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‘The most reckless political experiment in human history’

Indians wait in a queue to cast their votes at a polling station in Kachanar on the outskirts of in Varanasi, India Sunday, May 19, 2019. Indians voted in the seventh and final phase of national elections Sunday, wrapping up a 6-week-long long, grueling campaign season with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party seeking reelection for another five years. AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh

The writer Ramchandra Guha once described Indian democracy as “the most reckless political experiment in human history.” It’s a nation that, despite being comprised of disparate ideologies and languages, regularly lures its citizens to the  voting booth even in the most poor and isolated areas, says Northeastern professor Ravi Ramamurti.

“This is really against lots of odds; you wouldn’t think that a country that was this poor could really be effective as a democracy and that poor people who were not educated would know how to vote; would know what their interests are,” says Ramamurti, University Distinguished Professor of International Business and Strategy at Northeastern. “That has proven not to be the case and turn out in Indian elections has been higher than they are in the U.S.”

portrait of Ravi Ramamurti

University Distinguished Professor of International Business and Strategy at Northeastern. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Ramamurti, who is also a founding director of the Center for Emerging Markets at the D’Amore McKim School of Business, recently returned from India, where he says the public discourse centered around anxieties about the global economic slowdown and its ripple effect on the republic.

On Tuesday, the Center for Emerging Markets will host Ashutosh Varshney, a professor at Brown University, for a talk on the achievements and deficits of Indian democracy. Among the issues he is likely to raise, says Ramamurti, are secularism, the state of the media and the judiciary, the recent elections that Prime Minister Narendra Modi won resoundingly, and the relationship between democracy and economic development.

The reasons for India’s economic slowdown are manifold, Ramamurti says.

“Part of it is global slowdown, because when the whole world slows down, every country slows down,” Ramamurti says. “Some of it may also reflect the need for structural reforms—such as labor laws and land acquisition policies—which may not be very popular, and this is where democracy may again come into the debate.”

The lingering dispute between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region may also come up during Varshney’s talk.

“I’m guessing that the developments in Kashmir will be something that’ll come up in the conversation,” says Ramamurti. “Over the yearsProfessor Varshney has studied the relationship between minority communities and the majority Hindu community. He has studied where it’s been more tense and where it’s been less so, and what lessons you can take away from that.”

Tuesday’s event will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. in the Raytheon Amphitheater. Registration is required.

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu.

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