India’s improbable democracy siding with autocracy?

india’s Improbable DemocracySince 1947, India has forged and consolidated the world’s largest democracy—an endeavor that is far from complete. India continues to wrestle with such diverse challenges as ethnic conflict, governance deficits, and stunning economic disparities among regions and peoples.

On the eve of India’s much anticipated 2014 general election, Ashutosh Varshney, author of Battles Half Won: India’s Improbable Democracy, will examine the successes and failures of Indian democracy while placing it in comparative perspective. Carnegie’s Ashley J. Tellis will moderate.*

Despite its democratic credentials, India exhibits disturbingly pro-autocratic sympathies.

When President Obama visited India in 2010, he called the warming relationship between it and the United States the “defining partnership of the 21st century,” Gardiner Harris writes for The New York Times:

Decades of disagreements, from Cold War ideological battles to squabbles over the United States’ close relationship with India’s archrival, Pakistan, would take a back seat to the many shared interests of two of the world’s largest and most diverse democracies.

But almost four years later, the United States and India have found themselves on opposite sides of the world’s most important diplomatic issues, from the crisis in Ukraine, in which India came to Russia’s defense, to a long-awaited vote to investigate Sri Lanka’s government for atrocities committed at the end of its civil war (India abstained).

After Russia invaded Crimea, much of the world criticized Moscow, with even China and Iran obliquely expressing concerns, Harris writes:

India, almost alone among major countries, supported Russia, with its national security adviser, Shivshankar Menon, citing “legitimate Russian and other interests involved.” In response, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia praised “India’s reserve and objectivity” in a March 18 speech before the Duma. On Thursday, India was among 58 countries that abstained from a United Nations General Assembly vote seen as condemning Russia.

That same day in Geneva, at the United Nations Human Rights Council, India was one of 12 nations to abstain on a resolution, strongly backed by the United States, calling for an independent investigation into war crimes committed during Sri Lanka’s civil war. The abstention came after India had supported two previous resolutions backed by the United States regarding Sri Lanka’s civil war.

“The Indians have not made it easy,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a former senior American diplomat and now a professor of diplomacy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “It would certainly be of benefit if the Indians were stronger partners in the major challenges to peace like Iran and Russia in recent years.”

April 2, 2014 Washington, DC 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM EST RSVP

Ashutosh Varshney is Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences at Brown University, where he also directs the India Initiative. Previously, he taught at Harvard University and the University of Michigan. He is a contributing editor for the Indian Express and author of Battles Half Won: India’s Improbable Democracy (Penguin, 2014).

Ashley J. Tellis is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace specializing in international security, defense, and Asian strategic issues.