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Prime Minister Shri Jawaharial Nehru and Shrimati Vijayalakshmi, the former Ambassador to the U.S.A., with Eleanor Roosevelt in 1952. Photo: Bettmann via Getty

Just five years after India gained independence — 71 years ago today — voters across the newly-born nation cast ballots in its first ever election. Some 176 million citizens, 85% of whom could neither read nor write, were eligible to participate in the vote.

Flash forward: Since then, India’s democracy has withstood the test of time. It’s in many ways an unlikely story. The sprawling nation of more 1.3 billion people is riven by divisions of language, class, and religion. The constitution recognizes 22 separate major languages that are spoken by at least one million people. A majority Hindu nation, India also boasts the world’s second largest Muslim population. The vestiges of the hierarchical caste system continue to limit people’s educational, career, and life prospects.

Despite these hurdles, the country has experienced seven decades of almost uninterrupted democratic rule.

  • Today, around 5% of Indians live in extreme poverty, down from a high of 60% just four decades ago. The administration of current Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made important strides in expanding access to electricity, healthcare, and sanitation.

There is plenty of work left to do.

  • The share of income accruing to the top 1%, a broad measure of inequality, is the highest since tax collection began in 1922.
  • Many find Modi’s push to move India away from its secular roots toward a new brand of democracy based around identification with its Hindu cultural and religious history worrisome.
  • The government’s recent threat to strip 4 million people, many of whom are migrants from the predominantly Muslim Bangladesh, of their citizenship demonstrates the danger.

Despite these challenges, at a moment when democracy is increasingly in question and under threat around the world, India’s largely successful effort over the past seven decades to reconcile the competing identities and passions of over 15% of the world’s population is a staggering accomplishment.

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Go deeper

Federal judge orders Trump administration to restore DACA

DACA recipients and their supporters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 18. Photo: Drew Angerer via Getty

A federal judge on Friday ordered the Trump administration to fully restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, giving undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children a chance to petition for protection from deportation.

Why it matters: DACA was implemented under former President Obama, but President Trump has sought to undo the program since taking office. Friday’s ruling will require Department of Homeland Security officers to begin accepting applications starting Monday and guarantee that work permits are valid for two years.

Updated 59 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Fauci says he accepted Biden's offer to be chief medical adviser "on the spot" — The recovery needs rocket fuel.
  2. Health: CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use" — Death rates rising across the country — Study: Increased testing can reduce transmission.
  3. Economy: U.S. economy adds 245,000 jobs in November as recovery slows — America's hidden depression: K-shaped recovery threatens Biden administration.
  4. Cities: Bay Area counties to enact stay-at-home order ahead of state mandate
  5. Vaccine: What vaccine trials still need to do.
  6. World: UN warns "2021 is literally going to be catastrophic"
  7. 🎧 Podcast: Former FDA chief Rob Califf on the vaccine approval process.
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Bay Area counties to enact stay-at-home order ahead of state mandate

Golden Gate Park. Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty

Counties around the San Francisco Bay Area will adopt California’s new regional stay-at-home order amid surges in cases and ICU hospitalizations, health officials said Friday.

The big picture: California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a three-week stay-at-home order on Thursday that would go into effect in regions with less than 15% ICU capacity. Despite the Bay Area’s current 25.3% ICU capacity, health officials from Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco and the city of Berkeley are moving ahead with a shelter-in-place mandate in the hopes of reducing risk.