Indian Democracy Series

India is unique in history in having a sustained democracy in a poor country with a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society. Today, its economic strength is also widely recognized and celebrated. The role democratic processes play in the sustenance and diffusion of this economic strength into the wider reaches of Indian society is a central question that must be engaged. In order to create an environment in which such crucial questions can be discussed and alternative solutions offered by politicians, policy makers, thought leaders, NGO activists, and scholars, the Institute for South Asia Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, together with the Foundation for Democratic Reforms in India (FDRI), organized two a high-level annual seminars, the first in May 2007 and the second in September 2008,  hosted on the Berkeley campus. The primary objective of these seminars was to provide direction and reflection on key issues that may challenge the democratic institutions of India in the 21st century. The aim was to generate ideas that would not only spur greater understanding of complex issues, but could also be implemented in terms of policy.


Democracy 1 The 1st FDRI/Berkeley Seminar on Indian Democracy
Governance & Empowerment
A conference on the role of local governance & civil societies in Indian democracy
May 24-25, 2007

The first in a series of annual seminars on Indian democracy was held at Berkeley on May 24-25, 2007 and attended by a host of Indian dignitaries, including Union ministers, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Jaipal Reddy, former Chief Minister of MP Digvijay Singh, Kerala finance minister Thomas Isaac, Infosys CEO Kris Gopalakrishnan, well-known media personalities Chandan Mitra and Kalpana Sharma, NGO activists Arvind Kejriwal, Ramesh Ramanathan and Jayaprakash Narayan, constitutional lawyer Rajiv Dhavan, as well as prominent Berkeley academics. In addition to noting the sheer magnitude of what India had managed to achieve and sustain regarding development of democratic institutions, local governance and empowerment, the conference highlighted the obstacles that stood in the way of achieving higher levels of accountability, lower levels of corruption and more effective governance, as well as broader challenges facing Indian democracy. In particular, the role of Center-state relations and fiscal constraints on devolution, as well as the strains brought about by increasing inequality, were noted by participants.

For a list of participants and papers presented please see the conference website

Report from the first conference

Democracy 2 The 2nd FDRI/Berkeley Seminar on Indian Democracy
Justice & the Law
A conference on the role of law in Indian democracy
September 26~27, 2008

Without mechanisms in place to ensure safety, justice and certainty, a democracy cannot survive. India has had an independent judiciary for decades, but how effectively does it function and is able to truly deliver impartial justice to its citizens? How do other state actors like the police and army function to uphold the law? What recourse is available when these instruments of the state themselves break the law? Civil society, like citizens groups and even the private sector, are often involved in promoting justice and just practices. How does civil society work with the average citizen when he or she does not feel that justice has been served? What alternate forms of dispute resolution mechanisms are available? What lessons can we learn from successful examples of effective and democratic legal environments? Luminaries from government, the judiciary, civil society, the media, academia, and the corporate world will be invited to address these and other vital questions through a series of panel presentations, breakout sessions, and keynote lectures.

For a list of participants and papers presented please see the conference website

Report from the second conference


Index of Democratic Governance
in Indian


Index of Democratic Governance in Indian States

The first conference on governance and empowerment generated quite a bit of excitement both here at Berkeley and in India. As a result of this first successful meeting, we established a partnership with Lokniti (the research arm of the Centre for Developing Societies in New Delhi) to rank Indian states on a set of governance and empowerment indicators.

A major challenge that the governments in the Indian states face is their capacity to fulfil the needs and aspirations of its citizens. The level of trust reposed by the citizens in the capacity of the state has often been a subject of animated debate. Some state governments in India, however, are better at addressing people’s needs than others. For instance, in Tamil Nadu the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is implemented with far fewer leakages than in Uttar Pradesh.

In collaboration with FDRI and other partners, Pradeep Chhibber, along with Lokniti is working to develop an index of democratic empowerment and governance for the Indian States. Democratic em- powerment implies the extent to which citizens have a say in how they are governed and democratic governance refers to the capacity of the government to deliver its policies equitably and in an ac- countable manner. This index will have four aims: first, to showcase the states which are doing better than others; second, to help devel- op best practices across the states; third, to assess whether different groups in the states – such as the middle classes; Dalits; Muslims; women etc. have varying percep- tions of the working of state gov- ernments and fourth, to develop a globally bench-markable index of governance. The first phase of the study has been completed. Lokniti carried out a survey with over 17,000 respondents. The date is being currently analyzed and we hope to have a report ready soon.