A democracy on its own is not the solution to any of the aforementioned problems. China had many of these problems and solved most of them as a single-party socialist state and Russia as a Federal semi-presidential constitutional republic. Even monarchies, under a benevolent ruler, can solve most of the aforementioned problems. Egypt flourished for centuries as an absolute monarchy, and recent evidence suggests that many of its citizens were much better off than Hollywood would lead us to believe (and that the pyramids were not built by slaves but by farmers who were employed as workers during the off-season).
Like every form of government, democracy has advantages and disadvantages — with a major disadvantage being that a majority of the representatives have to agree before a law can be made or an action can be taken. And when you have a country with six recognized national parties and forty-seven recognized state parties (and approximately twenty more unrecognized state parties), this can be an enormous challenge. After all, the United States couldn’t even keep its government running last fall and it is effectively a two-party system!
Then there is the apparent unwillingness to challenge the status quo, focus on controversial or taboo issues that a country as progressive, modern, and rich as India shouldn’t still be dealing with (such as dalit, a lack of access to modern sanitation for the 55% of households that still practice open defecation, extreme poverty for the 33% of the population below the official poverty line and the 36% of the population that are not much better off, wide-spread under-nourishment and low life expectancies, and so on), or even take on industry (as noted by Dreze and Sen in An Uncertain Glory when they noted that the Finance Minister of India backed off from his proposal to introduce a small excise duty on gold and precious metals used for jewelry when jewellers and other influential people whose interests were effected responded with massive protests). If India wants to become a real first-world country, then it has to be willing to tackle the tough issues, make the tough decisions, and move forward. Populism does not progress make.
Not only does India have the challenge of having to deal with six recognized national parties and forty-seven recognized state parties (and approximately twenty more unrecognized state parties) across thirty-five states and territories, but it also has to deal with the fact that its constitution promotes local control. In some respects, the federal government faces the same challenges as the EU when it tries to standardize trade laws, for example, as India’s constitution (which is the longest constitution in the world at over 117,000 words) allows complete local autonomy in key arenas, with “schedules” (or lists) for the central government, states, and both to share.
And, as noted in William Antholis’ book on Inside Out India and China, India’s centralization effort led to the creation of a dark-side in the central government’s efforts to appease the different states and territories that threatened secession in the early days of the union. In particular, the end result was an elaborate system of license requirements and regulations, as well as carefully crafted spoils and quotas to placate different communities. This “License Raj” has helped to stifle the economy and led to massive local mismanagement and corruption at all levels — mismanagement and corruption that has to be addressed for India to prosper.
Again, a democracy on its own is not the solution to any of the aforementioned problems. There needs to be a willingness to accept the problem, address the problem, and work together towards a solution for the common good, regardless of the consequences, for any progress to be made. Until India politicians accept, and embrace this, en masse, progress will (continue to) be slow — and may not even materialize at all in some of the backwater states and territories (which would be happy just to obtain the quality of life promised by an Amish Paradise).