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Why India is a stable democracy and Pakistan is not?

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Writer has tried to find out the answer of a question as to Why is it that India has evolved into a stable democracy but Pakistan has not been able to do so? He has drawn a comparison between India and Pakistan with various variable.

What irks all the youth in Pakistan is; what circumstances have led to an evolution of stable democracy in India whereas Pakistan struggles between military dictatorship and dubious sporadic democratic governments. To shape governmental systems of both countries various socio-economic, cultural, religious, political and other vital scenarios which are not only common in India and Pakistan but specific to each nation have been carefully analyzed.

Governmental or political system can take the form of either an authoritarian or democratic government. Democracy is the right of the people to exercise their political sovereignty either through the citizens directly or through an elected representative, which operates through a parliamentary or a presidential system. In such a system we find characteristics like representative legislature, regular and timely elections, enactment of laws through an independent judicial system and various rights or freedom that should be bestowed upon a citizen. Also there are more then one political party competing for that position of power and responsibility. An exact system like this can hardly be seen around and incorporation of all its details is very arduous. However, a few Western countries have come closer to this definition of utopian democratic state. The system may or may not be optimal for every country, however it does posses a few good elements or components which even an authoritarian government would like to have in its rule. Such elements can be freedom of individuals and minority rights, some electoral concept to choose governors for its districts and other components that increase the general welfare of its subject.

Having described the form of democracy that has to be practiced in order to be called a democratic state, two neighboring countries of India and Pakistan that vary as far as the democratic stability is concerned can be evaluated on basis of the described model of democratic state thought with little minus plus.

Post Partition India and Pakistan: Taking into consideration the varying conditions each found itself in after partition because these situations are really important to keep in mind while deriving a comparison between two countries. Political instability in Pakistan’s embryonic stages and particularly in the ten years after partition led to a situation where the military got a chance to intervene and impose its management design. Along with the fact that Pakistan was weak in early stages there are several other variables introduced corroborating the role of military intervention in Pakistan’s political system and as to why democracy has not been able to succeed in the last 60 years.

Pakistan was not able to culminate into a stable democracy; there is a set of variables including education, economic growth etc essential for a democratic system to thrive. Let’s find these variables and compare these factors with the reality to see and differentiate what actually went wrong. Democracy needs a population that is literate. In order to follow and perform the democratic norms to its true meaning, there is a need of population that can not only understand but also has the capacity to follow it. After independence, majority of population was illiterate and the idea of democracy alien to their existence. Muslims also refrained from acquiring Western education as it was considered to be a deviance from the religion. So after independence when majority of educated non-Muslim migrated to India and influx of uneducated Muslims from India started, there was little hope that the masses of newly born Pakistan would be well equipped to understand and follow the democratic system that would be imposed on them. Hindus and Sikhs on the other hand were more integrated into the British system and were already well incorporated into it. So after partition, there was not much deviance from their usual self and India was able to settle down more easily then their neighbors.

Economic growth is the backbone of any country to let flourish democracy. Thus it is important to incorporate the economic well being of a nation to even draw a comparison between India and Pakistan. The general standards of living are very necessary to ponder upon to evaluate whether the population has enough energy in them to enact democratic system. A country with a very low standard of living, where an individual strives very hard to obtain the basic necessities of life and in some situation even fails to get it, will be least concerned about what system of government is being followed. His primary concern would be how to feed himself and his family. If he ever gets a chance to think of something besides that, he would observe his miserable situation and would at best be hostile to the government for the misery he is going through. Pakistan is one of the poorest nations in the world and has a population that is generally busy in self-sustenance and cares less about the governmental form though this concept is changing bit with the passage of time and emergence of media. India; though; is poor too but its fairs well on other fronts (components) to establish a very stable system of democratic government, Indian government also pays attention to the uplift of the people and try to indulge their best lot into productive works, rapid growth in Information Technology in India is best example where government has foreseen the importance of this upcoming need of the world and started making themselves compatible with IT whereas Pakistan is still trying to make its place on international forums but stands nowhere.

The third factor that is very important to measure the strength of a political system to evolve successful as democratic system is the trust of general populations towards those in power. Any system is hard to establish and prosper if it does not enjoy a certain amount of trust and support of the population. Those in power have always seemed to be the oppressors. The scenario in Pakistan’s case has not changed much since independence. The new government whether chosen through elections or imposed upon them in the form of military dictatorship has not done much to alleviate the misery and suffering of the masses and hence does not account for a favorable attitude towards the government. The general welfare is directly proportional to the trust a government can gain however paying less attention to this factor nothing has been done to improve the welfare of the society, whereas in India’s case, she has worked towards the welfare and well being of its population with regards to land reforms, agriculture, education and poverty alleviation of the general masses. The government understands the problems and is seemed as trying to alleviate there miseries. But the great hurdle in the growth of India has been its huge population and assumes when government will not be able to fulfill the needs of all masses, there will always be a large population of poor people and resultantly there will always be resentment towards the government. However, the general consensus or the feeling that the government is trying, is sufficient enough to warrant support from the masses and hence helps to establish a democratic system of government. After realizing the fact of huge population India has started exploiting its population like China did. Instead of making the population they have made it strength and now taking work from this population in accordance.

It is also important to incorporate the presence of a worthy opposition while weighing the success of democratic systems in India and Pakistan. The opposition acts as a proxy to keep in check the political party in power and helps creating a political environment that is conducive for flourishing of democratic norms. Absence of strong opposition has made the case of Pakistan weaker on International fronts where there was no force available to conduct accountability of the rulers. Unfortunately who so ever has formulated government or in opposition have been from the feudalistic societies or operating in personalized politics. This very feudalistic and personalized political system in Pakistan always considered the opposition as hindrance to their rule rather then a competition and a challenge to improve unlike Indians do. The political party in power always tried to eliminate competition by hook or crook.

It is also pertinent to mention the exposure to democracy in both India and Pakistan before and after independence and the presence of strong leadership. The fact that the democratic system is a Western concept by nature is alien to those it is being imposed upon. The cultural and social norm warrants a certain degree of exposure to it and through a source that is considered to be credible. Such a credible source can be in the form of a strong leadership. In Pakistan’s case, she was robbed of such a leadership in the very beginning of its independence with the loss of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan. The subsequent leaders were not able to connect to the masses and hence the democratic form of government lost the leadership it required to connect to the masses while it was exactly opposite in case of India.

The presence of qualified professional machinery to run system of government is very crucial and should be incorporated while deriving comparison. Pakistan with its majority Muslim population who was never at ease with the Western non-Muslim ideas lacked such professionals. Despite the fact Sir Syed Ahmed Khan started Ali Garh Movement to make the Muslims of sub continent acquainted with western education system to compete with Hindus and British in Sub Continent. However those who remained after partition gradually migrated across the border as the establishment saw them as remnants of colonial past and was hostile towards them. India on the other hand with its Hindu West friendly population got its fair share of professionals and civil servants who were well versed in the art of government functioning from their colonial days.

International relations and the foreign policies are worth considering factors for analyzing the success of a system’s democratic worth. On issue of Jammu Kashmir and division of Sub Continent Pakistan has a born neighboring enemy that warrants formation of a strong military, hence the democratic elements in the society looses it importance in presence of such a heavy military establishment. Military bureaucracy has been influencing government for its vested interests and deem themselves worthy managers of country’s well being. The situation becomes exacerbated when the democratic government lacks credibility. Pakistan faced this situation after independence as it had to establish a strong military to secure itself and maintain the balance of power in the region. The failure of early government meant that military dictators projected themselves as true guardians of country’s welfare and interests. This was a huge blow to any possibility of future democratic governments. India on the other hand kept the military at bay and subservient to the civil authorities. Their tasks were clearly defined and the strong leadership of Gandhi and then Nehru led India to forming one of the most stable democratic governments in the non-western region. Pakistan has always been unable to establish relations with Afghanistan, Russia and other neighboring countries including all Muslim Countries due to the repeated intrusion of military bureaucracy into matters of government. Thus Pakistan is forced to have a Pro-American policy that has been a constant check on the prosperous democratic system.

Specific problems including constitutional, sectarian, provincialism, religious, ethnic and lingual issues are very important to prove the success of the democratic system. Pakistan is an Islamic Republic with Muslim majority. The strong faith of people in religion supported formation of government which adhered more to the Islamic principles then to western democratic ideas. The imposition of this idea onto them called for resistance by the masses and its lack of popularity meant that in future when the democratic governments were under threat, the masses were not too worried about it and went on as usual. Another problem specific to Pakistan was its geographic intricacy. With its East half on the other side of India, the management of both halves became difficult as people on the other hand spoke different languages, belonged to different culture and to make things worse were marginalized by Western leaders.

These factors culminate into a conclusion which provides the basis for an instable democratic government in Pakistan. Another way to answer this question was to take the initial conditions in both the countries as given and how both fared to do after independence in their own respective capacities. It can also be true that given the initial endowment of factors in Pakistan, it might have put more effort then it is actually given credit for. We could have also looked at why the democratic system is not suited to the Pakistani society and has therefore not been successful in this country. The method, however we have chosen, compares two like cases. India was a perfect case to compare Pakistan since it is one of the few non-western countries to have successfully established a democratic system. So the variables which we have introduced into the design can not only be used for Pakistan only but for other countries as well.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Hi Tariq: Very interesting topic but my take would be different. I have read and deeply analyzed our history (South Asia) and also have had the good fortune of doing a research project in UP to study the socio-economic status of Muslims and to provide suggestions. This provides the backdrop to my thoughts.

    1. I think the biggest factor in the stability of Indian democracy was the training that Congress party specifically and the Hindus got during the independent struggle – right from the formation of COngress under Dadabhai Naoroji. That training was ingrained in Congress psyche – however inept its brains may have been. That is why the Indian Constitution was a work of great zeal and care. The writers studied many the US and UK democracy and many constitutions to come up with it.

    2. The first thing that the Government did was to eliminate the kingdoms and kings and the feudal system. That was to be the cornerstone of Indian democratic journey.

    3. Democracy HAS to go hand in hand with Diversity and Secularism. That is a sine qua non of a good democratic system. For at the very heart of democracy is the space that every one has to air his/her views.. and also the acceptance of others to respect them. Only in such a system can one government which loses can hand over the reins to another *peacefully*. Pakistan’s creation was based on a theocratic idea which in many ways collided with the acceptance of another viewpoint to represent the majority. In such a scenario, there is inherent statement of exclusivity.. which collides with democratic freedom. Jinnah did call for a “secular” nation in his first speech – but that was meaningless in light of what had happened in the months before the creation of the two states. If he wanted a secular country then why the fight for a separate nation? Clearly, the genie was out of the box and he and LA Khan became the first victims of their own passion.

    4. India, when it received help from the West in its early days did not go for money or grants or things like imported cars. It went to Germany, Russia, England, and US to establish the 4 IITs. It went to US to give us the seeds and technology to start the Green Revolution. It went to the US for establishing various institutions of research and technology. It was frustrating in the first 50 years. When the graduates of these places went out of the country and created wealth that India never benefited from. But in the end, it all worked out fine. Today, Indian-Americans are one of the biggest donor community in the Presidential elections. Recently Sant Singh Chatwal has pledged $10 million of fund raising for Obama. Do you think he will not influence any of Obama’s policies when he comes to office? And obviously, Chatwal is not going to pay this money out of his pocket. He will tap the wealthy Indians who are his friends.. who formed companies in IT or were entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and made their millions. Its sad that the Government of today’s India cannot think that high and far. For all the mess that Nehru created, we Indians cannot thank him enough for such foresight. 5. Contrary to popular belief, India’s IT “miracle” has very little to do with the Indian Government. In fact the reason why it happened was because no body in the Indian Government even understood it.. and did not bother. You know that Narayana Murthy – Infosys’ Chairman – and his friends had to wait for one year to get a PC imported? And almost as much to get a phone conenction? That was the odds they fought against – because they did not give any bribes. IT revolution of India is truly a people’s revolution. It is middle class’ answer to the mess in educational system that prevailed at the time. Sorry for such a long comment.. but hope it adds some interesting perspective to this discussion.

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