Perhaps the most important issue to be addressed after the publication of this book is the dangerous climate that has risen in India. The debates over Kashmir, a small piece of territory both India and neighboring country Pakistan have been claiming since the 1940s, has heated up. The situation has grown to a point where the two nuclear powers have come the closest they have ever been to war, while the world holds its breath.
When Great Britain gave India its independence in 1947, the subcontinent was split into Pakistan and India. Jammu and Kashmir (the area’s official name) was declared sovereign at first, but was eventually split between to two diverse countries. Since 1999, an increase in attacks in the Kashmir region by such methods as tanks and suicide bombers increased. This is has pleased neither India nor Pakistan, and in May 2002, the world watched as foreign peacemaking attempts were made to avoid nuclear war, the closest call since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. If war had happened, CNN estimated that an initial nuclear blast would kill as many as 12 million people, and Pakistan’s targets in India would have been India’s capital New Delhi and its largest city Bombay. 1Order now
Though the fighting between India and Pakistan for Kashmir is as old as the countries’ independences, the renewed energy in fighting could prove devastating in the end. The situation has increased international participation. Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf and India Prime Minister Biharia Vajpayee have been forced by international pressures to hold talks in the hopes of bringing peace to the nations.
The conflict between the two countries and the international focus on the conflict has given India a more serious and threatening presence in the world. However, the nuclear conflict is a not a threat to Indian democracy or the way the country is governed. The population of India could suffer a small decline, and the way of life would be forever altered, but the occurring conflict has nothing to do with India itself.
The most important thing mentioned in the beginning of the chapter that should be dealt with is the change of power in government and possibly a united front behind a leader rather than a party. In 1999, Vajpayee became prime minister again after suffering a defeat five weeks earlier. According to Asiaweek magazine, the election result, “gives a clear message to Vajpayee: We trust you, but do not trust your party.”1 Although Vajpayee holds no current title in the party, he is a member of the BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party). The Congress party has governed the country most years since India’s independence, and the system works so that parties rule. Another article in Asiaweek says, “Except for one coalition in the 1970s, no non-Congress government has ever survived more than 12 months in power. Because the cabinet consists of officials from many parties, consensus on policies is hard to achieve.”2
As for the analysis of India in the book, it does make sense. The struggle between the parties still exists, the effect of Great Britain on India is still present (through the conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir), and despite all of the struggles India faces, including overpopulation, a lagging economy, and poverty, India looks to continue to succeed as a democracy. India maybe one of the first countries (somewhere in the future) to break away from its third world status since it surpasses the economic potential and legitimacy of other developing nations.
3. India is one of very few third world countries to have sustained a democracy for an extended period of time. Why do you think that is the case? Do you think it is likely to survive into the 21st century?
Yes. Survival is by means of will, and I believe India has the will to survive. Having said that, an adjective I frequently ran across in my readings described India’s democracy as “fractious,” whose meaning as Webster’s Dictionary defined it is indomitable, undisciplined, ungovernable, unmanageable, and wild. India’s democracy is like all others and overcomes many preconditions democracies have, as stated in the book, “The Success of India’s Democracy”:
1. India is not an industrialized, developed country
2. Indian businessmen and middle classes do not fully control the country’s politics
3. India is anything but ethnically homogeneous
4. India would probably rank low on a number of attributes of “civic culture”
4. Indian democracy would best be understood by looking at it through power distribution. First, India’s constitution is one of the longest in the world, and because it only needs majority votes in the houses of parliament, it is easy to change. Second, there exists a balance between centralization and decentralization in government, so that local and regional governments, as well as individuals have say in central policy too. Third, powerful interests in society are met without completely excluding small or weaker factions. And fourth, other parties have risen up to defeat the original Congress party, who maintained most power. Although some of these things are not always the case in every situation, it holds fairly true. However, at the heart of independent India is the fact that all political offices have been challenged and all adults can vote for a challenger of their choice. Its accomplishments may not have been great in feat, but India’s democratic state is evolving as more time passes.
5. India is one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse countries in the world. How has that affected political life since independence?
I’ve already mentioned how government has tried to overcome religious and ethnic barriers. Not in every case, but constitutionally at least, religion and ethnic backgrounds, and caste systems are not supposed to play in to politics. However, the social and economic aspects of Indian society cannot avoid the extreme diversity that encompasses them and the riffs in society diversity can cause.
Gautam Bhatia, a columnist for Indian Express Online said the following in his recent column: “Sadly, the formation of the Indian city, once caught up in the drive for variety, sharing and living amongst diverse peoples, has today produced an unfortunate modern corollary: diversity has become reason enough to create separate enclaves. It is a curious Indian paradox that in order to be recognized as individuals, every individual must also belong to a collective – to a family, caste, religious community, professional peer group, political party or social club.”
Bhatia is an Indian from a diverse background, with a Hindu father, Muslim mother, and Christian and Sheik relatives. Bhatia hypothesizes what he would say if he were to ever be asked to fight a religious riot. If his entire family were to sit down together for dinner, all the major religions of the world are represented except for Judaism and Buddhism, and he would not have to go far in his city of Delhi to find them.
India is mostly Hindus, with the next largest religion being Muslim. Those religions help define the reasons Pakistan and India have not been able to get a long since their independence, Pakistan being mostly Muslim. Language also plays a large part in diversity. India has languages diverse enough in the country that many Indians would not be able to communicate with each other.
The caste system is perhaps the largest obstacle to political life today. Small castes or jati are most diverse in ways of economics, religion, language, and social rules and roles. Castes can ban together for protests and provide a non-bias way to assess the governmental system as a whole. However, castes, as Bhatia mentioned, make society diverse enough that people must make separate enclaves, or closed-societies to live within alone.
6. The Indian political system has long revolved around the Congress party. It has slipped badly at the polls in recent years. How has that changed Indian politics?
In “The Success of India’s Democracy,” essayist Atul Kohli says, “India’s founding national party, the Congress – which increasingly came to resemble a dynasty – has now been voted out of power, replaced by other challengers… It is in procedural and political senses of the term that India’s democracy has succeeded….”
The Congress party has dominated the Indian political system since India’s independence in 1947. However other parties, such as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or the Indian People’s Party, the Janata Dal, or the People’s Party, and even the Marxist Communist Party has found room for itself on India’s political stage. The BJP has made the most progressive effort, and their party, though not currently in power, has a BJP member, Biharia Vajpayee, sitting in the office of prime minister.
The problem with so many parties in the Indian system is that little seems to get done because there is so much diverse disagreement. Much like the American system some political scientists might argue. When government was ruled only by one defacto party, the Congress, things could get done without disagreement. The Indian parliamentary system is loosely based on Great Britain’s system, but now has the problems other multi-party systems have. The multi-party system has caused change in power of the government several times in the past few years, which does not give a great feeling of stability to any Indians.
CNN recently reported that in order to strengthen 25 state elections for the BJP next year, Prime Minister Vajpayee has elected an entirely new cabinet in an attempt to strength the party’s coalition.2 This effort is seen as proof that the Congress party will not be able to regain their stronghold on Indian politics, and some spectators speculate that if the BJP is successful in the next elections, India will be a strong two-party system.
Rizwan Ullah, writer for the Milli Gazette is not one of those people. In an article about the possibilities of a two-party Indian system, he says, “One party or the other along with its clouts cannot solve the problems confronting the Indian Muslims who must always deal with the local people and parties. So they should be wiser in not blowing local issues to a disproportionate national level.”
For now, the two-party system will be on the ideological sidelines, but I would expect it to become a return issue soon, possibly after the next round of elections.
7. India used to follow import substitutions as seriously as any country in the third world. Over the last ten years to fifteen years however, it has moved toward structural adjustment and the market. Why did that change occur? How has it altered Indian political and economic life?
The import policy of India has had three objectives in the past, as reported by the website India Mart:
1. To make necessary imported goods more easily available, including essential capital goods for modernizing and upgrading technology; 2. To simplify and streamline procedures for import licensing;
3. To promote efficient import substitution and self-reliance.
As it said above, import substitution’s purpose was to give the Indian people the ability to rely on themselves rather than some imperialistic power to take care of them. The policy was put in place after India was given its independence from colonial Britain in 1947. However, more than 50 years later, India like much of the world is adapting to the newer global market, and accepting that a little dependence on others does not take away from a nation’s ability to be independent.
“When we started off in the early 50s we adopted an import substitution model to run the economy. We also started practicing a socialistic regime. Both these things were understandable because it was very fashionable in those days. Socialism was a very popular concept. Also the fact that we had won Independence from the British meant that we were afraid of imperialism of any kind. This includes economic imperialism. So this, kind of, justifies the adoption of the import substitution model and the Socialistic regime,” said L. Lakshman, President of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) in an interview with The (Indian) Tribune.
The cold, hard truth is that the entire world is going global. Period. India cannot be a country with more than one-sixth of the world’s population and a serious nuclear threat without being a nation with global ties. And, with so many people, it would be hard to imagine that India could solve its poverty plague on its own. Import substitution stifled foreign relations, and worked to prevent globalization by being self-sufficient. Globalization is not necessarily a popular term and being self-sufficient is not necessarily bad. Nonetheless, competition to exist on the world scene is feverishly sought after by countries, and requires some element of all inclusive participation. No matter how independent India wants to be, no country can truly keep itself separated from the rest of the world.
2 AsiaWeek. Ajay Singh. “Black Days.” http://www.asiaweek.com/asiaweek/99/0326/nat5.html
1 AsiaWeek. Pankja Pachauri. “A Check on the BJP; India votes for an old prime minister with new friends.” October 22, 1999. http://www.asiaweek.com/asiaweek/magazine/99/1022/viewpoint.html
2 Cable News Network. “India Cabinet Gets Makeover.” July 1, 2002. http://www.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/asiapcf/south/07/01/india.cabinet/index.html
1 Cable News Network. “Rumsfeld sent to head off India/Pakistan war.” May 30, 2002. http://www.cnn.com/2002/US/05/30/rumsfeld.kashmir/index.html
1 Cable News Network. “U.S. warns of doomsday scenario.” June 1, 2002. http://www.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/asiapcf/south/05/31/kashmir.attack.toll/index.html
The Indian Express. Guatam Bhatia. “The city against itself.” July 1, 2002.
India Mart. 1997-2002 trade policies. http://finance.indiamart.com/exports_imports/importing_india
The (India) Tribune. Gaurav Choudhury. “Make private sector part of the delivery system; Competition vital for world class products.” http://www.tribuneindia.com/50yrs/lakshman.htm
The Milli Gazette. Rizwan Ullah. “Two-party system.” October 15, 2000. http://www.milligazette.com/Archives/15-10-2000/Art5.htm
“The Success of India’s Democracy.” Ed. Atul Kohli. Cambridge University Press. 2001. Pages 1-3.