India 1971: Strained Democracy

February 17, 1971

Report Outline
Turbulence in Politics and Society
National Problem of Overpopulation
Prospects for India's Future Viability
Special Focus

Turbulence in Politics and Society

Mirror Image of National Ills in New Election

India's 275 million voters go to the polls between March 1 and March 9 in the largest election in history. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, 53, seeking a majority in the 523-seat Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, faces an electorate as divided as it is huge. No less than 10 political groups—espousing ideologies ranging from the extreme right to the far left—are seeking power in India's fifth national election since independence in 1947. Typically, their platforms are based on the contentious issues of regionalism, caste, language and religion. Underlying these currents coursing through the subcontinent are questions vital not only to Mrs. Gandhi's ruling Congress Party and the future of the country but to mankind in general.

As the world's second most populous nation, India is a crucible of Malthusian theory. Medicine has increased longevity and cut the death rate but an intensive, and recently faltering, population-control program has not significantly slowed the birth rate. As a result, India's 555 million citizens can expect their number to grow by 13 million by this time next year, an increase equivalent to the entire population of Australia or Peru. The sheer mass of people wipes out many gains in national development. Although 75 million children are in primary and secondary schools, the illiteracy rate is still about 65 per cent. Despite over-all economic development, the per capita income is still less than $100 a year. And despite recent increases in food production, many Indians suffer poverty and hunger.

There is now a growing concern about the survival of democracy in India. Rising expectations, thwarted by slow national progress, have already resulted in rioting. Unemployment, especially among university graduates, has provided Communist groups with a fertile recruiting ground. Peking-oriented terrorists in West Bengal seek the violent overthrow of government. Strangely, this ferment is taking place in a society where centuries-old traditions continue to resist change—especially in the villages where 70 per cent of the population lives. Illiteracy, the obduracy of custom and the nature of rural life in India create difficult problems of distribution. And this is true whether the item to be distributed is food, education, new agricultural techniques, birth control methods or political appeals for votes in the forthcoming election.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
India
May 2007  India Rising
Apr. 19, 2002  Emerging India
Jun. 11, 1976  India Under Authoritarian Rule
Feb. 17, 1971  India 1971: Strained Democracy
Jan. 18, 1967  India's Election and Economic Prospects
Nov. 03, 1965  Kashmir Question
Oct. 24, 1962  India-China Border War
Jan. 31, 1962  India's Election and Political Progress
Oct. 21, 1959  India, China, Tibet
Apr. 29, 1959  India's Hard Years
Apr. 30, 1958  Kashmir Conflict
Jun. 10, 1954  Neutral India
Jul. 18, 1951  Relations with India
Mar. 13, 1946  Freedom for India
Nov. 24, 1942  India and the War
Mar. 28, 1930  The Political Crisis in India
BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
Democratization
Population Control
Regional Political Affairs: Middle East and South Asia