Democracies of Unfreedom: The United States and India

By Brij Mohan | Go to book overview

5
The Remains of Democracy

[W]e must train these masses of men who have a heart of gold, who feel for the country, who want to be taught and led. But a few intelligent, sincere, local workers are needed, and the whole nation can be organized to act intelligently, and democracy can be evolved out of mobocracy.

M. K. Gandhi ( 1920: 3)

The conundrum of democracy in a traditional society involves a complex reality of people's participation in a developmental process. This implies a sense of values, responsibility, and commitment against the persistence of atavistic chimeras that sustain status quo. Today, democracy is challenged on its own turf; its strengths--self-determination, majority rule, and unrestrained liberty--seem to undermine its vitality. The paradox of democratic experience in a developing nation such as India has far- reaching global ramifications. This chapter briefly critiques India's postindependence ordeal as a democratic nation. 1

"I do not know that it has yet succeeded in resolving a conflict about the very basic structure of the state of society," wrote Jawaharlal Nehru about democracy in India in his letter dated January 17, 1936, to Lord Lothian, the viceroy (quoted by Embree, 1989: 174). Indian democracy represents postcolonial strife against old feudalism and new tribalism. Its importance is only underlined by the post-Cold War realities, where nascent democracies are striving to survive in the mist of ideological chaos. The conflict that Nehru saw between democratic ideals and societal structure is deepened by the forces of political atavism.

It would be an irresponsible oversimplification to state that democracy has failed in India. India's social and political institutions; historical legacy of the panchayat raj; and a parliamentary system, free press, open

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