We , the people
One of the greatest puzzles that have bewildered social scientists , chroniclers and political scholars for a very long period of time has been unraveling the cohesive forces that have prevented the disintegration of a nation called India . For a nation with a historical past more colorful than the cummerbunds draped over the body of it’s erstwhile crown princes and aristocrats , 1947 was a landmark year because it opened avenues for an unprecedented experiment with democracy . It’s survival was hugely debated often making it a subject of western high-handedness , marked by extreme condescension and mock ridicule . The pundits argued energetically and they had their own theories ; extreme poverty , corrupt politicians , hostile neighbors and several separatist movements not to mention about the 500 odd princely states that were still very much independent and had strongly disagreed to relinquish their monarchies in lieu of joining a newly independent nation which was toying around with the idea of democracy . Democracy in the hands of ignorant , illiterate people could have served as an ideal breeding ground for dictators , the likes of which we have witnessed a plenty in our neighboring Pakistan . Instability , anarchy and despondency could have reigned supreme –an aftermath of power in the hands of 33 million people bedraggled in a whirlpool of narcissistic introspection governed by the clouds of wrath, avarice , casteism , territorial violence and Kashmir , communal riots and the death of Gandhi . Why did this democratic establishment survive when it has so vigorously failed in Pakistan and Bangladesh and almost all of our South East Asian neighbors ? Of course there has been cynics who have pointed out that the functioning of the Indian democracy is limited to holding free and fair elections and allowing a certain level of freedom of expression and unrestricted speech and movement , but when it comes to streamlining the political institutions by using a well oiled bureaucratic machinery , there are monumental hindrances . Even the least bit of agitation can produce abysmal complications .
The early leaders like the big hearted socialist Nehru , the iron man of India Sardar Patel who made the unification process a reality by cajoling the independent kingdoms to come under the umbrella of the bigger nation , Jayprakash Narayan who fought a lone battle against the curtailment of civil liberties , were all responsible for the emergence of India as the largest democracy in the world . JP would always be remembered for resisting the authoritarian regime of Indira Gandhi when democracy was temporally suspended and a state of emergency was declared . This episode would always remain a minor blemish in the history of the post independent Indian democratic movement . Another major phenomenon that has been quintessential behind the cultivation of the idea of nationhood has been the birth of a certain sense of nationalism , largely fanned by the forces of different socio-political movements . Feminism, claims for regional autonomy , land reform movements in certain states , dynasty politics, and the metamorphosis of Dalits , Muslims and lower caste political parties from small ethnic representations to big local players in mammoth states , have all contributed to the transmogrifying pattern of democracy and all of it’s associated socio-ethnic dynamics .
If we were to do a comparative analysis amongst the nations of South east Asia , it wouldn’t be difficult to figure out the salient feature that is an inherent characteristic of Indian democracy , and which heavily draws out a contrast with all of our neighbors . The fabric of nationalism hasn’t taken into account the popular forces of linguistic and/or religious identity . The political culture evolved taking into account the special interests, the equivocation , tokenism and all the other collective baggage usually associated with democratic politics . Gender , linguistic/ethnic and casteist identities were all mingled up together in a giant political cauldron to produce a potpourri of an assorted , amalgamated set of complex voters . What essentially lacked was the sense of a singular , holistic identity . There was nothing that could uniquely characterize the building block of the Indian democracy- it’s people . This has resulted in the country deeply imbibing a sort of plural democracy that has successfully curbed it from becoming a hegemonic majority of the Hindus , and allowed it to adhere to an eclectic sense of national identity derived from it’s glorious past , and handed over by the A.O Hume founded National Congress Party which spoke against the anti-colonial , anti imperialistic intentions of the ruling British by stating that it had amongst it’s ranks a more diverse representation of it’s governing populace .
Of course there are elements out there to destabilize this wonderful mosaic which, had it not existed would have only been a figment of some imagination by the dreamiest of all dreamers . India is an experiment in democracy , and democracy needed this experiment to defend it’s standing as the government of the people , for the people and by the people, even when it’s composition is deeply divided along racial , ethnical , religious and linguistic lines and it’s populace do not constitute the citizens of a developed world .
Please Note: This article is a reproduction of a previously published article by the same author , for the August15th,2008 issue of the Indian Express Abroad . (published from NYC )
Additional Info: Please contact Koyel Chatterjee@IndianExpress