The Indian Voter

Posted in Current Affairs, European History, History, India, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on February 9, 2008

Indian Brown Sahibs had hoped to replace the White Masters – and have always been lukewarm to Indian democracy. It is India’s poor and ‘illiterate’ who ensured that democracy worked. Attending political rallies, voting – and protesting.

The Congress was challenged from the 2nd general election onwards. A 1958 cartoon where Congress could 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 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

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.

Ataturk’s Turkey

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

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.

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.

Indian Democracy

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.

1956 Election

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. Jayaprakash Narayan - Public MeetingThe 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.

Alphabet soup

Alphabet soup

1969 Election

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).

1971 Election

A Poor Indian Woman Voting

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.

1977 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.

1980 Election

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

Cartoon On Indian Elections

1984 Election

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

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.

12 Responses

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  1. Parag Tope said, on February 11, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Your recognition of the positive aspects of Indian democracy notwithstanding, there is something fundamental missing in India’s post 1950 political system. It is unfortunately a “democracy” rather than a “democratic institution with a soul.”

    The authors of India’s constitution adopted a western model for its structure. This “tested” model had evolved after many centuries of struggle and had resolved the “state vs. church” paradigm. This “secular” model was critical in the survival of western nations where the lessons of the power of “church states” had created oppressive governments, as demonstrated by the Roman Catholic church, the church of England and other institutions. America’s founding fathers therefore created a “godless” constitution, to separate the power of the state from church.

    All these were critical developments in the structure of western civilization. However, these were western solutions to western dogmas. The need of these solution was rooted in the paradigm of an oppressive centralized religious structure.

    English educated Indians who authored the constitution never understood that a historically free India *never* carried the baggage of western dogmas or the centralized power of any religious authority.

    India’s constitution assumed that the “successful” western experiments in democracy were universal and forced upon India, IMO, a “soulless democracy,” or worse “a tyranny of foreign ideas,” under the guise of “progress.”

    They threw out everything that makes India, India.

    India’s achievements in the last 58 years are in defiance of the rigidities and controls of a constitution that not only ignores Indic thought, it implicitly abhors Indic values.

    You are right in saying “The Indian Republic has spawned the most unique democracy in the modern history.” However, that was *despite* India’s constitution not because of it.

    Modern India is yet to see a democratic institution that truly represents India’s polity.

  2. Parag Tope said, on February 11, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    To be clear – I fully appreciate the credit you give to the Indian voter. However, a voter does not determine the system he or she is forced upon. My criticism is of a system – not the voter.

    Indian voters will thrive in a system that understands, respects and cherishes their values.

    Additionally, full marks to you for seeing the positives in an otherwise collection of cynical elites. My criticism is more fundamental and therefore more revolutionary – and hopefully not cynical.

  3. Anuraag Sanghi said, on February 12, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    Hi Parag.

    1. Voter pressures, as I have shown above have determined administrative direction also. Chicken and egg. Demanding voters get what they ask.

    2. Perhaps some of your (to put it mildly) disquiet will go, if you take the Indian Republic as “work-in-progress”.

    3. Unlike the strait jacketed constitutions of the west, The Indian constitution allows for flexible response – which cuts both ways.

    4. Your comments about the western paradigm of persecutive-church and reformist-state and the evolution of western governance models are something that the Indians know little about (possibly, also many of the constitution writers) – and care even less. So, it doesn’t matter. Take the ball and run.

    5. Keep the 1947 context of the Indian Republic in mind. Let me lay it out for you.

    6. End of WW2, British-American Alliance at its zenith, Gold production/ reserves in Anglo Saxon Bloc control, China, Japan in doldrums, Africa, Middle East in a tribal-feudal age, India-Pakistan Partition, over supply of doomsdayers, India recovering from the Bengal Famine of 1943, food shortages, medical shortages, illiteracy, negligible domestic industry, poor agricultural productivity, the ‘fixed’ Bretton Woods System, zero technology output, corporate enterprise systems rare – and above all death of Gandhiji. To make headway in such overwhelming situation was a feat!

    7. “full marks to you for seeing the positives in an otherwise collection of cynical elites” – easy … your slip shows again! My ‘seeing’ sounds like either imagination or my reports are contrived. They, Sir, are the truth. All my reports have links, supports – and even contradicts.

  4. […] am pretty uneducated about the land-of-the-free, Senator. In a backward country like India, voters don’t bother about religion. Our recent President was a Muslim. I rather liked […]

  5. […] the right to vote after a long struggle. In India, universal suffrage in 1950 started from the very first election in sovereign India. India had universal adult franchise from the very first day – without any female […]

  6. […] then the Indian voter is unlettered, ‘uneducated’ and does not speak English – and Sunanda K. Datta Ray is […]

  7. […] given opportunities at the states – and been suitably rewarded and punished based on performance. Indian Voters are smart enough and know what is good for […]

  8. […] most Westernized ‘readers’ and ‘experts’, 2ndlook believes that the Indian Voter has been a smart voter – who has taken risks with ‘unknown’ parties and given […]

  9. […] an independent mind. In spite of various allegations, which come in very superior sounding tones, the Indian Voter has displayed a few common […]

  10. saurav said, on January 26, 2011 at 8:24 am

    please dont forget the power of the single largest business corporation since the past 1500 years – CHRISTIANITY.

  11. senthil said, on July 26, 2011 at 8:42 am

    anurag.. i could not agree with you.. do you feel, it is indian voter who voted? No.. the varied results you have pointed out are all, because of one factor.. there is no homogenous society in india.. only in homogenous society, can many people vote on common cause.. in india, the indian voters were bullied and their votes were either influenced, or bought out by local leaders..

    In our area, the entire dalit colony votes would be purchased, by a single act.. ie, to construct a temple for them, and security their votes by making them promise on the god..

    why indian democracy survived is that there were too many groups packed in to single state.. imagine, if they had few major groups, the outcome would have been like that of srilanka.. suppose, if tamilnadu and karnataka to be packed in to single state, there would have been civil war.. because, there are more than 30 different majority cultures, as diverse as the region, no single region could dominate over other..

  12. Anuraag Sanghi said, on July 26, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Senthil – You are trying to destroy the wisdom of the Indian Voter, on the basis of a few people’s behaviour. Finally India has less than 5,000 MPs, MLAs, Ministers, Chief Ministers. Take a multiplier of 1:10. That makes it 50,000 active, serious politicians in India.

    But these 50,000 politicians are not equal to the 20 crore families in India – or the roughly 10 crore active voters in this country. Buying voters is a silly myth. It is the Voter mobilizers who are bought and sold. But that to cannot account for these dramatic changes and patterns. Like the cliche goes, Look at the forest. Forget the trees.

    These 50,000 people do significantly ‘influence’ India – positively and negatively. The nature of the democratic beast is the same everywhere. Few people share power. One set of bad rulers are replaced by another set of bad rulers. Entry-barriers are: –

    1. High degree of criminality

    2. Corruption

    3. Manipulation, collusion and connivance

    The works. All over the world.

    The answer भारत-तंत्र Bharat-tantra.

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