Recently, India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said that despite the outward appearance of health, Indian democracy appears to have become hollow, with elections reduced to a farce and the "party system eroded due to unethical practices." According to Vajpayee, "The outer shell of democracy is, no doubt, intact, but appears to be moth-eaten from inside."
Indeed, in the preface to a recent collection of his speeches, Vajpayee wondered whether democracy had truly taken root in India. "How can democratic institutions work properly," he asked, "when politics is becoming increasingly criminalized?"
This is a strange turn, for parliamentary democracy has long been a source of pride for most Indians. The country may not match up to its Asian neighbors in prosperity, but Indians have always been able to boast of the vitality of their parliamentary system. Nowadays, such boasts are heard far less frequently.
Not only are India's economic failures more obvious, in comparison to Asia's revived economic juggernauts; so, too, are the failures of its political system. Unprincipled politics, cults of violence, communal rage, and macabre killings of religious minorities have all combined to shake people's faith in the political system's viability. Small wonder, then, that people are starting to ask whether India needs an alternative system of government.