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About this book

A broad-ranging introduction to politics and society in India, set in a historical and cultural context. Written by two expert authors it assumes no prior knowledge but aims to provide a balanced and nuanced understanding of the key issues that have faced India since independence and the challenges it confronts in the 21st century.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Contemporary India is a diverse and dynamic polity and society. It is a country of contrasts — and home to the second largest population in the world. Many different languages and dialects are spoken among a population of more than 1.1 billion people. India has a rich and fascinating culture which is shaped by several different religious traditions as well as the linguistic diversity of the country. Indian society is far from uniform and is heterogeneous. As well as extensive cultural variety there are important regional and class differences that help give Indian society its multi-layered character. Indian society is also marked by a system of social stratification known as caste which accords different groups high and low social status. Contemporary India has been decisively shaped by its history. Traders, visitors and invaders brought their own culture and priorities to India. The transition to self-rule in 1947 after a decisive struggle with the British Raj brought with it important changes. Most notably, Indian nationalists adopted universal suffrage and socialist-style economic planning. Since 1991, reforms have been made to this economic system which have created opportunities for business and investors, but also posed challenges as some economic inequalities have increased, notably between states of the federation.
Katharine Adeney, Andrew Wyatt

1. The Making of Modern India

Abstract
Key historical developments are vital to help explain the character of contemporary India. Extreme examples of religious conflict, such as the shocking violence in Gujarat in 2002, have to be understood in the context of history. Interpretations of Indian history have been hugely controversial. In the nineteenth century James Mill divided Indian history into successive periods of Hindu civilization, Muslim civilization and British civilization. This simplified division exaggerates the importance of religion as the organizing principle of politics. It also implies that Hinduism and Islam in India were coherent and separate traditions. In fact these faiths have co-existed and intermingled, and contain many different traditions. In reality, although there were several periods of Indian history where conflict between religions occurred, for much of the time members of different religions co-existed peacefully, and the conflicts that did occur were often contingent ‘result(ing) from chance political events or the clashing of festivals’ (Bayly, 1985: 203). Hinduism includes so many different traditions, deities and scriptures that some scholars prefer to talk of the Hindu religions (Thapar, 1985).
Katharine Adeney, Andrew Wyatt

2. The Diversity of India

Abstract
India is physically and socially diverse. This is not surprising given the scale of the country. It is the seventh largest country in the world, not including Antarctica, in terms of land area. It covers over three million square kilometres — almost all of which is land mass. In comparison, the former colonial power, the United Kingdom, has only 7 per cent of India’s land mass, and India’s main rival, Pakistan, only 24 per cent. While large in comparison to most countries in Europe, India is only about one third the size of the US. But even in relation to the US, India is huge when it comes to population size, which passed the billion mark around the turn of the century and was projected to be 1.176 billion by 2010 (Government of India, 2001b). The only country with a larger population is China (2009 estimates are 1,339 million). Experts disagree as to the precise date, but by all estimates India is set to become the country with the largest population in the world in the next few decades. India is also one of the most linguistically and religiously diverse countries in the world, and is also divided by region and caste. The diversity, large size and geographical spread of its population structures the challenges that face India. India’s human geography is also diverse, with notable differences in religious, linguistic and ethnic identities.
Katharine Adeney, Andrew Wyatt

3. Governing Structures

Abstract
Even six decades after independence, an outsider examining India’s governing structures would be struck by their similarity to many British institutions. The similarity is not accidental. The British slowly developed parliamentary and federal institutions of government in the ways outlined in Chapter 1. These were not fully democratic or fully federal institutions but they were consistent with the logic of a parliamentary system. The elite that wrote the constitution gained their first experience of government in a system designed by British politicians and administrators convinced of the efficiency of their own institutions. Although the 1950 constitution has been amended 94 times since independence, its basic structure remains the same. What has changed more markedly, however, has been the society within which it operates. Contemporary India is a very different country than it was at the time of independence. These changes are discussed in more detail in the following chapters. Many of these changes have affected how the governing structures of India now operate; for example, the presidency, a largely ceremonial post, has grown in importance in recent years. The formal institutions have shown remarkable durability. The informal conventions that shape political behaviour have changed and contributed to a political system that operates rather differently than it did in the 1950s.
Katharine Adeney, Andrew Wyatt

4. Social Change

Abstract
India has undergone important social change since it gained independence from Britain in 1947. Some of these changes were in process already but the context changed significantly with the transition to democratic self-government. The colonial regime had been innately conservative and politically authoritarian. After independence the political system became much more democratic and there was an official presumption that the Indian state should encourage social reform. As a result of these reforms and gradual increases in prosperity, India in the early twentieth-first century is a very different place to live in. We focus on changes in the key areas of population growth, caste, class and gender. However, not all changes have been positive, and the changes just mentioned have empowered certain sections of the population more than others.
Katharine Adeney, Andrew Wyatt

5. Politics and Society

Abstract
It would be surprising if contemporary India’s politics and society were not very different than they were in the middle of the twentieth century. These differences are a result of not only endogenous changes within India, such as the introduction of universal suffrage and competition between different political parties, but also structural changes in the polity, for example the linguistic reorganization of states in the 1950s, as well as changes in the economic model that India managed itself by — most notably after the economic liberalization of the early 1990s. Still other changes have occurred because of exogenous changes such as increasing globalization and technological innovation. This is seen most markedly in the fields of technology and the media, which have had a dramatic impact on politics, society and the structure of the media itself. The image of India’s position in the world has also changed (as we discuss further in Chapter 8). Contemporary India as a nation is arguably as divided as it was at independence, despite (or maybe because of) the nation-building project pursued by different elites. The democratic articulation and representation of the different sections of Indian society are indicative of a vibrant society but many sections of that society feel excluded from the ‘mainstream’, as we discuss below.
Katharine Adeney, Andrew Wyatt

6. Nationalism and Culture

Abstract
A key theme of this book has been the diversity of India, in many different spheres. The commonly used term ‘the Indian subcontinent’ recognizes this size and diversity. How then does this diversity fit with nationalism? There is something approximating a pan-Indian culture that is consumed, to a greater or lesser extent, across all Indian regions. In this category we can talk of sport, literature, film, as well as the national media discussed in the previous chapter. Much, but not all, of this material is communicated in English and is accessed by middle-class consumers in India and elsewhere. Some cultural forms, including sport and some films, depend less on language. There are flourishing popular cultures across India and in each of the major regional languages there is serious cultural production in the forms of literature, film, popular music, broadcast and print media. Improvements in communications technology mean that these products are also consumed by members of the diaspora. As we will discuss in this chapter, Indian nationalism is strong, especially when directed externally, against Pakistan. It is also very evident at the time of major sporting fixtures, especially those involving cricket. A sense of Indian identity, however imperfectly communicated, can be seen in the juggernaut that is the Bollywood film industry. Just as important are the attempts of the Indian state to foster and standardize a strong sense of identity. The components of that identity have political implications, as we shall see. They are also contested — and have changed over time.
Katharine Adeney, Andrew Wyatt

7. Political Economy

Abstract
India’s policy-makers have tended to view the international economy cautiously. This was especially true before 1991 when multinationals, foreign investors and even expatriate Indians were commonly treated with disdain (Kumar, 1996; Lall, 2001). These policies can be traced back to the nationalist critique of colonialism. Attitudes among policymakers relaxed after 1991 when market friendly reforms were introduced. However, the transformation has been gradual and policy-makers are keen to shield India from instabilities in the global economy. As we shall see, India remains quite inwardly focused. Attempts by the Indian state to direct economic development have had mixed outcomes. On the positive side, India has modest external debts and a stable currency. The economy has developed substantially since the British colonial period. Indian industry has depth and breadth that is unusual for a developing country. Inflation has been kept within tolerable limits and economic growth has been achieved. Until the late 1970s economic growth was modest, with GDP growth averaging 3.7 per cent in the period 1950–64 and 2.9 per cent in the period 1965–79. Critics dubbed this the ‘Hindu’ rate of growth. The GDP growth rate was an impressive 5.7 per cent between 1980 and 2004 (Kohli, 2006: 1254).
Katharine Adeney, Andrew Wyatt

8. India and the World

Abstract
India is not content with its current international status. Indian foreign policy-makers assume that India is a unique and important state and India wants to be regarded as a leading power of equal status to world powers such as the US, Russia, and China. Ultimately India would like to see a world order in which US dominance is replaced by multi-polarity where power in the international system is shared among key states. This ambition is held in spite of the fact that India is short of some of the sources of material power, namely military capability and economic wealth, that major powers are assumed to possess. Since the mid 1990s India has changed its foreign policy profile and boosted its image. Much is made of speculation that India will emerge as one of the world’s largest economies (Narlikar, 2007: 984–5). The strategic value given to India by US security planners is also taken as confirmation of India as a world power (Pant, 2007b: 57). Although for some commentators these bold ambitions represent a new departure in Indian foreign policy, we see strong continuity in policy-making. The 1998 nuclear tests and improved relations with the United States are important developments but their importance should not be overstated.
Katharine Adeney, Andrew Wyatt

Conclusion

Abstract
Three themes have run through this book. We have discussed India’s diversity, revealed areas of change and demonstrated how and why India’s national identity matters. India’s extreme diversity and the richness and variety that result from it create opportunities and challenges but India has long been challenged by its diversity. Contemporary India still grapples with important social and regional differences and the demand for the creation of new states and continuing violence among certain sections of religious groups in particular areas of India demonstrate this all too well. The case of Kashmir is far from resolved and violence sporadically breaks out in the Valley. Violence is also a regular occurrence in the north east of the country where calls for autonomy, separatism or statehood abound. The Naxalite violence in the ‘red corridor’ is also a serious challenge to the security of India’s citizens. But, as we have been at pains to point out, to acknowledge that India is consumed by tensions between different groups does not mean that this is the reality of existence in contemporary India for the vast majority of Indians. The diversity of India and the existence of numerous cross-cutting cleavages such as caste, class, gender, region, religion and language is a force for stability rather than instability (Manor, 1996).
Katharine Adeney, Andrew Wyatt
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