Indian elections – a unique phenomenon

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Surgically separated Siamese twins have a tendency to keep kicking at each other. It is said that similar are relations between India and Pakistan. Apparently they cannot live separately, they pin prick each other to remain in good humour. I would not like to draw any more similarities as it would amount to stirring the hornet’s nest of patriotism and be drawn into exchanges of accusations of being anti-this or that.

What has made me to write about the ongoing Indian elections is a report by CNN captioned ‘Election Tourism offers travellers a chance to see Indian democracy in action’. How peacefully and disciplined manner they have been so far conducted in five phases out of seven is no mean achievement. As things are, They have completed on May 23 to facilitate over 870 million voters out of 1.25 billion strong nation to elect their future prime minister and a parliament of 545 members that would legislate as sole sovereign body, all inclusive, over the affairs of the state with absolute sovereignty to live in peace or war. It is expected that at the end of vote count it would not be a surprise to see the number of votes cast soar to nearly 900.

Indeed, holding of such huge general elections minus the generals would remain a unique phenomenon. Notwithstanding our animosities and their faults and failings, one must appreciate the beauty and success of Indian democracy whatever- and the way its most outstanding and transparent Chief Election Commissioner and his Election Commission perform to deliver the national trust bestowed in them by the Indian Constitution.

Both India and Pakistan got independence from the British almost simultaneously. Indian National Congress leaders can rightly claim to have had suffered immensely for their fight for independence whereas Muslims could be proud to claim that their leader Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah fought his battle democratically, legally, constitutionally and established his country through popular vote and not by going to prisons or resorting to violence.

With such a rich legacy both the nations should have moved forward on the path to democracy without much hindrance. It was, however, not to be so. In India leaders of Indian National Congress had blossomed into maturity, established well the principle of unity in diversity and were fortunate to have Dalit constitutionalist Dr Ambedkar as the architect of Indian Union’s Constitution. His pen delivered a document truly secular-a document that has remained the main binding force in the Union. It is ingrained in indelible strength to bear shocks, overcome fissiparous tendencies and to bask in spirit of shared autonomy. Nature also favoured India by giving its leaders long lives. Except Gandhijee who was assassinated in 1948, almost all its founding fathers lived long enough to see India through the teething trouble and provide it a framework for socialistic economy. Last but not the least, it no doubt had a huge army but its generals were neither Bonapartist nor Indian army was monopolised by one province that prided its in claiming as martial race.

The Quaid died the same year as Gandhijee. His successor-Prime Minister Liaqut Ali Khan– who was no doubt his trusted lieutenant, was done to death following a failed coup in 1951. In any case both MAJ and Liaquat had no electoral constituency of their own. One was elected from Bombay and other UP both not in Pakistan. Other front rank members of his All-India Muslim League Leadership were wise enough not to opt for Pakistan as they had no electoral constituency and they would have been killed as Liaquat. While there were many who stayed back I can only cite here a few like Nawab Ismail Khan of Meerat, Maulana Hasrat Mohani and Raja Sahib of Mehmudabad. In view of dearth leadership thus sprung into action a Punjabi-dominated power troika comprising of military, judicial and civil bureaucracy backed by former Unionist Punjabi feudal lords in cahoots with the renegade Mullas who had taken refuge in Punjab after having opposed creation of Pakistan such as Maulana Maudoodi.

It is regretfully noted that both MAJ and Liaquat followed by other West Pakistani leaders could not comprehend power and resource sharing with East Pakistanis who were 56 per cent of country’s population. This lack of comprehension gave birth to Mujib, his six points and separation. And the process would have continued after 1971 but for the leadership of residual Pakistan that sought to revive unity in diversity by resolving the tricky issue of provincial autonomy and disbursement of resources. Our monolith defence establishment could not tolerate it, democracy was packed up and popularly elected prime minister hanged judicially.

Our two last military rules covered two decades, lot of wheeling-dealings, arms twisting, dislocations, and extra-constitutional interventions, character-assassination of politicians including murder of Pakistan’s most popular leader martyred Benazir Bhutto. I was surprised to hear best summing up of Pakistan’s political history by a Chinese delegate at the recently held One Belt, One Road Conference in Beijing. He urged upon Pakistani delegates attending the conference with Prime Minister Khan not to expect China to perform miracles for them. “You have elections every five years but during the last 30 years no prime minister has completed his tenure.” He was also critical of Pakistani media as most disruptive. I don’t want to refer to other institutions referred by him that have been responsible for political instability and lack of economic activity.

Back to Indian elections, one cannot forecast the results although all sorts of predictions are being made by the Indian media. Some think Indian National Congress with Priyanka Ghandi having played her role, would sweep the polls. Others see yet another return for Prime Minister Narender Modi as second time prime minister. Whatever-Prime Minister Imran Khan looks forward to Modi’s return to do business with him since he feels reassured that Modi would be a safer bet to deliver as both are ultra rightist.

While the Indian elections are about to be over, we must note that there have been no accusations of rigging, interference by the military or any questioning of the integrity of election commission.

(Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)