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Method in the Madness: Spatio-Temporal Trends of Democratization in India

Sat, September 2, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Parc 55, Cyril Magnin I


One of the most remarkable developments of the twentieth century has been the high number of countries that transitioned to democracy. As an early democratizer, India is often hailed as a prime example of a functioning democracy in the developing world. However the literature subnational authoritarianism has shown that within large democracies, there can be subnational variation in terms of democraticness within countries. Moreover, in some cases subnational authoritarian regimes can exist within democratic countries. Although India is the largest democracy in the world, systematic data about the quality of democraticness across states has so far been lacking. Based on a large scale data collection effort, this paper presents a novel index that measures the variation of democraticness across states in India. Since the poor performance of democracies in the developing world in providing even basic services to its citizens has put a question mark on democratic governance (Fukuyama, 2015), it is imperative that we reflect more systematically on the quality of democracy in the world’s largest democracy.

Democratic regimes may develop in different and varied ways, and this is true at the subnational level. Sub-national political regimes play an important role in political development in general and democratization processes in particular, as has been widely acknowledged in the recent literature. The studies of sub-national ‘isles of autocracies’ within democracies have examined various countries around the globe. Recent evidence from presidential systems in Mexico (Beer and Mitchell, 2004; Gibson, 2005), Argentina (Gervasoni, 2010) shows that within national-level democracies, states exist where the ‘electoral playing field’ is highly uneven, and where the competitive process is systematically biased in favor of incumbents (Giraudy, 2015). In these cases, democratic competition is thus virtually absent. Although there is evidence for substantial within-country variation in the performance of democratic institutions (Kohli, 1990; Varshney, 2000; Dreze and Sen, 1995; 2002), a systematic picture of electoral contestation, a minimal condition of democracy, is lacking for the subnational level in parliamentary systems such as India. This hinders the analysis not only of cross-state variation in the quality of democracy, but also the analysis of the causes and effects of the the quality of democracy.

This paper presents a new comprehensive dataset that covers the quality of democracy for all Indian states and Union Territories of the last thirty years. The paper extends previous approaches to the measurement of subnational variation in the quality of democracy, which have focused exclusively on presidential or semi-presidential systems, to a parliamentary democracy. The index provides new data on contestation, turnover, and state autonomy, which are all measured with multiple indicators. Also the paper maps the temporal and spatial trends in subnational democracy within India since the 1980s and analyses the patterns of democratization and the spread of authoritarianism. The data set, which will be publicly available, provides a starting point for moving forward scholarship on the determinants of public good provision and the deeper meaning of democracy. The paper also opens up comparative possibilities with Latin America that are currently unexplored. This could crucially extend our understanding of democratization processes within the developing world.