Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two Cheers for Indian Democracy

It is very easy to ridicule democracy in India. India is a showcase for almost everything that is wrong with democracy as a form of government. However India does have very creditable achievements. India, remains only the liberal democracy in that hemishpere. Yes, it may not be liberal enough by US standards which sets the golden standard for liberal democracies.

Indian constituition has the distinction of bestowing universal suffrage right from its first election in 1950. A dalit in India could vote in 1950 while not all Afro-American could vote in US. Of course that was a technicality, in reality many dalits are still challenged from participating in democracy, thanks to the now pseudo-backward classes. Jagjivan Ram, a dalit, was a member of the first Indian cabinet under Nehru. Jagjivan Ram proved one thing that being incompetent and hypocritical is his right as much as it was the upper caste politician's right. In that sense he did achieve equality. India had a Muslim as President decades ago and it had a woman as PM and now a President. Ofcourse Indira's greatest achievement was to show that a woman can be equally ruthless and unscrupulous as any man can be. Jaya took it one step better to show that a woman can outdo any man.

It is the illterate voter who taught Indira Gandhi a bitter lesson. It is easy to ridicule the Indian voter for electing Jaya in 1991 but it was the same voter who gave her a stinging lesson in humility.

We often bemoan the influence of caste in Indian politics but nobody pauses to think how they look for marriage alliances irrespective of educational background. I've seen parents in USA advertise "groom needed for girl, caste name, born in US but brought up with Indian values". JFK had to go to great lengths to show that he as Catholic could be as good as an Protestant president.

The Tamil Nadu voter, in particular, draws lot of fire for falling for cine-charisma, especially with regard to MGR. Lets not forget that Barack Obama and JFK were two people who sailed to the presidency on charisma. This is not to insult Obama and JFK who were well qualified besides being charismatic.

On a more serious note, India has survived as a functioning democracy with the most plural of societies. In 1947 no historian worth his salt gave India much chance to survive, the Balkans was often cited. India still stands as a parliamentary democracy.

700 million voters is more than double the US population. To ensure such a sea of humanity votes orderly is no mean feat. To govern over such a nation with fractured mandate and to show progress is a herculean task.

The Indian constituition has been made a mockery of, 100+ amendments in 50 years. Still it is a visionary document thanks largely to the progressive minded who, not incidentally were mostly Hindu's and especially Brahmins, imparted an eclectic character. Unlike its sibling, Pakistan, India ensured freedom to not just "profess" any religion but very importantly the freedom to "propagate" ones religion. Its a landmark freedom that only minds of the highest caliber could think of and enshrine. Of course India fell short in practice but in ideals it had a good benchmark. It is a distinction that Pakistan could not make and never will make. Pakistan can never have a Hindu President.

Thanks to the egalitarian impulse generated from the Freedom movement, thanks to Gandhi and incidentally to Ambedkar, Dalits were much more legally protected than Blacks in US. Again, in practice India continues to fall short but the reasons are mostly within the community and with the kind of leaders they begot. Reservation of constituencies, started in 1930's with a promise to review is still continuing after 79 years. Reservation in education started in 1950, in some states much before that, supposed to last for only 10 years is still continuing. Discussing that here is not my desire.

Many decry the successive hung parliaments. I welcome it. Yes India has not progressed fast enough due to them but India's progress in many areas is ONLY due to hung parliaments. Tamil Nadu had always given Congress a gift of majority MP seats in TN but never did we get any respect at the center until Jaya showed how power can be wielded. Power can be applied in bad or good ways, she chose the bad way but still she showed the power of an hithreto unkown politician unlike the effete MK . Hung parliament has ensured that states like TN, Andhra get their respect and their due unlike UP, Bihar which are only millstones around India's neck. While good legislation stunbles lets not lose sight that bad legislation also stumbles. In today's scenario Rajiv could not do to Muslim women what he did with his brute majority of 450 MP's ( The Shah Bano case and how Rajiv pushed legislation to deny muslim women alimony, just to appease hard line muslim clerics).

My idea of blogging is not to write thoroughly on subjects, just interestingly, shining a different light and tickling the reader to think further. Thats what a blog is supposed to be, its not a thesis, so I shall leave this discussion here now. Minnesota is still yet to resolve the Senate Race from Nov 2008 election. Well when India elects Pappu Yadav and Phoolan Devi what can one say.

Good Luck India. I'd love to Manmohan back in the helm, but if we want fun then it should be Mulayam or Mayawati. Mayawati will be great fun to watch but it will be a sad day for India.

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