Date: May 06, 2019

With an electorate bigger than the total population of Europe, India’s democratic journey has no parallel. Organising credible elections of phenomenal scale stretching for more than seven decades in a region characterised by military coups and failed states and steering mega scale social and political transformations in a large country with widespread poverty and mass illiteracy has earned India considerable global respect as a democracy powerhouse. As a successful democracy, India has been making steady contribution to the causes of democratic movements and strengthening of democratic governance beyond its shores, albeit in a low-key manner. These support range from soft development aid to lobbying through its diplomatic missions in many neighbouring countries notably in Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Maldives, Bhutan, Sri Lanka among other.  Unlike the United States (U.S) and European Union (EU) models that make direct interventions often by nurturing and supporting civil society groups, defending human rights actors and provide conditional assistance, India’s democracy support and technical assistance have been channelled through UN agencies.

Further, the country has developed a strong and admirable capacity in providing technical and capacity building support including electoral management and training of electoral personnel largely based on the request from the recipient democracies. For decades, India’s Electoral Commission has been extending technical and electoral management support in its neighbouring countries and far off places like Namibia, Tunisia and Egypt. The most visible contribution has been to conflict-ridden Afghanistan.

Importantly, going against its non-alignment policy developed during the Cold War, India has joined hands with major Western democracies particularly the United States to create and nurture new institutions such as UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF), Community of Democracies to support democracy at international levels. Incidentally, India is one of the largest contributors to UNDEF totalling more than $ 32 million that support 66 NGO-led projects in South Asia. Not only this, India hosted World Movement for Democracy conference in 1999. The country also helped to form the United Nations Democracy Caucus, the only body within UN system to convene democratic states based on shared values. Furthermore, it was India that played a critical role in setting up IBSA forum with large developing democracies of Brazil and South Africa to support the causes of democracy worldwide. Overall, India has emerged as a great turnaround story for the global democratic order and a powerful example against a non-democratic China. Thus, it is no surprise that the QUAD – quadrilateral initiative of four major democracies of Indo-Pacific revolves around India’s anchor role.

Driving Questions

Despite such voluminous contribution to the cause of democratisation and good governance,  the world’s largest democracy doesn’t yet have an official policy on democracy support. It’s political and diplomatic leadership shy away from taking open stance on international democracy support. This has prompted scholars and democracy watchdogs to label India as a “reluctant or hesitant promoter”. Why is India wary of “democracy promotion” despite its extraordinary (if not unblemished) record in maintaining its democratic institutions since independence in 1947? The word ‘democracy’ is a complete amiss in India’s foreign policy. Is it not time for the region’s democratic powerhouse to have its own official agencies equivalent of USAID (U.S) or DFID (Great Britain) to anchor its external democratic assistance? Would not an official policy help India plan and improve the nature and quantum of its contribution to aid liberal democratic order and help soar up its soft power appeal better? Needless to say, sheer demographic weight and geopolitical ambitions/rising economic profile demand India play a more visible and assertive role in defending values and promote its own unique democratic models.

It is against this background, the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) with the support of Asian Democracy Network (ADN), Seoul, South Korea proposes to kick-start a series of dialogues and brainstorming on the above identified issues/questions revolving around India’s approach to democracy assistance. Apart from Delhi, we propose to hold consultation at four major cities (Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore) representing each of India’s geographical region. This regional series will be concluded at Delhi with top policy makers/democracy scholars along with the representatives from the regional cities and the neighbourhood.  Overall, the proposed exercise endeavors to build much required momentum on India’s external democracy support. Read the agenda

The event is from 10:00-13:45 hours

Venue Address

Burdwan & Coochbehar Hall, The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata