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Ancient History: Democracy in India

GS Paper 1

Syllabus: Ancient History


Source: TH

 Context: In the context of India’s 76th year of Independence, the article highlights the debate surrounding the origins of democracy and India’s claim to being the “mother of democracy.”


What is Democracy?

Democracy is a system of government where power is vested in the hands of the people, allowing them to participate in decision-making through voting and representation.


The debate:

Western narrative claims that democracy was invented in ancient Athens before being rediscovered and spreading around the globe in modern times.

While ancient Greece is often associated with the birth of democracy, India’s historical references to democratic practices challenge this narrative.


Aspect of Democracy:

AspectExamples from India’s History
Early Democratic PracticesReferences in ancient texts like the Rig Veda and Buddhist scriptures suggest democratic forms of governance in India. The Vinay-Pitaka scripture regulated meetings and voting through a secret ballot system in Buddhist sanghas.
Ancient RepublicsAncient Indian states like the Lichhavis, Mallas, and Vajji confederations were republics with self-governing systems.
Representation and Decision-MakingDemocratic practices within Gana sanghas involved decisions taken by members themselves. The governing style was maintained through conventions applicable to these groups.
Democratic InstitutionsThe mention of institutions like sabha, samiti, and sangha in texts indicates democratic setups, where discussions, resolutions, and equitable resource distribution were emphasized.
Diverse GovernanceThe coexistence of various forms of self-governing groups, such as warrior formations, religious fraternities, and economic organizations, showcased diverse democratic models in different contexts.
Recognition by HistoriansGreek historian Diodorus Siculus mentioned India’s independent and democratic republics, indicating external acknowledgement of democratic systems in ancient India.
Parallel EvolutionJust as Greek democracy evolved independently, Indian democracy evolved through ancient republics and assemblies. Indian democracy’s roots are as ancient as those of Greek democracy.



Despite historic roots, flaws in the system, such as the exclusion of certain groups, discrimination, and weak political rights exist. There is a need of protecting democracy, as gifts like democracy can also be vulnerable to erosion.


To know about democracy from a polity point of view: Click here


Insta Links:


Mains Links:

To enhance the quality of democracy in India the Election Commission of India has proposed electoral reforms in 2016. What are the suggested reforms and how far are they significant to make democracy successful? (UPSC 2017)


Prelims Links: UPSC 2021

Which of the following factors constitutes the best safeguard of liberty in a liberal democracy?

  1. A committed judiciary
  2. Centralization of powers
  3. Elected government
  4. Separation of powers


Ans: 4