The world’s largest democracy is distinctive. With dozens of languages and hundreds of dialects spoken, India’s population is among the most diverse in the world.
“It’s very fluid, very dynamic, almost chaotic when viewed from the outside,” said Mira Kamdar, author of Planet India, a book that examines “the turbulent rise of the largest democracy and the future of our world.”
India is a country “going through a continued phase of incredible evolution and change,” she told America.gov. In recent decades, India has moved from the tight control of a political dynasty to a rough-and-tumble era of coalition governments that must respond to broader constituencies.
ROLE OF NEWSPAPERS
According to Sevanti Ninan, media analyst, author and co-founder of www.thehoot.org, regional newspapers have helped that process. “It’s a post-liberalization phenomenon,” she said. In the early 1990s, growth in advertising made it lucrative for vernacular papers to expand regional editions.
There are upwards of 70 such papers in the politically important and populous Hindi Belt in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh alone.
“There’s an emerging rural middle class, it has purchasing capacity, it’s interested in buying newspapers, it’s upwardly mobile,” and it delivers a new, “very broad segment to the advertiser,” Ninan said.
These papers do a great deal of local reporting. “If a bridge collapses, or a shoddily built hospital or road, you start saying, ‘Who built it?’
“When the press gets more local, there is more scrutiny of local institutions and local governments, and in that sense people have a greater say, they know what’s happening, the little fellow who wants to get elected from there becomes accountable.”
Ninan said the institutionalization of the panchayat, or council of five, as a formal village governance system has spurred more citizen involvement.
Election of five elders to a village council to arbitrate local disputes is a tradition in India. But in 1994, a...