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Democracy in South Asia

Part of the series 2,500 Years of Democracy
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Robin Jeffrey examines how colonialism and religious divisions have interacted with indigenous tradition to produce a mixed balance sheet for democracy in and around the Indian sub-continent.

India is often called 'the world's largest democracy', and Indians sometimes contend it is the oldest. 'The Sabhas and the Samities which existed in ancient India', the deputy chairman of India's upper house told a Commonwealth parliamentary seminar in 1994, 'provided people an opportunity to participate in democratic institutions ... [India's] democratic tradition is probably the oldest' in the world.

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