Political change in India has been carried out as a deliberate policy by the government ever since independence. Most of these plans, involving political, administrative and economic reform, however, have not been effective, facing major political, bureaucratic, religious, ethnic, communal and demographic forms of resistance to change. These components of resistance, therefore, came both from within the state as a system, the political system as a whole and from the cultural, economic and social structures of India. India has recently become a nuclear power, and at the same time, it is one of the most impoverished nations in the developing world. I believe that this contradicting status of India, being a nuclear power and an impoverished third world country can be explained through Samuel Huntington’s theory on political systems.

Very recently, India has started a number of reforms in its socialist system, especially the opening to free markets have been faced by serious internal challenges from a huge bureaucracy that is trying to survive and maintain its power in the system. All these relations are imposing threats on whatever attempts are made to catalyze development in the political and economic systems and structures of India. India faces many dilemmas, several of which will be discussed in this paper in reference to the Huntington’s theory on political development.

Theoretical Background

Samuel Huntington’s theory on stateness and political development focuses mostly the impact of security as a primary concern for the state. He argues that political systems will favor more stateness when they are faced with security dilemmas or objectives, particularly when these systems are threatened by or have just come out of war. Obsession with national security in the theory of Huntington makes security-related politics the supreme issue for the political system. At the same time, the politics of the state will be oriented to enhance the legitimacy of the social power or elite at the top of the state. Huntington’s theory will be reviewed and analyzed accordingly in the Indian context.

Shift from Socialism to Capitalism

Historically, between Independence and 1991, India had a socialist economic system in which the State dominated the economy. In 1991, and following the collapse of socialist systems in Europe, reforms towards privatization and free-market operations were started. Such a development has meant that individuals and corporations were to gain more rights and freedoms and to have a more prominent role in the development of the economy as a whole. It also meant a decline in the involvement of the state in the management of the economy. India is a interesting case among Third World countries because it “is one of the few states of the postcolonial developing world in which democracy was installed at the time of independence and in which it has survived” (Thomas, p.20). However, democracy in India has usually be described as being in crisis, and economic development in this country has suffered serious backlashes in the past. Today, India emerges as a nuclear power in Asia, but at the same time, it is one a country that is seriously stricken by poverty, underdevelopment, corruption, and instability.

India’s shift to capitalism was forced by a number of measures. To start with, for more than five decades, the state was not able to vitalize the economy. Agricultural reforms failed because of the high cost of subsidies. Subsidies increased the expenditures of the government, but at the same time, they did not result in significant increases in productivity or outcome. Moreover, efficiency continuously declined, a trend that was also seen in industries subsidized by the state (Gupta, p. 20).

Another cause for the shift to capitalism and open markets was that the government was becoming aware of the growth of globalization. With a highly regulated economy, the Indian government realized that India would not be able to become part of the international economic developments if it did not liberalize its economy. Liberalizing the economy, however, implied declining the power and impact of the state on the economy, and this specifically was resisted by the huge bureaucracy that historically dominated and controlled all economic policies (Gupta, p. 21).

Apparently, in the early 1990s, India has been working on a policy of decreased stateness, mainly for two reasons. On the one hand, its national security was threatened by economic underdevelopment, and the only way to deal with this situation was to reduce stateness. This goes in disagreement with Huntington’s theory, probably because Huntington did not view economic pressures or problems as possible threats to national security.

National Security Restrictions

One of the major factors that affect democracy, administration and economic development in India is national security. Threats to national security in modern India have recurred on many occasions. For the example, the succession of Pakistan in 1947, and later the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971 have all contributed to increasing the threat to national security and decreasing the capacity of democratic development in India. In addition to these major threats, India continuously lives under the threat of civil strife between the Hindu and the Muslim minority, and over the years, this strife has claimed more than half a million victims.

Furthermore, in 1997, both India and Pakistan officially became nuclear powers, thus intensifying the arms race between them. Pakistan remains the primary source of threat to India’s national security. Such a threat is a major impediment to the application of democratic reform in India, especially that security apparatuses remain on alert and national security expenditures remain high (Nair, p.39).

Instead of using resources to combat poverty and underdevelopment, India is spending heavily on its military program, on the confrontations with Pakistan and on empowering its military arsenal (Nair, p.40).

Economist analysts have over and again argued for major cuts in its defense budget and expenditures. Furthermore, they have emphasized that privatization in India still requires more commitment by the state in order to make the economy efficient and in order to reduce the deficit on the state, particularly that corruption in the state remains a major impediment to economic and administrative reform (Nair, p.41).

With respect to the security problem with Pakistan and its restrictive impact on political and economic development, Huntington’s theory is valid, specifically that India has invested heavily in the development of its military and nuclear power, depriving other vital sectors from the funds needed. Furthermore, this security concern has resulted in continued power of the state.

Massive Bureaucracy

Another serious problem facing economic development in India is massive bureaucracy. Massive bureaucracy, it will be made obvious, is one means through which India responds to its internal security problems. India’s population will exceed one billion people in a few years, and the size of the bureaucracy serving this population has been growing at a fast rate. Between 1981 and 1994, the local governments increased their recruitment from 7.5 million to 10.3 million people, whereas the central government increased in size from 5.9 to 7 million civil servants. Meanwhile, the size of the private sector only increased slightly in size, growing from 7.3 to 7.9 million people over the same period, mostly in the service rather than in the agricultural or the industrial sectors (Nair, p.41).

The bureaucracy’s pressure on the economy was also doubled when in 1986, the principles governing salaries in the public sectors were revised, thus leading to an equality of compensation to workers in the central government, the local governments and in the quasi-governmental agencies (Nair, p.42).

The size of the bureaucracy increased dramatically in the 1980s as a result of the over-centralization policy that was adopted by the government. This policy was mainly the product of the government’s need to impose more control on the community, especially with the increased religious and communal clashes that characterized that period (Gupta, p. 29).

While over-centralization gave the state more power and led to reducing the communal tensions that arose in the 1980s, it imposed a heavy burden on the state. One burden was economic in nature, resulting from the increase in public expenditures, at depriving the state of the ability to spend on agricultural, industrial or development programs. Moreover, the growth of the bureaucracy was perceived by many sectors of the community as a means for political empowerment, economic growth and social mobility. Accordingly, this imposed more pressures on the government and created further resistance to any future attempts to reform the system and reduce its size (Gupta, p. 31).

The reason bureaucracy has remained strong is that this bureaucracy acts as an absorber of whatever internal and communal shocks may take place among the numerous interest and other groups in India. In other words, this high level of stateness is necessary to face any potential threats to national security that may arise as a result of discontent among the various groups in the system. Bureaucracy is simply the medium in which all these groups are represented and through which many ethnic, economic, political and internal frustrations and pressures are released. Huntington’s theory is therefore valid in this respect.

Unstable Democracy

Internally, India is not only plagued with religious divisions, but also with serious political and ethnic differences. These characteristics make disintegration very possible. Most of these differences often end up in riots and confrontations all that are crushed by the state, thus, violating the development of democracy in this country. Violations of human rights in India are frequently witnessed. At the same time, the power of the state in India is reflected in the manner in which its constitution is perceived, thus, “India’s democratic constitution places the well-being of society and the security of the state above the fundamental rights of the individual” (Thomas, p.73).

In congruency with this aspect, the central government of India enjoys more power, especially during emergency periods than any democratic government. The various kinds of emergency laws that are available to the Indian government, that is, those that can be carried out in the state or in the entire country, are all in favor of the central government, enabling it to sacrifice democratic values and at the same time, to protect the stability of the state. The national security obsession has over the years accumulated a lot power in the hands of the central state and in the bureaucracy, making it increasingly difficult to reform the administration, especially as bureaucrats are closely allied to politicians.

India’s democracy, in fact, is actually a mixture of a democracy and a client-patron system where communal, religious and political relations impose a great deal of influence on the behavior of the state and economic policies. In this context, while a democratized system is supposed to offer even political and economic opportunities in the system, this is not the case in India where allocation of resources is always determined by influence and power (Nair, p.39).

Ethnic divisions are another serious threat to India’s security and political development. Containing hundreds of ethnic and religious groups, India’s harmony had been maintained in one way or another for decades. However, in 1984, the Indian army was used by the central government to attack the Sikh’s Golden Temple in Punjab. This incident was a turning point in the ethnic relations in India. Not only did the Sikh soldiers lead mutinies within the army, but ethnic divisions soon spread within the state and the bureaucracy became highly polarized on ethnic basis (Thomas, p.81).

This was specifically witnessed in the management of the caste system. The lower castes, historically known as the untouchables and often treated as pariahs in society were positively influenced by the social and political reforms of the 1960 and 1980s. The Indian Constitution adopts an affirmative policy that allocates 28% of all jobs in the State to lower caste members. The affirmative policy proved to be problematic in a community where ethnic divisions and politics run high. Violent communal clashes involving political parties and imposing their threat on the state and the economy were witnessed in the 1980s and 1990s. For example, in 1990, more than a 150 young people belonging to the upper castes challenged the affirmative policy and burnt themselves. The high death toll forced the collapse of the government and the increase of communal tensions (Gupta, p. 21).

Maintaining a strong central government, a massive bureaucracy and a powerful military and security system, India’s high level of stateness is only an outcome, even though it remains a hindrance to political development. Huntington’s views are reflected again since the political status quo is basically aimed at reducing the dissatisfaction of various sides and at the same time, legitimization of the elite in power, even if this happens at the expense of political and economic development.

Obstacles to Reduced Stateness

In 1994, India’s government started increasing privatization. There were, however, a number of serious problems that made this new policy difficult to carry out. First of all, there were political objections, especially that the bureaucracy was politicized, and at the same time, politicians and political parties depended highly on support from within the bureaucracy, especially during elections. Thus, the alliance between labor unions and politicians led to a serious slowing down in the process of privatization.

More importantly, corrupt deals were cut at each and every step of privatization made. Thus, with the lack of transparency, privatization lost much of its effectiveness as an economic reform tool in India (Gupta, p.12).

Privatization was in many ways aimed at reducing corruption, revitalizing the economy, reducing the state’s economic involvement, creating job opportunities, combating poverty, and opening markets to investment. What happened however, was that privatization replaced the old system known as the “license-quota raj” with a new form which was just as corrupt. The same bureaucrats who were in control of the corrupt agencies and positions in the state eventually became part of the newly privatized order. Bribes were simply replaced by commissions, hence profiteering and illegal enrichment continued, this time at an increasing level, and involving huge amounts of money (Gupta, p.13).

One obstacle that faces privatization in India is the lack of infrastructure. India’s infrastructure remains underdeveloped. This situation has discouraged the private sector from seriously considering privatization as an opportunity, especially that the weak infrastructure does not encourage foreign investors to pour funds into the Indian economy. The government has been trying to invest in infrastructure, but given the heavy burdens of other public and military expenditures, little attention has been paid to this area (Sikligar, p. 178).

Yet, economic reform has already achieved some results in some areas. To start with, it has reduced the ethnic pressures that continuously characterized the bureaucracy. Political relations were overtaken by business and economic interests, and these indeed succeeded in transcending ethnic considerations. Furthermore, the new economic reforms have vitalized the role of the middle class who are now embarking on all kinds of economic and investment activities. In the long run, these changes are expected to change India’s economic and social structures, but this will also require a crackdown on corruption, especially that bureaucrats still exercise considerable impact on the economy, mainly in the areas of licensing and contracts (Gupta, pp. 13-14).

Privatization is a form of economic reform, and it involves reducing the power and role of the state. Apart from administrative obstacles such as the large bureaucracy and corruption, India’s program of privatization is negatively influence by the security-stimulated need for a strong central government.

Demographic Restraints

India has one of the largest populations on earth, second only to China. Experts, however, believe that in a few decades, India’s population almost one billion today, will be exceeding that of China. With a rate of growth at 2.03%, India’s population problems are translated into political and economic pressures, sometimes seeming to be insurmountable. The continuous growth of the population necessitates continuous economic growth and at the same time, it demands a growth in the bureaucracy. However, as already witnessed, India’s bureaucracy has been growing at a fast rate, but neither its efficiency nor its effectiveness have been noticeable. For several decades, India’s consecutive governments had been trying to spread contraception methods and awareness of the dangers of population growth. Most of these policies, however, have failed and India’s population growth in the late 1990s is not different from that in the 1970s and 1980s. Population growth is now addressed as a national problem, one that is fundamentally related to poverty, underdevelopment, and unemployment (Sikligar, p.177).


India’s democracy has been characterized as being in crisis. India’s political development perils are depicted in Huntington’s theory on political development and stateness. The level of stateness remains very high in India, partly due to the fact that national security is the supreme and primary objective of the system, and partly because of the numerous obstacles to political, economic, social and administrative reform. Several solutions have been devised. First of all, greater discipline should be enforced in the ruling and opposition parties. This implies that more political accountability and inspection should be exercised. However, this will require the agreement of politicians in the first place, especially those at the top of the hierarchy, specifically as they realize that imposing such accountability will have them exposed in the first place to these new restraints. The client-patron system in India, however, makes this improbable because increasing political accountability means that politicians will be cutting themselves off from the many methods through which they are able to exercise political control.

Secondly, select committees should scrutinize all major legislation. This has already been undertaken in India since the early 1990s, but needless to mention, the complicated legislative system that divided power between the states and the central government makes it almost impossible to reach harmony in legislation. The dilemma here is that trying to achieve harmony will lead to more growth of the central government at the expense of the local states, which is against the political outlook in the country right now.

Thirdly, the central and state governments should embark on a major civil service retrenchment program to reduce the tyranny of the bureaucracies. Another dilemma is witnessed here. Initially, the growth in bureaucracy was part of a national policy to reduce communal and ethnic tensions, and at the same time, to increase the incorporation of various groups in the state. Retrenchment at this point will definitely increase these tensions and it will be resisted by all kinds of interest groups. Gradual retrenchment is recommended, but again, it is not clear how this can be possible at a time when the bureaucracy is still growing steadily, even as privatization takes place.

Fourthly, central, state and local police forces should be retrained and disciplined to enforce law and order more equitably.

Fifthly, the administration of justice should be made more effective by enhancing written arguments for long oral arguments in higher courts. Indeed, the slow judicial system in India is in itself a restraint to economic and social development. Automation of the system has been suggested, but the economic restraints have not led to any improvements so far.

Sixthly, an ad hoc committee should formulate a more rationale and functional allocation of resources among the central, state, and local governments. This issue is currently a central one in the debates taking place in India at the national level, and it is proving to be more political than administrative, particularly most political entities have major stakes in the bureaucracy and its resources.

Seventhly, the political power base should be broadened by giving fair shares to neglected sections of society. The objective of this recommendation is to increase political representation through political parties rather than through the state or the bureaucracy. The problem, however, is that such a policy cannot be carried out independent of economic and social reforms that should extend to the underdeveloped part of the community.

Finally, the government should downgrade religious programs through the formulation of guidelines for television, radio and other media. This recommended policy aims at reducing religious and ethnic tensions, many of which are propagated by the media in India. Most of the media are owned by the state, but still, they are highly influenced by all kinds of religious and political consideration. Reducing religious and ethnic tensions on the media may not solve India’s problems, but it is certainly a step forwards, especially in a country where the media is becoming increasingly popular.


India is a country that faces a wide array of problems and threats to its economic development. These problems include poverty; corruption; an ineffective and large bureaucracy; political, ethnic and religious tensions; heavy military and security agendas; uneven development among states and regions; discrimination among various ethnic and religious groups; and many others.


Gupta, Anjuli. India in Transition. New Delhi: Allied Publishers Private

Limited, 1996.

Jain, R. B. “Political Control of Bureaucracy in India.” Indian Journal of

Public Administration, 1998.

Pachauri, S. K. “Election administration in India – Reflections on aspects

of 1998 elections.” Indian Journal of Public Administration, 1998.

Sikligar, P. C. “Social development: A profile.” Indian Journal of Public

Administration, 1998.

Thomas, Raju G. Democracy, Security and Development in India. New

York: Brown & Benchmark, 1995.

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