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President’s Page: What India can show the world

India, the world’s largest democracy
and federation, was born in
terrible circumstances: partition
and the biggest mass movement
of people in history, literacy around 12
per cent, the constant spectre of famine
and a checkerboard of states and principalities
that had not previously been
governed together.
Against these enormous challenges,
Indian democracy has survived and
strengthened, while the country has
increasingly prospered. This success ranks
among the most important positive political
developments of the post-war world.
(In my view, the others are decolonization,
European unity and the collapse of Soviet
Independent India’s success is rooted
in its founders’ conception of a pluralist
country, inclusive of all the many strands
of its society – linguistic, regional, caste,
gender and religious. Their vision was
democratic and federal, secular and attentive
to the rights of minorities. This was the
vision of Gandhi, Nehru and others during
the long struggle for independence. The
Indians undertook the drafting of their
Constitution with the greatest deliberation.
A constituent assembly of 300 members
met for 165 days over a three-year period. It
was supported by innumerable committees
as well as reports and careful study of
the experience of a variety of democracies.
While views differed on such key issues as
the powers of the states, language provisions
and religion, in the end the
Constitution was a product of a broad and
legitimate debate amongst Indians, not
the parting gift of a retreating imperial
Since independence, India has coped
with virtually every challenge known to
politics: war, domestic insurgencies,
strong communitarian demands from linguistic
and religious groups, caste and
class tensions, corruption and even a
break in normal democratic
government. Inevitably,
there have been some dark
days, and India’s performance
in some areas has
been disappointing. But the
big story is one of remarkable
success in maintaining
the founding vision, and of
consolidating democracy
and positive social change.
India’s founders and leaders have
found inspiration not only in the great lessons
of Indian history, but also in political
experiences and thinking around the
world. The world also has much to learn
from India. Thus, it is appropriate that
India will host the 4th International
Conference on Federalism. Five hundred
Indian and 500 international practitioners
and experts on federalism will exchange
experiences around the themes of diversity,
fiscal federalism, local government
and intergovernmental relations.
The Indians will surely show their habitual
interest in lessons from others. But it
will also be an occasion for others to bring
a serious focus to India’s experience and
the lessons it can offer. For example, its
dramatic reform of local government has
brought 3 million citizens into elected
office with a tremendous impact on local
decision-making and the empowerment
of women. India’s experience is highly relevant
to various fragile democracies in
developing countries coping with deeply
diverse and often conflictual societies. As
well, with the world’s second-largest
Muslim population and other minorities,
it is relevant for long-established democracies
that are coming to terms with
multiculturalism and significant religious
minorities. Its scale and complexity
exceeds in many ways that of Europe,
whose project of creating a united community
in an environment of huge
diversity and historic tensions provides
interesting parallels and
The conference will go to
the heart of the Forum’s miss
ion of learning f rom
comparative experience. It
could be held in no better
place than Delhi in India’s
jubilee year.
P resident ’ s pa g e
A publication of the Forum of Federations
Associate Editor Carl Stieren
Cop y Editors Ernest Hillen and Robert
Editorial /Administrati ve Assistant
Rita Champagne
LAYOUT Shannon Elliot
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Other editions
French: Fédérations
Le fédéralisme de par le monde, quoi de neuf
Russian: Федерации
Что нового в мире федерализма
Spanish: Federaciones
Lo nuevo del federalismo en el mundo
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What India can show the world
by George Anderson
George Anderson is the president and chief executive officer of the Forum of Federations.