Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics, South Asia / 08.02.2008

The subject of the nature of democracy in India is important and we will continue to record our thoughts and ideas here to improve our understanding and hopefully to converge to a better sense of the phenomenon. In this post, we reproduce some ideas from Dr. Bettina Robotka, a historian at Humboldt University in Berlin.  Dr. Robotka had commented on one of our earlier posts (How Modern is Modern?) and impressed by her arguments we obtained her essay “Democracy in India – A Historical Perspective” which is a chapter in a 2000 book (The Cultural Construction of Politics in Asia) edited by Hans Antlov and Tak-Wing Ngo. Dr. Robotka characterizes the form of governance in India as a “colonial democracy” (the word colonial has no pejorative connotation in the context; it refers to the historical origins of the present system) in which a centralized state replaced the...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, Modernity, Politics, South Asia / 04.02.2008

I must admit I was surprised to see a reference to the “lower orders” in Ramachandra Guha’s book (India after Gandhi) in connection with the voting in the 2004 elections in India (How Modern is Modern?). I was curious to see when this sort of characterization disappeared in Europe. Given that we dealt with Hobbes’ articulation of equality in the previous post (Individualism, Social Contract, Governance and Modernity) this also provides a neat opportunity to round off this discussion. As we mentioned, Hobbes’ formulation in 1651 was a theoretical one. It is only when we get to the French Revolution that we see a concrete demonstration of how things changed. Tim Blanning provides a nice account in his 2007 book (The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815) of what happened when a crisis finally forced Louis XVI to call a meeting of the Estates General in 1789....

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Modernity, Pakistan, Politics, South Asia / 02.02.2008

In the last few posts we have left a few loose ends dangling: there have been references to individualism in the context of hierarchy, to social contract in the context of monarchy, and to reason in the context of modernity. In this post we will try to tie the loose ends lightly to highlight some of the connections and hope to come back for a fuller discussion at a later time if there is demand. There is no one better to weave the argument around than Thomas Hobbes (1558-1679) whose famous book The Leviathan (1651) became the foundation for most of Western political philosophy. Of course, Hobbes did not emerge in a vacuum. The seventeenth century is widely accepted as a decisive turning point in Europe that marked the transition from an old decaying order to a new emerging one that many equate with modern society. Very briefly,...

Governance, Politics, South Asia / 01.02.2008

In connection with the discussion on dynastic succession, our reader had helped clarify our thinking by characterizing both traditional monarchy and traditional religion as institutions marked by hierarchical relations between human beings (see Monarchy, Religion, Hierarchy and Modernity). Further, the point was made that in societies ruled by such institutions hierarchical relations were not limited but extended to all social relationships. The interesting question that followed was “What is wrong with hierarchy itself?” The answer was contained in the alternative that was posited by the reader: The alternative to hierarchy is not necessarily individualism, just equality. The importance of this distinction ensues from the realization that hierarchies can never really be eliminated—if nothing else, the hierarchy of knowledge is likely to persist. For example, the hierarchy between an expert and a layperson (say a physician and patient, lawyer and client) cannot easily be eliminated. Nor does it...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Leadership, Politics / 25.01.2008

In our last post (More on Dynasties and Modernity) we had made the point that “it was the mass of Peoples Party loyalists in Pakistan who were clamoring for the leadership to be passed on to a Bhutto after Benazir—hence the addition of Bhutto to Bilawal’s name.” As if on cue, an op-ed appeared in The News (January 25, 2008) entitled PPP's succession -- not so flawed. The author, a barrister and human rights activist currently based in the UAE, had the following things to say: You will not meet a PPP supporter who will not tell you exactly this--that they want a Bhutto to lead the party. From the workers to the leaders, be they of any ethnic or religious background, all want a Bhutto as their leader. Contrary to what the critics imply, the Bhutto family has not imposed its leadership upon the PPP, or in...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Pakistan, Politics / 24.01.2008

We have received more comments from our reader whom we had quoted in the previous post (How Modern is Modern?).  On dynasties and the new generation: A more nuanced argument is required on both sides, either to support or refute the position that the next generation is likely to be less tolerant of dynasties. It is possible that those who benefit from dynasties and also those who do not are not willing or able to protest such practices. What can an individual reasonably do if the son of Benazir Bhutto or Sonia Gandhi is inducted into politics? Sonia herself was a reluctant inductee. So, the absence of protest does not mean such practices are readily accepted by everyone. Indeed, there is some evidence that the younger generation is less willing to accept nepotism in business where it is more common than politics. Perhaps the writer has not taken...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics / 23.01.2008

In our previous post (The Degeneration of Politics) we picked up a thread on dynastic politics in Ramachandra Guha’s new book (India after Gandhi, 2007) and commented that in India (and, by extension, South Asia) “the modern and the medieval exist at the same time” and that “the future of Indian politics will depend largely on the proportion of people left behind in medieval times.” Amongst other things, this was triggered by Guha’s reference to a remark by Amartya Sen that as “inequalities intensify, half of India will come to look and live like California, the other half like sub-Saharan Africa.” We have received interesting feedback from a reader that enables us to try and push the argument further: Perhaps the one qualification I would make is that even the small segment one might call modern has never experienced anything like the Enlightenment directly, so that culturally we...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics / 21.01.2008

Ramachandra Guha’s book (India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy, 2007) is a work of pride—pride in the fact that despite all the doomsday predictions, India is still together and still a democracy. The pride is well deserved. But even in a book like this, Guha is forced to observe the steep decline in the nature of Indian politics (page 675): Once, most parties had a coherent ideology and organizational base. Now, they have degenerated into family firms. The process was begun by and within that grand old party, the Indian National Congress. For most of its history, the Congress was a party run by and for democrats, with regular elections to district and state bodies. After splitting the Congress in 1969, Indira Gandhi put an end to elections within the party organization. Henceforth, Congress chief ministers and state unit presidents were to be nominated...

Politics / 16.12.2007

By Ahmed Kamran Curiously, Pakistan passes through a cycle of political tumult and unrest after about every ten years that somehow leads to a change of the ‘faces’. After the political upheavals of 1958, 1968, 1977-78, 1988, and 1998-99 we are about to enter into 2008 with yet another ‘middle class revolution’ brewing in some urban areas.  Politics is much like Plato’s allegory of a cave where we do not see the real world but only the images of the people outside the cave being formed on the wall. Likewise, on the Pakistan political stage, we do not see the ‘reality’ but only the ‘images’ that are being projected onto the screen, now immensely powerful images with global satellite TV. Sentimental viewers of mostly middle classes tend to get so much emotionally involved in the play that they start ascribing their own latent ‘dreams’ and memories of their...