South Asia and the Fourth Wave of Democracy

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South Asia and the Fourth Wave of Democracy


Dr. Madhavi Bhasin

The Third Wave of Democracyi swept through South Asia accompanied with apprehensions and anticipation about how democracy would treat South Asia and how South Asia would treat democracy. This exciting interaction led to helpful answers and new questions regarding the prospects of democracy in the developing countries. South Asia’s reactions to the third wave and consequent developments can provide an insight into the design of the distinctive democratic models emerging across the globe. The third wave was characterised by five forms of regime change, three of which have been witnessed in South Asia. The relevant forms of regime change include:

  1. Cyclical- alteration between democracy and authoritarianism

  2. Second-Try Pattern: Weak democracy gives way to authoritarianism which is replaced by stronger democracy

  3. Interrupted Democracy: Temporary suspension of democratic system and then its resumption

Without exception, all countries of the South Asia regionii have demonstrated one of the above patterns during their political evolution. The commonality running through these patterns has been a matter of grave regional and international concern: the lack of sustainable democracy in South Asia. Authoritarianism makes an unfortunate return at regular intervals in most of the regional states. Political reforms during the present decade show encouraging signs of greater democratisation among the South Asian states. The trials and tribulations of the past experiments and the present challenges reveal certain interesting characteristics of the regional democratic endeavour. The uniqueness of the ‘attempts at democracy’ in South Asia is not only an analytical challenge but also a rare lesson in the consistent desire for democracy despite recurring failure. Perhaps the developments in South Asia mark the beginning of the fourth wave of democracy: trial and error democracy to evolve appropriate variants of Western liberal democracy. This wave is inspired by the failure to duplicate the popular tenets of Western democracies, the attempts to align demands of identity and freedom in new democracies, proper balance of state guidance and individual freedom and a process which while maintaining the distinctiveness of various ethnic, religious and cultural diversities successfully undertakes the nation-building endeavour.

Political developments in each of the eight states are specimens for comprehending the future of the fourth wave. The present discussion is not expected to be a historical narrative of democratic experiments in South Asia. It is an attempt to understand the democratic innovativeness, in response to national demands, and its consequent impact on the nature of the political systems in South Asia.

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