The Atlantic: India’s Democracy Is the World’s Problem
When the G7 group of rich democracies assembles this weekend in southwest England, it will discuss issues including COVID-19, taxes, and climate change. One item overhanging the formal agenda, however, will be the global deterioration of democracy itself, and the nation on which this question may hinge won’t be any of the hosts, but a guest invited to this year’s confab: India. Democracy’s fate there may determine its fate throughout the world. At the moment, the signs aren’t looking good—and that should be a flashing-red warning beacon for the rest of us.
Why is India the hinge point? The most obvious answer is the optics: When propagandists in Beijing describe democracy as a Western ideal unsuited to non-Western peoples, having a standard-bearer from the formerly colonized rather than the former colonizers is vital. But India’s importance goes far beyond narrative.
The world’s most successful democracies are mostly small, wealthy, and homogenous. Any list you might consult will highlight nations such as Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway. The Economist Intelligence Unit gives all of the top 10 spots in its annual Democracy Index to rich Western nations—most of which have populations smaller than that of Maryland. But these nations look nothing like the places where the mass of humanity lives.
Of the world’s 10 most populous nations, only the United States and India are long-established democracies. Two (China and Russia) are undisguised autocracies, and the other six can be charitably described as “democracies in progress.” That a political system works for Iceland—which has 341,000 residents, almost all of them practically relatives—means little to Brazil, Indonesia, or Nigeria. A real proof of concept can be found only in a nation that is big, low-income, and abundantly diverse—in ethnicity, language, religion, and every other way a society can be divided.
That’s India. If democracy can make it there, it can make it anywhere.