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Is India Losing Faith in Democracy?

As the furore that erupted across India over the gang rape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi continues to simmer a month after the horrific incident, some people, including Prem Shankar Jha, a seasoned journalist and one of the sharpest commentators on Indian affairs anywhere, noticed that something very interesting is going on: Indians are losing faith in democracy.

“[T]he rape was a criminal act committed by criminals,” writes Jha in the Hindu. “But most of the anger was directed at the government. Barring a few lapses, the Central and State governments acted promptly, and with commendable efficiency. The Delhi police captured the alleged rapists within hours and the government spared no expense in its attempt to save her life.”

What December’s rape incident did, Jha writes, was bring to the surface a deeper and more complicated resentment among Indians, one that

stems from a profound sense of betrayal. Democracy was meant to empower them. Instead, in a way that few of them understand even today, it has done the exact opposite.

In spite of being a democracy for 65 years, the Indian state has not been able to create something that people value even more than material benefits: a just society. It has achieved this unique feat by making both its elected legislators and its bureaucracy, not to mention its lower judiciary, immune to accountability. It has therefore become a predatory state that the people have learned to fear.

India’s experiment in democracy is still young, and many of the pillars holding up the house are still weak. If you want to understand something about the currents of political life and the future of democracy in India, read Jha’s piece. It’s illuminating.

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