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Sunday, March 22, 2009

How did India manage to stick with democracy

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Hello to all the followers of my blog. I am really sorry for being away for sometime.

So finally my MBA came to an end and I left home to join my job. At one of the bookstalls at the railway station I managed to find a copy of the book that I had been planning to read for sometime. It is "India after Gandhi" by Ramachandra Guha. From what has been my experience has been so far ( read around 400 the 770 pages), I would seriously recommend you this book. This book is a must for every Indian. Our NCERT History books just talk about India's history till Independence. So other books include the first six months of Independence till the death of Mahatma Gandhi. There is whole lot of history of India that included unification of Indian Union with its princely states, linguistic division of India into states, emergency, the three war, and many more such exciting stories. Here is one of them. Although the author doesn't directly point out this story explicitly, but it is quite implicit.

How did India manage to stick with democracy and secularism? According to a statistical analysis of the relationship between democracy and development in 135 countries found that 'the odds against democracy in India were extremely high'. Given its low levels of income and literacy, and its high levels of social conflict, India was predicted as a dictatorship during the entire period' of the study(1950-90). Since in fact, it was a democracy practically the entire period studied, there is only one way to characterize India, namely as 'a major outlier'. (Source: India After Gandhi)

So why didn't we go down the route of dictatorship. Based on my understanding, I believe there were two basic reasons. The first reason was that our freedom movement was not just a struggle of a certain section of the society. Nor was it an armed movement of revolutionaries. It was a non-violent people's movement from the very beginning. The ordinary citizens were made part of it and involved. This created a certain sense of awareness among the people. And with 4 years of independence, India had its first general elections. Unlike the West, in our democracy was based on adult suffrage(i.e. every adult has a right to vote). In the West, the democracies initially started with voting rights restricted to only the people who were literate.

Secondly, India was lucky to have a stable political leadership its first 20-25 years. It was Mahatma Gandhi who chose Nehru as his political successor. Infact the Congress Working Committee had voted for Sardar Patel to lead the country. This decision proved to be critical. Firstly, because Nehru had the stature and respect that he commanded from the ordinary public. Secondly, Nehru was a firm believer in secularism. And finally, the most important point is that Nehru was much younger. For instance, Sardar Patel died in 1950 at an age of 75, while Nehru was only 61 at that time. The Father of the Nation of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah also died soon after indepence at an age of 72.

With a relatively young charismatic leader at the top, coupled with a weak opposition parties, Congress was in power for the first 20-25 years with any serious challenge to it. It was this environment that allowed a new untested democratic institutions of a fledgling state to take shape and grow stronger. Today we have an independent judiciary, a free press and an impartial election commission these forces make sure that we remain firmly on the path of democracy. A brief look at Pakistan tells us that it had 7 Prime Ministers between 1947 and 1958 and they also lost their biggest leader Jinnah. Jinnah commanded respect in Pakistan and his presence could have made Pakistan a stronger state.

While India faced many challenges during the Nehru's era like Wars, Division into states on linguistic basis, national language issue, etc but Nehru's Congress was an undisputed leader at the Centre thus ensuring stability. This stability may or may not have led to our development. This is debatable. But what is important to understand that it is this very stability that allowed democratic institutions to flourish.

Ofcourse, a lot of people might say that India did not really develop under the Congress rule. True, absolute power corrupts and makes people complacent. But nevertheless, it provides stability and ensures a strong Govt. at the Centre, thus enabling it to deal with various kinds on challenges posed to the integrity of India, be it Kashmir, Nagas, Mizoram, etc.

I will now get back to the book and I must say I am looking it. And I promise I will be back with more stories from the book.


  1. Hmm.. And I guess this initial lack of leadership has led to the creation so many power centers in Pakistan.. Good informative post..

  2. Reading your post makes me feel attracted towards the book..Would read it definitely and will also follow your post to get the highlights from the book....Do keep posting