The fifty years of the independence of the India have been marked by still unresolved problems – from poverty to social tensions to difficult relations with neighboring countries – but also by extraordinary and unexpected successes. In spite of forecasts, India has managed, unique among the Third World countries, to keep a democratic system alive, ensuring free elections and guarantees for citizens in a subcontinent that went from a population of about 350 million residents in 1947 to over 980 million in 1998. The Indian democratic system has verified its strength not only in the elections, which were always held regularly, but also in the capacity for reaction demonstrated on the occasion of the attempt to suppress constitutional guarantees (and with them civil rights), carried out in the middle of the year Seventy, by Indira Gandhi and failed due to the non-ratification of the electoral body. Another success was that of having come to identify with greater clarity the profound contradictions and the structural elements of crisis, to a certain extent constitutive, of the compromise on which India has built its national identity, an identity, despite the ‘original division on a religious basis with Pakistan, founded on a form of secularism which, in the integral recognition of plurality, tended to reconcile, not mix,
In fact, the country presents itself as a mosaic of religions (Hinduism itself cannot in the strict sense be defined as a unified religion and the presence of more than one hundred million Muslims makes India the third Muslim country in the world), of languages, of communities, of ethnic groups, with a complex social stratification still based on caste, with very strong regional differences not only found on the economic level, but above all on the basis of well-being indicators such as literacy rates, infant mortality, life expectancy at birth. If we compare the data referring to the southern state of Kerala with those relating to northern Uttar Pradesh, it is observed that in the former the literacy rate is 94 % for men and 86%.% for women compared to 56% and 25% of the second, the infant mortality rate is 16% of live births against 97%, life expectancy at birth for men is 71 years against 58. If differences and contrasts have found possible coexistence only through the secular approach, which seems to have made the state a recognized source of legitimacy and of the India something more than the sum of its parts, Indian secularism, as it has been built, on the other hand, does not cease to appear problematic, because it seems to “reflect the sum of the collective feelings of intolerance of the various communities, rather than based on the synthesis of their capacities for tolerance” (Sen 1998, p. 119). A secular path, moreover, fraught with difficulties as evidenced by the deaths, at the hands of fundamentalists or members of religious minorities, of Gandhi in 1948, of Indira Gandhi in 1984, of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
The idea of India as a common home of diversity has been one of the strong points of the party that has ruled the fate of the country almost continuously for forty years, the Indian National Congress (THE). In the 1950s, under the leadership of Nehru and according to a ‘self-centered’ development model, based on a decisive state intervention in the economy, the foundations were laid for the achievement, in the 1960s, of food self-sufficiency and for the construction of a substantial production base, although economic development was not combined with an effective policy of social reforms and the large number of constraints introduced by a centralized economic planning system had ended up creating a strong rigidity of the industrial apparatus. The very vastness of the country and the colonial legacy of a relatively competent administrative apparatus had also induced the ruling class to invest in middle and high-level education while neglecting mass literacy.17 different languages have joined English and Hindī as the country’s official languages). The rise to power of Nehru’s daughter, India Gandhi, had not changed the statist approach, but had combined it with the progressive affirmation of a personalistic and autocratic model, aimed at identifying the party with the family; a model which, however, found it increasingly difficult to make the different souls present in the Indian National Congress coexist(I) and to support the compromise between the upper castes, the lower ones and the religious minorities on which the party itself had founded its social roots and built its success. Finally, the nineties marked a profound turning point in the life of the country; in fact there was an unstoppable decline of the dominant party, a progressive fragmentation of political representation and the consequent affirmation of coalition governments. The credibility of the Indian National Congress (I) as a guarantor of the secular state, he accused the repercussions induced by the explosion of violent conflicts between different communities, by the accentuation of separatist tendencies (Assam, Kashmir, Panjab, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal) and by the emergence of terrorist groups. At the same time, those same years were characterized by the growth of regional parties and formations with strong ethnic and religious references, the latter often carrying fundamentalist visions, such as the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), who in the space of a decade became one of the protagonists of the political scene, proponent of a program based on the affirmation of Hindu culture and on caste representation, with strong roots in the states of the Hindu belt of the north of the country and in particular in the Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of the Union.
The caste system, on the other hand, was undermined by the very exercise of democracy which by its nature was progressively opening up spaces also to previously excluded sectors of the population: in many regions governments that expressed low castes came to power, while economic transformations of a liberal imprint launched at the beginning of the nineties introduced further changes in the social stratification, leading the lower castes and the ‘outcasts’ to demand new forms of participation. The tendency towards the polarization of caste identities emerged clearly, for example, on the occasion of the reform (1990 – 92) of the quota system, which provided for an increase in the quota reserved in public employment for the rural lower castes and which aroused violent grievances from students, mostly belonging to the middle-upper castes and the urban bourgeoisie. The disintegration, however slow and partial, of such a complex social stratification obviously represented a vehicle of crisis and imbalance for the whole system.
Ethnic and religious conflicts escalated at the end of 1992, when Hindu fundamentalists destroyed the Babur mosque, already the center of bitter disputes, on 6 December in the city of Ayodhya in the overwhelmingly Hindu state of Uttar Pradesh. This initiative was followed by a wave of violence that shocked almost the whole country, causing more than two thousand deaths and rekindling ethnic and religious particularisms, even different from the traditional Hindu-Muslim conflict. A terrorist wave hit Panjab, Assam and Kashmir, reaching in March 1993also Bombay and Calcutta. The government led by PVN Rao, initially uncertain and worried about losing consensus among the Hindus, then reacted by outlawing the oldest Hindu nationalist organization, the National Volunteer Corps (RSS, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and dismissing, with a much discussed measure, some local administrations governed by the BJP. However, the government, internally divided, did not accompany the repressive measures with other broader initiatives. The Rao administration demonstrated greater incisiveness, as well as in an active foreign policy, in the management of the economy, where the liberalizing choice, started in 1991 and which had actually led to the dismantling of the centralized system, produced regular GDP growth, although it greatly accentuated regional differences and increased inequalities in educational policies, leaving the country with such a high illiteracy rate (48 % of the adult population). in 1995) which did not seem to reconcile with the potential induced by economic development. For India religion, please check thereligionfaqs.com.
Despite the successes reported internationally and the moderate results achieved in economic policy, the popularity of the government, involved more and more often in episodes of corruption and the path of increasingly strong internal conflicts, suffered a sharp decline, confirmed by the heavy defeat of the Indian National Congress (I) in the regional elections held in the main India states between the end of 1994 and the beginning of 1995. The elections also marked a strong rise in regional parties, accentuating a phenomenon that had already emerged from the end of the 1980s and only very partially attenuated in some local consultations in 1993. The general political elections set for the spring of1996 were preceded by a new wave of corruption allegations that hit both the executive, in the person of its prime minister, and the main opposition figures. In fact, the leaders of the BJP and those of the Janata Dal were involved. The consultations, which took place between the end of April and the beginning of May, marked the defeat of the Indian National Congress (I), increasingly compromised by scandals, the defection of numerous prominent personalities and the crisis of some important local federations. In fact, the party obtained only 136 seats compared to 227 in 1991. The elections instead registered the affirmation of two opposing political forces: on the one hand the National Front-Left Front, a heterogeneous coalition comprising social democratic parties such as the Janata Dal, an expression of the low castes, communist parties, such as the ruling one in West Bengal, regional parties and other smaller forces, united more than by a program of common will to end the hegemony of the Indian National Congress (I); on the other hand, the BJP in alliance with other small groups. The two coalitions won 179 and 194 seats respectively. After a failed attempt by the BJP, whose government remained in office for only thirteen days, the mandate was given to HD Devgoda, who emerged, after arduous consultations, as candidate for prime minister of the United Front, a new name assumed by the coalition of thirteen center-left parties. A politician of regional stature, not coming from the upper castes – a decidedly unusual fact among national leaders -, Devgoda gave life, in May, to an executive with the external support of the Indian National Congress (I).