India at 75 – The wonders of democracy

I am taking a short break from Florida-oriented posts the next few days to focus on the 75th Anniversary of India becoming independent on August 15, 1947.

The Republic of India marks 75 years of independence from the United Kingdom on Monday (3 years as a Dominion within the British Commonwealth and 72 years as a Republic which maintained Commonwealth membership, a first at the time).

Partition which in August 1947, divided British India into two Commonwealth Dominions, India (majority Hindu but also a refuge for Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians) and Pakistan (majority Muslim) was traumatic. Lines were drawn late and the British withdrawal led to anarchy, where as many as a 1,000,000 people trapped on the “wrong” side of the line and being the “wrong” religion were slaughtered. Months later, India and Pakistan went to war about Kashmir, something we will discuss on Monday.

Despite having thrown off British rule, the Indian elite that pushed independence, was largely educated in the UK. So very naturally, a Westminster System became the preferred governing model. And despite being an anti-colonial Socialist, India’s founding political father, Jawaharlal Nehru firmly believed maintaining some ties to Britain were essential. So when India became a Republic, Nehru was able to maintain Commonwealth status for the nation -setting a new precedent. Previously, British Domains that became Republics, like the Republic of Ireland, left the Commonwealth.

Ties to Britain were important because the governing structure Nehru and others wanted in place, were almost entirely British in their inspiration. This was a revolutionary idea for an independent nation. It’s worth noting this attitude was DIRECTLY OPPOSITE of how the new United States viewed its governing structure after throwing off British rule (regarding the US, Nehru was so Anglicized in his thinking, he viewed the US and Americans with a similar contempt that the British elites did in the 1940’s – but when he visited the US in 1949, he learned Americans weren’t the anti-intellectual rabble the British upper classes had convinced him they were) .

Never before had a nation outside the west, with such a large population experimented with being a Republic, which includes free and fair elections, as well as a constitution modeled on British lines. And no other nation has had it work, so well for so long.

India’s democracy, I would argue has given us some bad governments and policies – but never has the government been a dictatorship with the exception of a two year period of “emergency” (which was technically permissible, like martial law in the US) and unlike Pakistan and countless other former British, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish colonies, never had a military dictatorship or an armed coup or insurrection. We will get into the bad governments and policies tomorrow.

Despite repeated armed conflicts with Pakistan and an ongoing dispute with China, India’s never let the military anywhere close to power – in fact, unlike even the US, politicians and civil servants generally have never served in the army – civilian rule has always been maintained.

India has persevered as a Democracy in a volatile world, often surrounded by monarchies or dictatorships. Despite now having well over a billion people, Indian remains a democracy, which in itself is a remarkable achievement.

India’s democracy is backsliding in some of the same ways the US’ is in terms of illiberalism, stifling of free speech, a free press and increased sectarian strife – heck I even believe Elon Musk partially choose to walk away from the Twitter deal because of the “bots” set up on the platform by India’s governing party, the BJP (my personal experience with these “bots” could fill a whole article) .

But India does still have free and fair elections after 75 years, without any change in system of Government. That alone is amazing.

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