The Implications of Political Corruption for India’s Economic Development

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The Implications of Political Corruption for India’s Economic Development

Varun Gajendran
EDGE Research Paper
Professor Lusignan
TA: Sahil Khanna

Fundamental Problems With the Indian “Democracy”

Although India is the largest democracy in the world, it continues to struggle on a daily basis to fight corruption in politics at both the national and local levels. In a nation with such a rich diversity of languages, cultures, and traditions, nothing is more important to reconciling all the differences than the right to vote. However, the democratically elected government seemingly does nothing to bridge the enormous gap between the rich and the poor and to make the lives of the 300 million people living below the poverty line any better (Roy, 1). While India has more people living in poverty than any other nation, finding a solution to these basic issues of human rights has recently taken a backseat to nuclear weapons testing and other extravagant nationalist issues on the Indian political agenda. Furthermore, the instability and corruption of the government since India won its independence in 1947 has discouraged the long-term investments that are needed to drive economic growth. The fact of the matter is that India is on par with the United States as one of the models of democracy in the world; yet, India is far behind the United States in its economic development. There can only be one explanation for India’s unimpressive economic record and the plight of its 300 million citizens living in poverty — the unprecedented political corruption and instability that can so easily be seen at all levels of government. Unfortunately, there are very few means for the citizens to fight the corruption in the current system. The only power they have is through the vote, and yet many Indian citizens are denied the opportunity to vote. Although the recent administration of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in the 1990’s took the first steps towards putting an end to political corruption and tried to make all government officials more accountable for their actions, there is still much work that needs to be done to reform the roots of political corruption in India.

A History of Political Instability and Party Conflict

Part of India’s problems with corruption can be explained by its tumultuous history of conflicts between political parties. After India won its independence, it was ruled by the Congress Party, led by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawharlal Nehru. Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, then took over office as Prime Minister until 1977. As political and economic problems worsened, she declared a state of emergency and proposed reforms to remedy some of these problems. She called for elections in 1977, seeking to mandate her policies at the polls. Ironically, she lost these elections to Moraji Desai, who headed the Janata Party, a coalition of five opposition parties (“India”, 2). These were some of the earliest indications of political corruption in post-independence India. While Indira Gandhi was reasonably confident about victory at the polls, corruption at the local levels of government led to the majority of India’s poor citizens in villages being unable to vote. Following a short stint under Desai’s government, Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980. However, she was assassinated in 1984, and her son, Rajiv Gandhi, was chosen to take her place as the leader of the new “Indira” Party, which still had its roots in the Congress Party. The “Indira” Party was forced to step down in 1989, however, due to allegations of corruption. The government was then controlled for a year by the Janata Dal, a union of opposition parties that was able to draw support from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the right and the communists on the left. This was a very loose political marriage that had been in place for the sole purpose of overthrowing Rajiv Gandhi’s “Indira” Party. They were as corrupt, if not...
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