India - International Relations
Indian democracy: is it monarchic?
Was India fit to be a democracy in 1947? Lynus Misquitta argues that the first 20 years of Congress rule under Nehru was more of monarchy than democracy, not by compulsion but by the force of circumstances prevailing. From Mumbai.
Benito Mussolini in his book Fascism aptly wrote that “Democracy is a kingless regime infested by many kings who are sometimes more exclusive, tyrannical and destructive than one, if he be a tyrant”. In fact, the larger the democracy, the greater is the polarity of power as there are many leaders who hold a sway in the various states of the Union. And this gets more acute when the society is heterogeneous. No wonder, in recent times, we have coalition governments in power in India.
The vital point under discussion is whether India was fit to be a Democracy in 1947. At this point in time more than half of the Indian population was under the poverty line as the British did nothing to alleviate our general backwardness by neglecting the setting up of any industries or proper educational institutions. Most of the people did not even know their civil rights or the meaning of a representative government during the first few decades of the Congress rule in India. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, had in his first Parliament some feudal lords, freedom fighters and loyal workers immaterial of their capabilities to represent the woes and problems of an independent nation that was as such ground to poverty by the negative tactics of the colonialists.
Jawaharlal Nehru was the undisputed king on the Indian political horizon after the challenge from Subhash Chandra Bose was extinguished by his premature death. As such the British quit India earlier after the INA (Indian National Army) of Subhash Chandra Bose invaded British India from the North East. As such the first 20 years of Congress rule under Nehru was more of Monarchy than Democracy not by compulsion but by the force of circumstances prevailing at that time. Whatever Nehru did was approved by the people as he was very charismatic. People, riding the wave of newly gained political freedom did not fathom the meaning of economic freedom promised by the Congress leaders. No pressure groups could lobby their just demands as the bureaucracy in Delhi was very stiff to listen to anybody as they were busy with individual aggrandisement rather than public good.
The euphoria of freedom was so much that everyone was blinded by the rhetoric that was freely used by the Congress leaders to convince the people that they will soon have better amenities in life and better tomorrow. But corruption crept in, in public life specially after Nehru did not castigate Krishna Menon, the Defence Minister who bought redundant defence material from England. And nothing happened till the early nineties and people were disillusioned with the political leadership of Nehru’s progeny.
The euphoria of freedom was so much that everyone was blinded by the rhetoric to convince people that they would soon have a better tomorrow.
Indira Gandhi who soon succeeded her father Nehru, after the short stint of Lal Bahadur Shastri, as the Prime Minister of India was groomed by Nehru to succeed him as she accompanied him on all diplomatic missions abroad. Corruption reached its zenith during her tenure and she ruled with an iron hand. Indira packed the parliament with her supporters and the criterion was loyalty rather than ability. She superseded the judges and discarded men at high places at her whims and fancies. When people were disappointed and would rebel she brought in Emergency and even gagged the press. Though she gave independence to Bangladesh and sent the army into the Golden Temple to quell the rebellion in Punjab and gave a boost to space program with Pokhran episode, she was embroiled in political intrigues that left the poor poorer. She did not take economics of the nation seriously and her poverty alleviation programmes and public sector activities milked the economy. It was a license raj and only the people who could please her got the best. Under these circumstances she ruled more like a dictator.
Indira Gandhi’s poverty alleviation programmes were a farce. The poor farmers were supposed to get a cow at subsidized rate. But the rich farmer combined with the veterinary doctor to inflate the price of the cow, thus leaving the poor back to square one. So also employment was created for the poor to dig the borewells. After the day’s work the supervisor checked the work sheets of the illiterate labourer and figures like 8 feet were converted to 80 feet by adding a zero and then the supervisor would loot the difference of 72 feet. Similarly even the Public Sector that was glorified by Nehru milked the Indian economy according to Raja Chelliah, economist appointed by Rajiv Gandhi.
Meanwhile the second son of Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, born in 1946, was very active in politics and helped his mother in many ways to rule India without any scruples. Sanjay, who was responsible to start the Maruti car factory in India was the leader of the Youth Wing of the Congress. He had his own ideas how to make India a better place as he enforced the implementation of a five pronged program namely fight against illiteracy, dowry system, caste and enforcing birth control and planting of trees. But he brought a lot of misery in India by enforcing birth control surgeries both for men and women at a remuneration and the victims sometimes were not aware of the vasectomies carried out on them. Sanjay died in an acrobatic manouvre of a single engined plane in 1980. If he lived he would have succeded his mother as the Prime Minister of India as Rajiv Gandhi was a pilot by profession and did not want to enter politics. And Sanjay was in no frame of mind to do anything fruitful for India.
Fortunately the liberalization, and developmental reforms and the advent of Information Technology and the hard work put up by the modern generation of ambitious Indians and the Private Sector business houses saved the economy from degradation. After Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her own security guards in October 1984, Rajiv Gandhi succeeded his mother. Rajiv gave a boost to transport and communications and he ruled from 1984 to 1989 and was assassinated by a woman strapped with a bomb in 1991.
So we see that the Indian Democracy is monarchical as only one family has been holding the reins of power for five decades, and then we see Sonia Gandhi the Italian widow of Rajiv Gandhi holding the vital post of the President of Indian National Congress last 9 years. She is actually the Kingmaker holding the remote. That is not all. The latest Nehru sibling, his great grandson, Rahul Gandhi, is very popular in India. He was inducted in the Indian Parliament in 2004. At Amethi from where he contested and won he told the electorate: "There is work that my father started, a dream he had dreamt. I come to you today saying – allow me to turn that dream into reality”. The legacy of Rajiv Gandhi is seen and felt by Indians in his son Rahul who like his father visits the remote villages and moves without any security guards. He listens to the problems of the poor and the ill. At 37 Rahul is the most eligible bachelor on the Indian political scene and most apt to be the Prime Minister of India. He is young and for the last few years has made a thorough study of the needs of the people.
We see that the Indian democracy is monarchical as only one family has been holding the reins of power for five decades.
We have seen that mostly, it was one family of Nehru-Gandhi origin that ruled this subcontinent. But what is the shape of our democracy today? Well it is definitely different from what it was 50 years back, as pressure groups are come into play, people are more qualified and can reason out better and once the representative of the people is elected he cannot forget his promises as they used to do some decades back. Today, the people elect representatives who will say “yes, we can” and live up to their promises.
At the recently concluded G-20 meet they have asserted that India is one of the emerging and vibrating economies. The irony is that India actually lives in 3 centuries, within its sovereign borders. There are those who are rich and famous and the upper middle class who live in the 21st century; there are others that belong to the lower midlle class and those hovering on the poverty line and these belong to the 19th and 20th century and then those from remote villages, scheduled tribes and far below the poverty line and these live in the 17th and 18th centuries. The bottom line is that India needed development at the grassroots right from the day we got Independence. This was not done and the so-called architect of modern India, Jawaharlal Nehru, concentrated on major works and industries. At least a balance should have been maintained between major development works and small and handloom industries. Gandhi’s ideals were ignored and so we find ourselves living in three centuries. What the world sees is only those Indians living in the 21st century. It is actually the tip of the iceberg considering the population of India. And as V.S. Gopalakrishnan writes, and I agree with him that India is the best democracy having worst politicians. And this point is amply proved by the recent intelligence failure on the part of the Government as they had ample information to save the heavy loss of life and property in Mumbai. Too late the heads have started rolling and the first casualty is the Home Minister, Shivraj Patil. Besides terror and trauma the Mumbai city and the nation took a hit of approximately rupees 50,000 crores loss for business and around 20 billion dollars loss in foreign exchange. Mumbai will not be the same for a long time.