The state of democracy in India is a reflection of broader global trends, where the forces of authoritarianism and populism challenge the ideals of freedom and self-governance. Yet, in every challenge lies an opportunity for reaffirmation and renewal. As India stands at this democratic crossroads, the choices made by its citizens will not only shape the future of the nation but also offer lessons for democracies worldwide. The fight for democracy is never easy, nor is it ever complete; it requires constant vigilance, active participation, and an unwavering belief in the principles of equality, justice, and freedom. The story of Indian democracy, with all its complexities and contradictions, continues to unfold, and its next chapter will be written by the very people it seeks to empower.

The essence of democracy in India, often likened to the intricate layers and rich flavours of biryani, showcases a complex blend of culture, religion, politics and socioeconomic disparities. Its robustness is tested through periodic electoral processes, legal frameworks, and the active participation of civil society. As India stands at the precipice of yet another significant electoral event, the dynamics of democracy invite both celebration and scrutiny.

India’s democracy is not just a political arrangement; it is deeply intertwined with the socioeconomic fabric of the nation. Despite impressive strides in economic growth, with the GDP projected to grow by 6.4% in fiscal year 2023 and rise to 6.7% in FY2024, as per the Asian Development Bank (04-04-2023, ​ (Asian Development Bank)​), the country grapples with stark inequalities. The distribution of wealth remains uneven, with a significant portion of the population living under the poverty line. This socioeconomic disparity poses a critical challenge to the democratic ethos, as it can influence electoral choices through the lens of immediate survival rather than long-term policy impact.

The government’s initiatives, such as the distribution of subsidized grains, aim to alleviate some of these pressures. However, these measures also raise questions about the potential for welfare schemes to be used as tools for electoral gain. The delicate balance between providing necessary assistance and fostering dependency is a tightrope walk for any administration.

Notably, the construction sector’s output rose by 7.9% year-on-year in the April-June quarter of 2023, demonstrating firm expansion despite high base year effects. This sector’s growth is indicative of the broader economic activity and development initiatives underway (S&P Global, ​ (SP Global)​). Simultaneously, the service sector, including financial, real estate, and professional services, witnessed a 12.2% growth year-on-year in the same quarter, highlighting robust domestic demand and investment (S&P Global, ​ (SP Global)​).

Inflation remains a significant concern, with the consumer price index inflation rate surging to 7.4% year-over-year in July 2023, driven by sharp increases in food and beverage prices. This highlights the underlying challenges in managing the cost of living pressures amidst economic growth (S&P Global, ​ (SP Global)​).

India’s economic landscape presents a dichotomy of robust growth and persistent socioeconomic disparities. The strategic investments and policy measures aimed at stimulating the economy must also address the critical challenge of ensuring equitable benefits across the population, balancing immediate welfare needs with the long-term sustainability of economic growth.

Another dimension that has increasingly influenced the democratic landscape of India is the intertwining of religion and politics. The secular framework of the Indian Constitution faces challenges with the rise of communalism, finding expression in various aspects of public life and policy. The political discourse often veers into religious territories, affecting communal harmony and national integration. The intertwining of religion and politics, while not unique to India, has profound implications for its democracy, influencing everything from voter behavior to policy decisions.

For example, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s rise to power is significantly attributed to its exploitation of religious sentiments and divisions for political gains. The BJP, associated with the Hindu nationalist ideology of Hindutva, has been successful in leveraging religious identity to consolidate its political base. This was evident in the campaign for constructing a Ram temple at the site of the Babri mosque, a campaign that saw the BJP’s political base expand from two seats in the Lok Sabha elections of 1984 to 85 seats by 1989. Presently, the party has been ruling the nation for two consecutive terms with a comfortable majority in the lower house and is being seen as a front-runner in the correct contest as well, illustrating how religious mobilization can result in substantial political dividends. (Harvard Gazette,, ​ (Harvard News)​).

Furthermore, religion plays a crucial role beyond electoral politics, impacting social and cultural issues. India’s diverse religious history has seen various empires and dynasties use religion to consolidate power and influence societal norms. From ancient civilizations with nature worship and fertility cults to the Mauryan Empire’s endorsement of Buddhism, and the Mughal Empire’s attempts at religious harmony, the intersection of religion and politics has been a constant feature of Indian history. This historical backdrop sets the stage for the contemporary relationship between religion and politics in India, where religious identity continues to influence political allegiances and policy priorities (, ​ (Testbook)​).

Recent years have seen an alarming rise in intolerance and violence against minorities, with some politicians, particularly those affiliated with the ruling BJP, accused of inciting and promoting violence against minority groups. This has put the government under significant pressure to address the growing hate speech and attacks, highlighting the complex challenges at the intersection of religion and politics in India today (Al Jazeera, 12-28-2021, ​ (Al Jazeera)​).

The integration of religion and politics in India, thus, continues to shape its democratic ethos, with implications for electoral politics, policy decisions, and communal harmony. The challenge for India’s democracy lies in navigating these complexities to uphold its secular constitution while respecting the religious identities that form an integral part of its social fabric.

The digital transformation of India has had a profound impact on its democracy. Social media platforms and digital communication have democratized information dissemination, enabling greater participation and engagement from the citizenry. However, this digital arena is also fraught with challenges. The spread of misinformation, the manipulation of narratives, and cyber threats pose new challenges to the integrity of the democratic process. The regulation of digital spaces, while necessary to curb malpractices, raises concerns about censorship and the suppression of free speech.

The weaponization of digital media against political opponents, and the use of these platforms to incite communal or sectarian violence, underscores the need for a balanced approach to digital governance. Ensuring the integrity of digital discourse without infringing on the fundamental rights of citizens is a challenge that Indian democracy must navigate.

The vibrancy of a democracy can be measured by the strength of its institutions – the judiciary, the media, and the electoral system. Each of these pillars is currently under strain in India. The judiciary, once seen as the ultimate arbiter of justice and fairness, faces accusations of succumbing to executive pressure. The media landscape, meanwhile, is bifurcated between a majority that toes the government line, driven by the economics of advertising and fear of reprisal, and a minority that strives to maintain independence and critical perspective, often at great risk. The electoral system, the very mechanism of democracy, is compromised by practices that undermine the fairness of the vote, from the manipulation of electoral rolls to the misuse of government machinery for partisan advantage.

The judiciary in India plays a pivotal role in upholding the Constitution and ensuring the rule of law. Recent years, however, have seen growing concerns about judicial independence and the pressures exerted by other branches of government. The judiciary’s role as a check on executive and legislative power is fundamental to a functioning democracy. Efforts to undermine judicial independence, whether through the appointment processes or through direct interference in judicial decisions, threaten the democratic framework.

The recent rulings by the Supreme Court, particularly regarding the disclosure of electoral bonds and the autonomy of investigative agencies, illuminate the intricate dynamics of power within the democratic framework. The amassing of unimaginable wealth, with over 50% of all political donations flowing into the coffers of the ruling party, underscores the importance of transparency and accountability in political financing. Moreover, the perceived alignment of investigative agencies such as the ED, CBI, and Income Tax with the government’s agenda raises concerns about their independence and impartiality. This trend risks undermining the principle of fair play in politics, eroding public trust in democratic institutions. Preserving the judiciary’s ability to operate without fear or favour is paramount for upholding the integrity of democracy.

Despite the daunting challenges facing Indian democracy, the power to effect change remains with the ordinary citizen. History is replete with examples of democratic renewal and reform initiated by the grassroots, from the Civil Rights Movement in the United States to the recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. In India, too, the potential for transformative change lies in the hands of its citizens, especially as they approach the ballot box. The upcoming elections offer an opportunity for reflection and choice: to endorse the status quo or to advocate for a renewed commitment to democratic principles and practices.

As India continues on its democratic journey, the path forward requires a reaffirmation of the foundational principles of democracy: inclusivity, transparency, and accountability. Strengthening institutions, ensuring the independence of the judiciary, and fostering a free press are imperative. Equally important is the role of civil society and the electorate in demanding and upholding democratic norms.

The engagement of the Indian populace in the democratic process, through informed voting, activism, and civic participation, is crucial. Democracy thrives when its citizens are empowered, informed, and active participants in shaping their destiny. As India navigates the challenges of the 21st century, the resilience of its democracy will depend on the collective will of its people to cherish and protect the democratic ideals that have guided the nation thus far.

Indian democracy, with all its vibrancy and complexities, stands at a crossroads. The choices made by its citizens in the coming years will not only determine the direction of the nation but also the strength and vitality of its democratic institutions. The task ahead is daunting, yet the spirit of democracy, deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche, offers hope for a future where governance is truly by the people, for the people, and of the people

By lavkush