India and Pakistan: Incomplete Independence

PTH is extremely grateful to Gorki for writing this soul searching and a beautiful article. Several points made in the article are worth pondering upon and these apply to both India and Pakistan.

Gorki
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Yeh Daag Daag Ujaala, Yeh Sabkajida Sehar
Woh Intzaar Tha Jisaka Yeh Woh Sehar Toh Nahi
Yeh Woh Sehar Toh Nahi, Jisaki Aarju Leke Chale The..
(Faiz Ahmed Faiz)
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The triumph of the Western idea, is evident, first of all, in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism. So wrote Francis Fukuyama, in his 1992 essay, End of History. In it he boldly predicted that mankind had all but accepted a Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. Events since then often seem to prove otherwise, highlighting Yogi Berra’s tongue in cheek popular adage, ‘it is tough to make a predictions especially about the future’.
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Liberal democracy seems to be in a headlong retreat in the Arab world where even before the collapse of the Arab Spring where slogans like Democracy = Hypocrisy were often seen competing with pro democracy noises. Elsewhere too, democratic values seem to be on the defensive, including in some supposedly established democracies. For example, at the peak of electoral fever in Pakistan, in 2013 a Pew Research Center survey found that by a nearly two-to-one margin (56% to 29%), Pakistani Muslims said they would prefer “a strong leader” over “a democratic form of government” to solve their country’s problems. That those anti democratic attitudes persist among many is obvious from the support that some frankly anti democratic platforms and even insurgencies continue to enjoy in parts of that country.
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Nor is such skepticism limited to the Muslim world alone. Though India prides itself as the largest democracy on the planet, an uncomfortably large segments of population has resorted to extra democratic means from time to time to contest the political space with the state. There have been insurgencies in the far Eastern states, in Punjab, in Kashmir and one is still raging in the Naxalite infested hinterlands. These violent expressions of discontent in post colonial nations are in sharp contrast to the Western world where even explosive majority-minority issues like ethnicity, religion, language and sub-nationalism have been increasingly dealt with by democratic means; peaceful negotiations and referendums rather than armed conflict.
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This comparison leads one to draw one of the two conclusions. Either liberal democracy is not compatible with our non Eurocentric cultures or else there is a difference in how democracy is practiced in South Asia and elsewhere compared to the Western world.
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I believe it is a bit of both especially in our context. First, India and Pakistan are very large, very diverse nations, unlike the medium to small homogenous European nations. Because of this our political dynamics are very different. On top of it unlike the West, we acquired a top down democracy, by fiat rather than habit. Because of this some would argue that democracy would take time, settling in, deepening and becoming a habit.
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This idea is best advanced by VS Naipaul, in his 1990 book, A Million Mutinies Now, in which he wrote the following after observing democracy in practice in India.
“Democracy, after the first exciting flush of its birth struggle, is often fractious, frequently inefficient and unstable, a maelstrom of “disruptive lesser loyalties.” Its great strength lies in its willingness to tolerate this messiness in the service of an ideal of fair government. Democracy’s toughest test case is India, with its population of 800 million, with more than a dozen major languages and hundreds of dialects, with many faiths and religious traditions in conflict and symbiosis.”
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While some may find those words reassuring, it is clear that these observations are at the best only a partial explanation for all the violence and mayhem we see in our countries. For example, one has to wonder what is it that motivates young men and women to routinely risk death in ambushes of large police parties in India or die in suicide bombings in Pakistan. What motivated the thousands of Sikh separatist to barricade themselves in the Golden Temple and defy the state rather than negotiate their grievances in a democratic setup?
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If one seeks hard enough the answers become painfully obvious. Democratic negotiations with the state are often rejected by our peoples; because of the nature of the State itself. Even sixty seven years after independence the State itself in India and Pakistan is seen by many as elitist and often stubbornly unresponsive, quiet unlike how Western democracies are perceived by their people. For example, a neutral outside observer and former BBC reporter Mark Tully who spent decades observing and reporting from Delhi and has written quiet frankly about this difference. In his 2003 book on the topic he laid the blame for much of the conflict in India on elitist attitudes by those in power and over all bad governance that he said had ‘put brakes on progress in India’.
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In Tully’s opinion the British administrative system that was largely adopted by our countries without any meaningful changes was exploitative in nature as it was designed first and foremost for a colonial government in order to subdue the populace. It was never suited for a democracy. Yet this setup has continued almost unchanged, post independence, with the same colonial mindset where bureaucrats and other public officials continued to treat people as if they are governing them rather then serving them. On top of it he says the ongoing culture of what he terms as the Mai-baap sarkar where only self-servers and lackeys of the elite continued to thrive, compounds the problem.
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It may sound like a harsh characterization by a member of the former colonial elite but it is the bitter truth for us especially the liberal elite and our national media who form the core supporters of State in its present form and in its fights against various insurgencies.
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Sometimes in the name of nationalism and at other times in the name of fighting terrorism we and the media have acted as facilitators of the oppressive state. Too often we have been quick to condemn only the insurgents; the Naxalites, the Taliban, the Khalistanis etc. even as we have overlooked the failure of the State itself, in its very basic democratic duty; of providing social justice and good governance.

As a result of our willing acquiesce the two States continue to function unchecked and unreformed. Not only do the States routinely abdicate their duties to the citizens as above, too often the state acts in an oppressive, predatory manner. Either from their reluctance or from inability to exercise ‘due process’ the respective states have institutionalize such undemocratic practices as ‘encounter killings’ and custodial torture. We overlook all such abuses and subversion at our own peril. Such practices may seem temporarily expedient but in the long run they threaten the state itself by undermining the very pillar on which liberal democracies stand on; the faith of its citizenry.
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The choice for the real patriots is hard but stark. Fight insurgencies and terror we must but without losing sight of the goal in the first place; the survival of the State. It can only be assured if we can create fair and just societies and thereby deepen the faith of our people in democracy-the real kind. What many of our people see today, sometimes more overtly than at others; is a continuation of colonialism by another name, by the new elite. And like the British colonialism before it, such attitudes are bound to elicit resistance, and rejection. What we see today is not a failure of liberalism or democracy in our lands but the incomplete nature of its implementation.
That must change.
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Deep jis ka mehlaat hi mein jaley,
Chand logon ki khushiyon ko le kar chaley,
Wo jo saaye mein har maslehat ke paley,
Aisey dastoor ko, Sub-he-be-noor ko,
Main nahein maanta, Main nahein jaanta.
(Jalib Habib)

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