal democracy" or a "hybrid regime." These terms are used to describe countries that possess certain democratic institutions, such as elections, but exhibit authoritarian tendencies or restrictions on civil liberties in practice.

In an illiberal democracy, democratic processes may exist on the surface, but the government systematically undermines democratic principles and institutions, such as the rule of law, separation of powers, and protection of individual rights. This erosion of democratic norms often leads to the concentration of power in the hands of a single leader or ruling party and the suppression of dissenting voices. The term "hybrid regime" is another way to describe a country that combines elements of both democracy and authoritarianism. It acknowledges the presence of democratic features but also recognizes the dominance of authoritarian practices and policies that undermine the true spirit of democracy.

In a case where a country consistently elects authoritarian leaders due to populism or hatred towards a minority group, one might also use the term "electoral authoritarianism." This term emphasizes the manipulation of democratic processes, such as elections, to maintain an authoritarian regime in power, often through the exploitation of populist sentiments or discriminatory ideologies.

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    This doesn't seem to answer the question "Why is India called the biggest democratic country?".
    – Philipp
    Aug 18, 2023 at 11:37
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    The question is asking why it is called the biggest democracy in the world, not if it is the biggest democracy. This makes no attempt to answer the question of why it is considered the biggest democracy in the world.
    – Joe W
    Aug 18, 2023 at 13:04
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    Your edit does now answer the question but the rest doesn't seem like it is needed on a question that was asked close to 10 years ago. The only thing your answer seems to add is questioning if it is a democracy or not which doesn't seem relevant to the question.
    – Joe W
    Aug 18, 2023 at 17:27
  • Maybe one could add that it's likely wrongfully called the biggest democracy. Anyway the more interesting question is probably who is the biggest democracy on Earth currently. Aug 18, 2023 at 21:13

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