Evolving Indian Democracy

August 30, 2011

Congress Party?
The Indian National Congress was formed in 1885. The Congress was named after the US Congress, which was the only major dDemocratic iinstitution in the world at the time. It was the brain child of retired British ICS, who was the Agriculture Secretary to Govt of India during the great famine of 1870s. One of the worst tragedies of Indian History. 
The Congress was never meant to be a party, instead a democratic Congress/Parliament of India. It hence attracted people from different ideologies and did not have any particular ideology. Hence,  it took up the mantle to represent people of India than being a political party.
The Congress was an elected body. The early elections were from other democratic institutions like university student council and workers/teacher/industry associations. In 1909, when a similar council model was created by British, Congress became an unofficial council. Usually all the elected members of the Legislative Council were also in the Congress. In fact, Congress had several parties represented in it, most famous being Jinnah being a leader of the Muslim League and a member of the Congress.
Gandhiji changed the Congress Constitution to make it mass based in the early 1920s. He followed the The US model of electoral college. People elected the Gram Sabha Sarpanch,  who in-turn elected the District Congress Committee. The DCCs elected the Pradesh Congress Committee. The Congress President had elections and was similar to the US President by individual centric elections. Party/Ideology group was a secondary factor.
Though Sonia Gandhi is the longest serving President of the Congress today, but there was a restriction on terms then. Gandhiji became Congress President just once in 1924 (Belgaum) and till Independence Nehru was President only twice with a gap of several years. This system encouraged new leaders.

Individual Centric Democracy or Party Centric Democracy
Congress was an institution which allowed people of different ideologies to come together to discuss and evolve a national sentiment. In the initial model of democracy in the Congress, the Individual was the most important. His association with the Workers Union or ideology was secondary, like it is in the United States.
In the early 1920s, with his message of Non Violence and Satyagraha, Gandhiji became a mass leader. His ideology dominated over that of the others. This led to splits and emergence of new parties. People with a similar ideology joined a party. The Government of India Act,1935 made India a democracy like UK where Political Party was more important than the individual.
A confusion exists even today, where the "democracy" within the political party is individual centric like the United States, while the Government & Legislatures are party centric. Anna Hazare has spoken about the need to empower citizens to recall their MP/MLA but the neither holds any real power. They are do not even have an individual say. They have to listen to the party.

Partition of India
The partition of India was the result of only one ideological difference: What is the best way to have the electoral constituency? The answer to this question has defined the Indian Democracy. Jinnah felt that in India people are more closely bound by their community affiliations rather than by geography/neighbourhoods. This was because lifestyle and social events like festivals were community specific.Community which saw themselves as minority or backward supported this cause to safe guard their interest. Even Dalits supported the idea of community constituency.
But the Congress had followed a geographic constituency and looked at the issue from a more administrative perspective. A village faces the same problem like water shortage, which affected everybody regardless of their religion or caste. We have followed a Geographic Constituency model, but this has led to vote bank within communities. This question is still open to debate, did this model weave a nation together or created more divisions.

The first aallegations of ccorruption surfaced in the Provincial Councils in 1937, a year after its formation.The ICS at the time of Independence was considered to be above corruption, due to strong adherence to the rule of law. But due to social change in dynamics, and cause for communal/regional one upmanship, people belonged to Telangana or Kashmir or Bihar but not to India. Corruption is an act of theft. Would a Government School Teacher sub standard books for his own children even when he can afford the best quality and try to earn a commission by buying a substandard one? No! But then while, he may buy sub standard books for the children of his Government School. The reason is that he does not see those Indian Children as his own. Corruption changed democracy, people could buy themselves a louder voice and change the outcome of a Democratic process.
Democracy in Foreign Policy
The Democracy was a fundamental idea for Congress leaders. Even when Cold War began India did not align with any power block instead tried for a democratic world order by the creation of NAM. India had encouraged and supported several Independence struggles and democracy.
In the last couple of decades, we have let go of our democratic principles on the world stage. We lobby for a place in the Security Council, for a higher share of voice in global affairs, though we rightfully deserve it, but it is undemocratic. In greed for Energy and Timber Resources, we have let millions of poor suffer hunger, torture and death in Burma. We have maintained diplomatic relations with the dictators and not once openly supported a democratic movement in the Middle East.

Legal Democracy
The British introduced legislation which ensured its control over resources. Forest Act of 1880 was meant to control the vast timber resources  for the use of ship building, railways and water/oil drums. They built a license system which gave access to these resources to privileged few. The Indian National Congress had criticised the license as being anti democratic but then continued with it in the name of sustainable development and prevention of exploitation after Independence.
The first example of subversion of legal democracy was when Nehru dismissed the first Non Congress Government of EMS Nambooripad in Kerala in 1959, due to Law & Order problem, caused by the Congress Party workers. After the death of Nehru, a socialist wing of the  Congress became powerful kingmakers. Indira Gandhi got into competitive socialism thereby nationalised banks and other institutions and this aided corruption. Democracy began slipping away into the hands of people who had power or the resources to obtain power.

Democracy of Identity
Communities became vote banks within a geographical constituency. The socialism and land ceiling led to the rise in prosperity of the backward classes. These workers had for the first time in history a chance of competing with higher castes. They owned the land they tilled and now they wanted a greater voice in democracy.
Corruption became a rallying point and hence began JP movement in 1973. JP had called for this rebellion and Intelligence Agencies expressed serious fears that the Armed Forces would rebel like they did in 1857. Emergency was imposed in 1975! The world commented that India's tryst with democracy had ended. But when elections were held in 1977, Janta Government came to power, and Indira Gandhi lost her seat. Democracy had spoken again!
Keeping with the promise of upliftment of Backward Classes, the Mandal Commission recommended 27% reservations for OBCs. The new leaders who emerged, crusading against corruption, like Mulayam Singh, Lalu Yadav etc, face serious charges of corruption today.
In India, democratic leaders respect even their staunchest opponents. When JP died in 1980, Indira Gandhi flew to Patna and ordered a state funeral, though he had never held an official position. JP used to treat Indira Gandhi with utmost love and respect. But today, in states like Tamil Nadu & Uttar Pradesh, political opponents do not see eye- to-eye.
The emergence of the BJP in 1986-96 was a result of the reaction from higher caste hindus about the loss of their voice. Religion played a very important role for them and they Ram became a rallying point. It was a sense of reaffirmation of their beliefs and Ram Rajya, apart from other nobel factors of governance was also about power shifting back in the hands of upper caste hindus.
Democracy of Identity continues even today, when you would see political leaders visiting temples and mosques. Sonia Gandhi would leave the VVIP Box and sit in the cheapest stand to enjoy the India Pakistan match or you would see her celebrating on the steets of Delhi when India won the world cup. You would see Rahul Gandhi meeting the dalits or sleeping in their homes!

Great Movement in Democracy: 1991
India's population had grown by 0.7% from 1871(first census) to 1941 but after Independence due to heavy investment in health care and lack of famines it doubled in 40 years. India's greatest revolution could have come from hunger and unemployment but it was avoided due to Green Revolution and the Financial Crisis of 1991, because of Gulf War leading to high oil prices. Indian GDP had grown by 3% annually for 25 years before 1991.
1991 ushered in  Economic Democracy and freedom of choice in the Market place. Anybody could strive to earn more money through hard work and enterprise. The License system was undone by the Industrial Policy by P V Narashima Rao and taxes were reduced to enable foreign trade. Economic Democracy has ushered in prosperity and created one of the world's largest middle class. It has taken out millions out of poverty and provided education, employment opportunities and health care from the private sector.
In the same year Indian Parliament introduced the concept of Standing Committee. These committees have increased the amount of debate and improved the quality of legislation. The public interface threw open the doors of parliament to the general public. The standing committees though a recommending body, led to 162 amendments in Right to Information Act, making it much stronger.
In 1993, Panchayati Raj became the third level of Government. Backed by NREGA, money directly goes to the villages and in places where villagers have implemented the funds well, it has improved the quality of life in rural India. It has empowered villages and the people.

New Media Democracy
The rise in prosperity of the Indian Middle Class and the new media like Social Networks, Television has magnified the impact of events. The middle class has demanded its voice to be heard in Parliament. Poor quality of public service and corruption are rallying point Anna's August Movement. Like instant coffee which is the culture of our generation, it has been hailed a great success without any real achievement. The movement is issue based and expresses the general frustration of new India. This segment would play an important role in the future, as it will constitute 18% of Indian population in 2014!

Democracy in India has evolved over the years. Like India it is vast and full of contradictions. India has succeeded not in spite of democracy but because of democracy.


Ayush Prasad - Archives:

By Ayush Prasad
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Comment on this article

  • Kurt Waschnig, Oldenburg Germany

    Wed, Aug 31 2011

    The Congress Party has a great history.
    To imagine a democratic India without the Congress Party is not possible.

    Gandhi, Nehru and other outstanding politicians determined the way India has been going up to now.

    There have been ups and downs in the history of India´s democracy, corruption is the biggest hindrance for a stable and working democratic system.

    But the latest recent political events like the indefinite fast of Anna Hazare and the moral support he received shows that India is stable and full of life.
    Indians expressed their intentions and their will to curb corruption.

    India´s government accepted the demands of Hanna Hazare.
    India´s government is willing to curb corruption.

    The Congress Party has been playing a decisive role to strengthen India.
    Without a strong Congress Party and an overwhelming support by Indians there would not be an independent judiciary, press, a liberal constitution, freedom of speech, liberal individual rights, diversity.

    There is meanwhile a strong Indian Middle Class and on the other hand around 700 million still live in poverty.
    The gap between rich and poor is tremendous.

    I am sure the Congress Party will enable that the poor and the poorest of the poor will increase their standard of living.

    Indians need the Congress Party especially nowadays.
    It defends democratic institutions and liberal rights.

    Best regards

    Kurt Waschnig Oldenburg Germany

    e-mail: chess2550@gmx.de

  • Langoolacharya., Belman/USA.

    Wed, Aug 31 2011


    Excellent article, shows depth of your knowledge,,, "Knowledge is Power" as your Alma Mater says....

    Perhaps people could educate themself by reading this well balanced article.....

    Some day you should write about few of our current politicians(Vidhvans of undivided DK), what were they doing before and what they are now, how much they were worth before joining public life and how much they are worth today.....

    If you need my input, feel free to contact me.




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