Republican Democracy – The Mirage!?
Is monarchy dead?
Are there any real life monarchs left in any other ‘advanced’ countries?
Spain has Juan Carlos I as its king! Did you know that Belgium has Albert II as it King? And Queen Beatrix rules over Holland (The Netherlands). King Akihito is venerated by the Japanese – and is the head of the state. Sweden is ruled by King Carl XVI Gustaf. Luxembourg has the Grand Duke Henri as its equivalent to a King! King Harald V lords over Norway! Queen Margrethe II rules over Denmark
What role do these monarchs play? Will a modern country follow these monarchs? Surprisingly, Europe has not removed any monarchs in the last 50 years.
The world still has quite a few monarchies – especially in the OECD.
Why so many monarchs
After all monarchy is relic – an institution that should be dead! Right?
Monarchy is not cheap. Monarchs are expensive to maintain. Monarch’s can also be embarrassing – especially the family. Just look at Princess Diana! Her saga of bedroom romps and adultery became a reality show – before reality shows were born (Endemol, the Diana estate is coming after you!).
If they are figure heads, why waste time – and money!
The Difficulty Of Removing Monarchs
France removed and guillotined the monarchs – and they got Napoleon Bonaparte, as dictator! Russia tried – and they got 70 years of communist dictatorship. Italy asked King Victor Emmanuel III to go – and got Mussolini. The British exiled the Kaiser of Germany – and the Germans had to put up with Hitler afterwards. Spain reverted to monarchy after the end of Franco’s dictatorship.
After WWI, the Anglo-French alliance terminated the Turkish Ottoman Empire – and Turkey got a benign dictator, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, and then not so benign dictators – and is yet to recover! After the demise of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, the Middle East was saddled with artificial kingdoms which have hot-spots of terror and instability.
East Europe (Romania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Albania, etc) promptly started fighting with each other, within and without – after the kings were removed. China became communist after the last emperor – and still has a communist dictatorship. Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, most of Africa, South America – same or similar story. The Nepalese have got their history wrong. Just look at Afghanistan next door – after the King Zahir Shah was removed.
This history is why Canada and Australia cling to the skirts of British Monarchy.
The modern desirable is Republican democracy – and every country wishes for one! Very few succeeded. A republican democracy does not have a titular king – hereditary or otherwise. The head of the state is elected – directly or indirectly.
In the last 250 years, just 6 countries succeeded with Republican democracy without a significant breakdown in the first 50 years. Of the six, Sri Lanka (pop. 200 lakhs) Switzerland (pop. 80 lakhs), Israel (pop. 75 lakhs) and Singapore (pop. 50 lakhs) are tiny countries to generate any valuable data, models, norms or precedents. In any other day, age and society, the republican-democracy model would have been laughed off – and not studied by millions.
America became one of the first successful republican democracies – from 1789, when George Washington became the first elected President of USA. 70 years later, the strains were showing – North versus South. America was on the verge of Civil War – the main cause of which was the desire of the Southern states to remain independent (due to tariff issues) or at best as a loose confederation – not a federal union (actually slavery was a side issue).
Israel, (propped up by massive US aid) is another country which has been a republican democracy for more than 50 years. Switzerland (with guaranteed neutrality from the European powers) is another in modern history to survive 50 years of republican democracy.
Sri Lanka has been another country which has survived 50 years as republican democracy – but just about. With a civil war for the last nearly 20 years, with a changeover from parliamentary democracy to presidential, has struggled along.
India is the youngest Republican democracy – and we have completed a historic 50 years as republican democracy – Jan 26th 1950, till date.
But before the republic, came the unification of India – the crowning achievement of Gandhiji. Not the political union (achieved by Sardar Patel) – but the ideological union!
Garibaldi (united Italy), Bismarck (united Germany), Simon Bolivar (liberated and united South American countries) were unifiers who succeeded with the help of armies.
Gandhiji (armed with just his walking stick) unified a larger India (and Pakistan) without an army. An India and a Pakistan – bigger than what the largest empire in the history of the world, the British Empire could not conquer with its armies. It is unclear what exactly was Gandhiji’s country model for India. Though he talked of village-based Ram-Rajya, was it unique and different भारत-तंत्र Bharat-tantra or like the sanitised Western country model that India under Nehru finally adopted.
One Clean Break
To make a one clean break from the feudal-colonial past – and succeed! That is a dream – never in the history of the world. India made history – by surviving for 50 years with a republican democracy.
In 1947, India was a ‘feudal’ society with more than 500 Kings and (some) Queens at the time of Independence. (No, the British did not rule over all of modern India). Large parts of India also had to change from a colonial mindset.
The language conundrum
However, no other country has 15 official languages. No other countries even had the courage to think of that.
Various US state governments outlawed all languages – except English. This was finally set aside after the matter reached the US Supreme Court (read Meyer vs Nebraska). The USA gathered some courage to start timidly with more than English only after seeing India’s success with 15 languages.
Switzerland has only four. Sri Lanka’s Sinhalas do not want to accept Sri Lankan Tamils as full and equal citizens – hence the 20-year-old civil war.
The British Colonial administration tried to take control of India by removing an entire generation of royalty – Bahadur Shah Zafar, Tipu Sultan, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Tatiya Tope, Rani Ahalyabai et al. This should have left India rudderless, with a vacuum at the top – based on European history.
But what was unprecedented in the modern world history, was a new band of first-generation political leaders who cut their against the British. Balagangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal, Subhash Chandra Bose – and of course, Gandhiji.
And after 1947. After the departure of the British. Gandhiji was assassinated in 1948. Sardar Patel was no more by the end of 1950. Ambedkar in 1956 and in 1958, Maulana Azad passed away. Thus apart from Nehru, the entire leadership of India was no more, 10 years after Mountbatten’s departure.
Universal suffrage came to the USA, Britain, France, Belgium, Canada, Australia after a long struggle. The USA had to pass the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920; Italy in 1945; Canada in 1940; France gave women the right to vote in 1945; Switzerland in 1971 gave its women the right to vote in all elections. These “advanced” countries, gave women the right to vote after a long struggle. India’s respect for its female citizenry is best demonstrated by universal adult franchise from the very first day – without any feminist activism.
Black emancipation in the USA is a 1970s phenomenon, 30+ years ago event – and not 200 years ago as this article in New York Times seems to make out.
It took non-violent protests (Martin Luther King, inspired by Gandhiji) and violent threats (Malcolm X) for some kind of real emancipation and equity to come in. In the Cold War scenario, under international media glare, during the Little Rock School stand-off, Eisenhower (a Southerner himself) reacted.
Reluctantly,in 1954, he sent in the National Guard to Little Rock, Arkansas for some kind of de-segregation. The Mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas closed down the school rather than de-segregate. The eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation during the Kennedy years produced the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For a 100 years after the American Civil War, the Black people in the USA were still subject to 2nd grade treatment – any measure of liberty came only after 1964.
But Gandhijis’ first step, after his return from South Africa, (many decades before Independence, Unification and creation of the Republic) was to undo the social calcification (resulting in untouchability) due to 200 years of colonialism .
Enforcement – or Help
India and America, created their own constitutions without external enforcement. Republican democracy in Germany was externally imposed – by the Allied Powers. Singapore has used extreme laws to disallow any other party and leaders to pose a challenge to the ruling party and get elected. When Japan took the first step away from LDP rule, with a non-LDP government, after 45 years of LDP rule – it took Japan 20 years to recover.
Religious Divide …
India has the world’s second /third largest Muslim population. The Indian Christian population is equal to that of most majority-Christian countries – excluding just a few big one like USA, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, etc. Buddhists number nearly 50 lakhs. Sikhs, Parsis (Zoroastrians), Baha’is, follows their own religion. Iranians, Armenians, Jews, Chinese have come to India – when persecuted in their homelands.
India has the Caucasoid stock – spread over the North and West India; Australoid stock spread over South India and the Mongoloid stock spread over of East and North East. There is also a very small sprinkling of the Negroid stock – less than 1%.
Hence, to have a functioning republican democracy without a break for more than 50 years puts India in a different league.
The Challenge Ahead
The challenges ahead are defence and economics.
India‘s defence unpreparedness is beyond comprehension. Worse, is the lack of threat perception. Indians (sadly and truly) limit their threat perception to the Pakistanis – and the Chinese. With the world’s largest private reserves of gold India is a target – all over again. The resultant global and emerging threats are unrealised.
The second is economics. The world trade systems, financial agreements, currency management continue to drag down India – and many other countries. Navigating these uncharted waters successfully is the other.
Does India have the intellectual leadership and strategic intent to create solutions?
Divide et impera
The disturbing thought is fact that the Western ‘nation’ model has been such a huge failure. How many countries have been successful in this quest for ‘nationhood’?
Vietnam suffered from a prolonged war (1956-1976) – and finally peace had a chance after 20 years of war. Korea remains divided. The Cyprus problem between Turkey, Greece and the Cypriots has been simmering for nearly 100 years.
The role of the Anglo-Saxon Bloc, in Indonesia, the overthrow of Sukarno, installation of Suharto and finally the secession of East Timor is another excellent example. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict (1935 onwards) will soon enter its 75th year. The entire Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a creation of the Anglo-French-American axis. The many other issues in the West Asia and Africa are living testimony of the Western gift to the modern world.
The track record
Closer home is the Kashmir problem. After 60 years of negotiations, India-Pakistan relations have remained hostage to the Kashmir issue. Similarly, between China and India, the border issues remain 60 years after the eviction of Britain from India.
The Anglo-Saxon habit of partitioning countries is a disaster!
- Cyprus between Greece and Turkey
- Israel between Palestine, Jordan and Syria
- Chinese Singapore in Malaysia
- Northern Ireland out of Ireland
- Two Koreas
- Taiwan and China
and of course a Pakistan out of India.
With a benign, ‘democratic’ dictator like Lee Kuan Yew, in the frame, the Singapore out of Malaysia is too small and too short-term a success to make any impact.
Interestingly, Arun Maira, wrote in Times of India, on 20 Feb 2008, one month after this post, ” Our Constitution gave the right to all adults, regardless of race, religion, sex or income to vote. It was a very bold step. Blacks in America got their rights later, and women in India got the right to vote even before women in some Western European countries did.” He continues, “Therefore, we must give thanks to those who brought us safely from independence to 1991 and built our foundations.”
Unfortunately, he goes on further to say, “The only inclusive national party we have perhaps is the Congress party, which helped create the country we now celebrate.” His advice is that one party, the Congress, should give India a vision. It does not matter, which party he selects. India’s vision, my dear, Mr.Maira I thought was made by all of us.
8 months after this post, another writer, whose usual inclination is Westward, Jaithirth Rao, an MNC-banker, examines, the entire monarchy and republican debate – without once talking about modern India’s success. As above, he talks about the Afghan history. Further, he says,
“societies which have multiple fissures and fractures along ethnic, religious and social lines are far better off with a constitutional monarchy where the sovereign is a convenient and comfortable symbol transcending different groups within the country and providing a unifying symbol. ”
So, Mr.Rao, would you like to examine, question and understand how India is the longest surviving republican democracy – with its fissures and fractures.
Gurcharan Das, comically asserts, that India’s democracy and the Republic “is a British legacy. Before that we were a collection of communities and kingdoms.” The concept of Bharatvarsha in the Ramayana and Mahabharata are also British. Chanakya’s ‘aryadhwaja‘, Shankaracharya’s ‘chaar dhaam‘, are all a British legacy.
While Britain has been unsuccessful in creating a national identity for itself, (it may break into Scotland and England) is of no relevance to Shri Das. The fact that no other British colony was successful in becoming a republican democracy is also irrelevant for Monsieur Das. But, for Shrimaan Das, banging his head at the altar of British Greatness is an act of faith. Your multinational roots show, Das Mahoday!