Arend Lijphart, “The puzzle of Indian democracy: A consociational interpretation”, APSR 90 (1996), pp. 258-268

Main Argument:

India is not a deviant case for consociational theory, rather it is an impressive confirming case. Indian democracy has displayed all four crucial elements of power-sharing theory. In fact, it was a perfectly and thoroughly consociational system during its first two decades.


Method: Theoretical piece with India as a case study.


== Notes ==



–     In contrast with Mills and Harrisons thinking, power-sharing theory holds that democracy is possible in deeply divided societies but only if their type of democracy is consociational

–     Consociational theory maintains that power sharing is a necessary (although not a sufficient) condition for democracy in deeply divided countries

–     That is, characterized by (1) grand coalition governments that include representatives of all major linguistic and religious groups, (2) cultural autonomy for these groups, (3) proportionality in political representation and civil service appointments, and (4) a minority veto with regard to vital minority rights and autonomy

–     Indias democracy is, in line with the usual interpretation, mainly majoritarian because of the frequency of one-party majority cabinets, the highly centralized federal system that K. C. Wheare (1964, 28) considers only \”quasi-federal,\” and a highly disproportional electoral system that has regularly enabled the Congress Party to win parliamentary majorities without ever winning a majority of the popular vote


Indian democracy has clearly exhibited all four of the defining characteristics of power sharing also found in the other prominent examples of consociational systems:

  1. Government by grand coalition: India’s vehicle for grand coalition is the cabinet; Congress system has served as the foundation for a consociational grand coalition
  2. Cultural autonomy: for religious and linguistic groups has taken three main forms in power-sharing democracies – (1) federal arrangements in which state and linguistic boundaries largely coincide, thus providing a high degree of linguistic autonomy; (2) the right of religious and linguistic minorities to establish and administer their own autonomous schools, fully supported by public funds; and (3) separate \”personal laws-concerning marriage, divorce, custody and adoption of children, and inheritance- for religious minorities
  3. Proportionality: power sharing has managed to coexist with the plurality electoral system inherited from the British. One reason is that plurality does not disfavour geographically concentrated minorities, and Indias linguistic minorities are regionally based
  4. Minority Veto: in power-sharing democracies usually consists of merely an informal understanding that minorities can effectively protect their autonomy by blocking any attempts to eliminate or reduce it.


Consociational theory tries to explain the probability that power sharing will be instituted and maintained in divided societies in terms of nine background factors that may favour or hinder it:

(1) The most serious obstacle to power sharing in divided societies is the presence of a solid majority that, understandably, prefers pure majority rule to consociationalism

(2) The second major factor is the absence or presence of large socioeconomic differences among the groups of a divided society

(3) If there are too many groups, then negotiations among them will be too difficult and complex

(4) If the groups are of roughly the same size, then there is a balance of power among them

(5) If the total population is relatively small, then the decision-making process is less complex

(6) External dangers promote internal unity

(7) Overarching loyalties reduce the strength of particularistic loyalties

(8) If groups are geographically concentrated, then federalism can be used to promote group autonomy

(9) Traditions of compromise and accommodation foster consociationalism