SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 2

This course is designed to provide students with a broad introduction to the conceptual, historical, and sociological factors that contribute to democracy and authoritarianism in South Asia. While India is the main focus for building in-depth knowledge and within-country comparisons, the course places Indian cases in comparative frames, with other South Asian countries.

The course introduces students to recent theoretical work in the field of democratic authoritarianism and South Asian studies. Throughout, the emphasis is placed on analyses of political processes rather than a description of events. At the end of the course, students should have a good understanding of academic work on the South Asia and an ability to write well-structured and well-researched papers on selected subjects in the field.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Acquire advanced knowledge of Indian politics – its historical trajectories and major themes as welll as similarities and differences from politics of the other countries of the region.
  • Crtically engage with the main scholarly approaches relevant to an understanding of Indian politics, including claims of Indian exceptionalism, as well as important debates in the theoretical and historical literature on South Asia.
  •  Construct arguments that demonstrate knowledge of Indian and South Asian cases as well as general theories of democratic authoritarianism, combining empirical knowledge with theoretical analysis.


1 hour Lecture per week

2 hour Seminars per week

Scope and syllabus

Week 1 – The Colonial State
Week 2 – Varieties of Nationalism
Week 3 – Constitutional frameworks and Secularism
Week 4–  Parties, party system and democracy
Week 5 – Caste, affirmative action and democracy
Week 6–  Reading Week
Week 7 – Religious nationalism and decmoracy
Week 8 – Federalism and ethnic conflict
Week 9 – Development and democracy
Week 10– Foreign Policy and democracy
Week 11– Paradoxes of Democracy and authoritariansim in South Asia

Method of assessment

Assessment is 100% coursework (two x essay).

Suggested reading

  • Joel S. Migdal et al eds., State Power and Social Forces: Domination and Transformation in the Third World, 1994
  • Mark Tushnet and Madhav Khosla ed. Unstable Constitutionalism: Law and Politics in South Asia (Cambridge: CUP) 2015
  • Hansen, Thomas Blom, The saffron wave: Democracy and Hindu nationalism in modern India 1999
  • Bhargava, Rajeev, Secularism and Its Critics, 1998
  • Corbridge Stuart and John Harriss, Reinventing India, 2000
  • A. Kohli (ed.) The Success of India’s Democracy, 2001,
  • Dreze J and A K Sen, India: Development and Participation, 2002,
  • Jalal, Ayesha, Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia, 1995
  • Chatterjee, Partha, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories, 1993,
  • Sudipta Kaviraj, The Imaginary Institution of India, Politics and Ideas, 2010.
  • Nandini Gooptu ed. India and the British Empire, Oxford University Press, 2012.J


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules