Why is India quasi federalism?

Political system

India is now the most populous democracy in the world. Separation of powers and federal structures shape the political system. A large number of parties and associations represent the interests of social groups.

A statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Bhubaneshwar, India. (& copy AP)


India likes to celebrate itself as the "greatest democracy in the world". Despite all the criticism of human rights violations and the temporary or regional overturning of democratic procedures, this pride is entirely justified, especially in view of the developments that other states have made after their independence and in view of the potential for conflict in Indian society. For this reason, Indian democracy and the Indian state as a whole were predicted to end quickly, although these crisis prognoses were particularly popular again after the collapse of the multi-ethnic state of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The pessimism of the observers was fed by the considerable number of separatist conflicts, the intensification of religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims, violent clashes between members of high and low castes and the Naxalite activities that accompanied them. In general, India was considered difficult to govern due to its strong ethnic, religious, linguistic and caste-like fissures, which were reflected in a high diversity of parties and in some cases unstable governments, as well as due to the fact of widespread absolute poverty. For a long time, the relatively meager economic growth, the poverty of the public finances, often dramatic balance of payments crises and spectacular cases of corruption, which called the legitimacy and redistributive capacity of the government into question, were seen as aggravating the conflict.

However, these catastrophe forecasts have so far not come true. Rather, an institutionalized and orderly transfer of power has been observed at the federal and state level for over half a century, in which the ruling party was often elected from office without attempting to restrict the democratic process or even the Support to keep the military in power. Democratic processes are not called into question by any relevant political grouping. The horizontal and vertical separation of powers between the executive, legislature and an independent judiciary on the one hand, and between the federal and state governments on the other hand, is largely intact, even if there have been various attempts to undermine it.

Human and civil rights are officially guaranteed, but are subject to significant restrictions in crisis areas and times of emergency. In connection with this, the often illiterate voters have documented a considerable degree of maturity, which is reflected in a high turnout, an increasing proportion of swing voters and a clear reaction to perceived mistakes by the government. The smoldering of separatist and religious conflicts cannot be denied. Apart from interruptions, the Union government dealt with them in a relatively constructive manner, in that it excluded the extremists but gave in to legitimate demands for political and cultural self-determination. Taking stock today, the conflicts in Punjab and the northeast have become relatively calm. In Kashmir, elections to legitimize new state governments have been held at least several times, and the number of violent riots is declining.

Class conflicts in the true sense can hardly be observed despite the indisputable poverty and unequal distribution of income and wealth. However, the arguments between members from high and low castes or Dalits are to a large extent based on socio-economic motives, above all opportunities for employment in the public service, for training positions and for land ownership. But even with these and the religious conflicts, the severity observed in the early 1990s has decreased. Without wanting to deny the resulting dangers to the long-term political and social stability and integrity of India, it can be stated that the country and its political system have survived a multitude of intense and often worsening crises that would presumably have threatened the existence elsewhere.

This can be explained by economic growth, which was sufficient until the beginning of the 1990s to create jobs for the new labor force entering the market, and which increased significantly thereafter. In addition, the relatively mild unequal distribution of land ownership, income and wealth compared to Latin America, for example, and the associated decline in absolute poverty in the population should be mentioned. However, these socio-economic factors explain the relative political stability only to a lesser extent, since separatist forces were also active in the more affluent parts of the country (for example in Punjab) and, in general, the extent of religious and caste conflicts is not related to the respective development progress. The decisive factor for the relative stability was primarily the democratic system itself, which has had 60 years of continuity. That is why democratic principles and practice are deeply rooted in the population; Political legitimacy is only given by election victories in India. The political institutions are valued very differently, the parties, the administration and the police least, but extra-parliamentary channels are frowned upon even by the communists and Hindu nationalist parties. Democracy enjoys exceptionally broad approval among the population, not least because the voting weight of the previously underprivileged groups developed influence and their representatives were included in the leadership of parties and governments.

Source text

Pluralistic media landscape

[...] There has always been a lot of reading in India, newspapers cost around five rupees - a few cents. But it was only the economic and thus advertising growth since the nineties, as well as advances in literacy, that spurred the enormous development of the newspaper market, parallel to the triumph of cable and satellite television with up to 200 channels. The decisive factor, however, were modern technologies: since imports no longer required a state license, computers have replaced many a dusty second-hand printing machine. [...]

The highest circulation reached sheets in Hindi [...]. The regional newspapers in languages ​​from Punjabi to Malayalam to Telugu have grown the most. At the same time, India is the world's largest market for an increasing number of English-language newspapers. The Times of India is right at the forefront with a circulation of over two million. The media landscape of the subcontinent is [...] in its cultural and linguistic diversity, if at all, then comparable with that of the whole of Europe - with the difference that there is no common public in Europe. The number of daily readers of print media rose steadily, last year by three percent to 222 million. [...]
Even more deeply than in the journalistic tradition of the former colonial rulers - sober news, pointed opinion - many journalists see their work rooted in the Indian reform and liberation movements. Their leaders [...] also saw themselves as political enlighteners who, with the help of newspapers, brought their messages to the people. After independence, the press felt responsible for building the nation. Few of the media were therefore anti-establishment. [...] Because they thought nationally, even after the liberalization in the nineties, many publishers criticized the "new cultural imperialism" that they saw emerging with the opening of the media sector to foreign investors [...]. However, investments have been possible since 2002: The Financial Times, for example, joined Business Standard, the Independent joined Dainik Jagran. According to the South Asian historian Nadja-Christina Schneider, the press finally went "from the medium of the anti-colonial liberation struggle to the catalyst of the consumer-oriented economy".
On the positive side of this development [the co-editor of the newspaper The Hindu - editor's note. Red.] Harish Khare greater professionalism among colleagues [...] And while "15 years ago everything the Prime Minister said was taken over one-to-one," said Khare, colleagues today no longer allow themselves to be fooled. Corrupt politicians, officials and police officers, for example, now seriously risk being publicly convicted and pilloried. A far-reaching right to information for citizens, the Right to Information Act (RIA), which the governing coalition around the Congress Party passed immediately after its election in 2004, helps here. It has such a lasting effect that she seems to regret the initiative. The attempt to weaken the RIA again failed for the time being due to public protest. [...]
On the negative side, however, the pressure of competition is also increasing the newspapers' lust for sensation, criticizes Harish Khare. [...] Controversies that come to a point replace thorough weighing and well-researched reports [...] In addition, there is often a lack of respect for state institutions, "dangerous in a fragmented country". [...]
However, freedom of the press in India still finds its limits today: especially in the occupied areas of Kashmir or the poorest regions of the country, where Maoist groups or separatists have gained a foothold. More than once, reporters were shot at by militants between the fronts, hindered by the police or imprisoned. This is one of the reasons why India only ranks in the bottom third of the press freedom index (published by the organization Reporters Without Borders). [...]

Christiane Grefe, "Five rupees for freedom", in: Die Zeit No. 41 of October 5, 2006