Sunday, December 25, 2005

India – No Democratic History?

While reading the blog of Prof. Daniel Drezner, I came across his rebuttal of Fareed Zakaria’s book ‘The Future of Freedom’.
He mentions the name of India as one of the countries which adopted Democracy without the preconditions which Zakaria talk about; the preconditions to do with a long democracy history. I do not have any opinion about the validity of Zakaria’s claim nor do I have the scholarship to critically analyze his arguments. However, I think inclusion of India in that example may not be appropriate.

I think on many occasions about India and how it adopted reasonable Democratic traditions. Text books in India generally give two pictures – one before 1947 and one after that. We tend to forget the first part. Here are the observations which come to my mind:

1. Indian National Congress was started by many leading Indians in 1885. Around 60 plus years before the first elections of free India or the republic of India was formed after adopting the constitution. So at least there was solid background of political activity in modern sense. INC started in quite earnest as a modern day political organization.
2. Further it was not only INC but the leading Hindu opposition party of that time – Hindu Mahasabha was also there before the independence. RSS as a political organization started before Independence. Muslim League was there too and finally Communist. So you had the entire political spectrum represented by various active political parties in pre-independence India.
3. There were concrete elections in early days and in years like 1937. Elections were all across India under the supervision of British Empire (with British Viceroy still at the helm with substantial power). These were state assembly or provisional elections; not at the center level. But there were coalition governments, political deals and the usual give and take of modern day politics.

I believe these 3 things in themselves amply demonstrate that India had quite active political history of modern type before 1947 and the contemporary Democracy in India owes lot to this tradition and pedigree. The reality is till today India has more modern day political history (if founding of INC in 1885 is the starting point) than the existence of post independence life span of contemporary India. In that sense I am not sure how far one can use India as an example to refute Zakaria’s argument. Prof. Drezner and others may be right in criticizing the validity of Zakaria’s argument. My case is only limited about using India as a counter example. India History and Political experts can point many other related things.

Umesh Patil
San Jose, CA 95111
December 25, 2005

No comments: