The Congress was challenged from the 2nd general election onwards. A 1958 cartoon where Congress could not win a local election in New Delhi itself. Right under Nehru’s nose. (Cartoon by RK Laxman; courtesy – timesofindia.com). Click for larger image.
The Indian Republic has spawned the most unique democracy in the modern history. Eminent cultures and nations, when faced with 20th century Anglo-Saxon power of industry, colonial exploitation, global financial manipulation tried ‘copycat’ versions of European nations. Prime examples of those were Russia, Turkey and China.
Russia – Westernising Since Peter The Great
Peter the Great, (of the Naryshkin family) co-ruler of Russia, (along with Ivan of the Miloslavsky family) ruled from 1682-1725. For more than 40 years, his agenda was to create Russia in the Western mould. His travels to Germany, Britain, Sweden (before becoming a Tsar) shaped this agenda. One of the first things he did after becoming a Tsar was to ask his boyars (Russian nobility) to shave their beards! Catherine The Great continued this during her reign from 1762-1796. For the next 125 years, Russia vacillated between a medieval country and modern western country.
Now, the imprisoned oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky takes pains, who at one time nursed political ambitions, earnestly says,“…I’m convinced that Russia is a European country, it’s a country with democratic traditions …”
A young Chinese couple poses for wedding pictures in front of a Christian church in downtown Beijing. | Image source & credit – UPI /Stephen Shaver
China – Mao & Sun
In the 20th century, one of the first countries to become a ‘copycat’ states was China.
The first major Asian power going down the western path was China, led by Sun Yat Sen. His original name Sun Wen and Chinese call him Sun Zhongshan and he started calling himself Yat Sen. Sun Yat Sen decided to westernise and make China into a Republican democracy.
Chinese were made to cut their queue – pleated hair braids. This diktat was enforced in 20 days time. Sun Yatsen and later Mao Ze Dong made the Chinese change their dress styles too. The effect of this Westernisation – an enduring sense of being ‘followers’. The Chinese add a Western name to their Chinese one – Michael Tang, Bruce Lee, Jerry Yang, Tommy Tang, Tommy Chi. In Hong Kong and Macao, White tourists are royalty. Chinese companies routinely parade White, Western investors – and the Chinese investors follow. Western marriage ceremony, Chinese couples think, is very romantic. The Christian Church wedding is common in China.
Not that Indians are too far behind – consider Steve Sanghi, Paul Parmar, or the best of them all, Bobby Jindal.
Turkey – led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was reduced itself to ‘copycat’ attempt at Westernisation. After WW1, the victorious allied powers dismantled the Ottoman Empire. Turkey was reduced to a rump state.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was ‘installed’ by Western powers (much like Hamid Karzai). Thereafter, Turkey has lurched from crisis to another. Post WW2, it has mostly been ruled by military dictatorships. From an arbiter in Europe, it has become a supplicant, begging for entry into EU. Instead of the queue in China – it was beards in Turkey. Atatürk enforced a new dress code on the hapless Turks – and the traditional fez was banned. Stop wearing the fez or else …
RK Laxman displays his colonial baggage
Japan – Democracy By LDP
Although Japan never ‘Westernised’ in the manner of the Russia, China or Turkey, Japan’s democracy is an external construct. After the Japanese surrender in WW2, Supreme Commander of Allied Powers, Douglas MacArthur ruled over Japan. A translator’s mistake started the Japanese to work on a new constitution. MacArthur rejected the draft submitted, saying it was “nothing more than a rewording of the old Meiji constitution.” MacArthur put his own staff on the job – and supervised the writing of the Japanese Constitution. A new draft was written in the next 10 days.
From 1955, when the LDP was formed, it remained in power for the next 38 years. In 1993, for the first time, a non LDP Government was formed – The Shinseito (Japan Renewal Party) came to power. Compare that with India’s first change which occurred within 26 years.
After a change in the ruling party, the Japanese miracle ended. A 10 year economic slump followed.
RK Laxman it it all wrong! Various Left parties together polled nearly 20% of the popular vote. Part of the reason for Nehru’s leftward lurch? (Cartoon by RK Laxman; courtesy – timesofindia.com). Click for larger image.
The Indian Voter is a very unique specimen. Forged out a feudal-colonial regime, he was coached by Gandhiji. Time and again the Indian Voter has voted in a very perceptive manner – rationally and without emotion.
In the very second General Elections of 1956, two leftist parties, gained 19.33% of popular vote, formed the world’s first elected Communist Government.
Nehru, a legend in his own life, venerated and loved by the people he ruled, was given a warning. Perform or else.
What shocked and stampeded Nehru was 19.33% of the combined vote won by Leftist parties (CPI and the Praja Socialist Party – a party formed in 1952, whose founder members were Jayaprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia, JB Kripalani) – versus Nehru’s Congress which got 47.78% of popular vote. This challenge to Nehru within 10 years of Independence from a non-Congress platform made these socialist leaders legends in their own lifetime. The Communists went ahead and formed the world’s first elected Communist government (the State Government in Kerala).
The Left parties were given an opportunity. The Leftists did not live up to their promise. Apart from regional mandates, the Left were not given any major opportunity.
Nehru thereafter went down the socialist road. Possibly, looking at the ‘ship-to-mouth’ economy, the socialist road was the humane answer. To a society coming out of the nightmare of colonial exploitation, the State as a parens patriae was a plausibility – as most voters were too poor and unable to take care of themselves.
Indira Gandhi had sacked Morarji Desai as the Finance Minister over his obstinacy – on the Gold Control Act, bank nationalisation, etc. It was also rumoured that he was in CIA pay – a plausible allegation, as the rickety structure of Bretton Woods was propped up by the Indian ban on gold imports by Morarji Desai. Other disgruntled Congress party members had split from the Congress to form the Congress(O).
The voter saw through the disgruntlement on one and Indira Gandhi’s imperious ways were beginning to show on the other. The Indian Voter gave her a razor thin majority – and the Congress(O) sulked as a major opposition party. The Indian Voter did not have any appetite for the negative agenda of Congress (O).
A Poor Indian Woman Voting
Indira Gandhi after a dramatic war in Bangladesh War (the largest PoW capture in the history of modern warfare by any country) and with an electrifying slogan – Garibi Hatao, called for elections. This decisiveness and a weak opposition won her the election.
Within 26 years after the first election in 1952, India changed its favorite political party. Post 1975 Emergency, India after being ruled by diktat, chose to remove Indira Gandhi. Opposition parties, for the first time in free India, gave the Indian Voter a clean choice. And the voter decided. The Indian Voter chose change.
Indira Gandhi was voted out.
A chastened Indira Gandhi was voted back to power. A vengeful opposition party was sent into the wilderness. India took it first steps towards liberalisation. New industrial capacities for cars and scooters were approved. The economy slowly started getting unshackled.
Cartoon On Indian Elections
After Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Rajiv Gandhi won a landslide victory – on a so-called sympathy wave. But the Indian Voter simultaneously voted for a different party for the local, state level Government. So, there was a national Government led by Rajiv Gandhi and the opposition party won the election in Haryana!
Who Is the Indian Voter
He is poor. He is not the rich Indian. He typically should be swayed by promises and subsidies. But he can be a very perceptive. He has never given the negative agenda of the Leftists a major opportunity.
Indian Muslim women voting & electronic voting machines
He is illiterate. He votes with his “heart” or his “caste”. He does not understand the “issues”. But he did not buy the India Shining story that the BJP, a ‘Hindu fundamentalist’ party was peddling. Similarly, I doubt if they will back Manmohan Singh’s attempt to ‘sit at the high table in the global comity of nations.”
This democracy was a home grown democracy, written, managed and nurtured by Indians. There will be many challenges ahead.
Unlike many, I do not believe, this is the end of the road for Anglo Saxon Super-power status – and the Chindia-India-Asia century is not near. But the Indian Voter will live up to the challenge. India’s indigenous democracy is not the ‘copycat’ that others countries tried.