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Capsule Review

Transforming India: Challenges to the World’s Largest Democracy

In This Review

Transforming India: Challenges to the World's Largest Democracy
Transforming India: Challenges to the World's Largest Democracy
By Sumantra Bose
Harvard University Press, 2013, 352 pp. $35.00 Purchase

Bose lucidly analyzes India’s “decentered democracy,” in which power lies increasingly with the state governments. Their authority grows partly out of the federal constitution, but more substantially, it is the result of the takeover since the 1990s of many state governments by political parties that are rooted in local ethnolinguistic communities and that owe little loyalty to New Delhi. As an example, Bose explores West Bengal, where the long-ruling Left Front coalition built a political machine dependent on landless rural voters, until it was supplanted by a local breakaway faction of the Indian National Congress. He also looks at two communities that are profoundly alienated from the political system: Kashmiri Muslims, who have conducted a long-running rebellion in the face of brutal repression, and tribal groups living in a band of forested districts in the east, where a Maoist (or Naxalite) insurgency has smoldered for decades. The willingness of most Indians to commit to multiple social identities has produced a distinctive form of democratic politics. In revealing both the violence and the vitality of India’s democracy, Bose sees the country’s future prosperity and stability as anything but assured.

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