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  • Raajveer Singh Bisht

The Flawed Democracy of the Indian Subcontinent

Democracy has been taken hostage by demagogues and the archaic religious and cultural divides of this region.


Approaching the elections, one often takes time to reflect on the democratic setup of India and its very obvious flaws. This article however, explores why the idea of democracy as a whole has failed to work out in the entire subcontinent including Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The history of Indian democracy lies in the ecstatic fantasies of the earliest nationalists of India and their fascination with this foreign form of governance which had before the European conquests not been brought to India on such a large scale. In the dreams of these nationalists also lies the major flaw in implementing the democratic system in this subcontinent.

For those wishing to argue that basic democracy existed with the historical ‘Sabhas’ which used to provide a check on the ‘Rajas’ of India, this article also wishes to bring to the forefront the massive divide between the oligarchic form of indigenous democratic assemblies India had in these ancient times and the bureaucracy driven republican form of democracy that was both conceptualised and then weaponised in Europe.

Firstly, the ‘Sabhas’ resemble the Athenian form of assemblies which included less than 1/6th of the entire population with restrictions on who was to join and in what capacity as well as the rigidity of the debate which was in both cases usually directed and coordinated by the sovereign who existed in a superior capacity to this assembly.

European democracy has evolved to include in its very core the Universal Adult Franchise system with the right to vote essentially being viewed as at least a quasi-human right. Thus, the ancient Indian method can be better called an oligarchy rather than a democracy and similar forms of governments can be found in the Germanic tribes of Europe and the Irish and Scotish Tanist Monarchies.

Historically the Indian society also moved away rather quickly from these forms of oligarchies to Depotic Absolute Kingdoms and thus this semi-feudal method of governance persisted in India for centuries under different administrations and names.

But the Europeans even in departing from their colony left the Subcontinent a parting gift, the European form of Democracy. The Nationalist leaders heavily indulged on western philosophy lapped it up without ever considering the actual state of the Subcontinent and the effects are clear today.

The situation of the Indian Subcontinent parallels the Austrian-Hungarian Empire of Europe which like the subcontinent consisted of various races, religions, ethnic groups, cultural sects and the like. With the introduction of democracy every single ethnic and religious group of the old European Empire started to call for independence with increasing aggression and radicalism. The Indian Subcontinent was no exception, first came the partition of India and Pakistan on the grounds of religion, then the independence of Bangladesh due to cultural differences and now Pakistan faces the Baluchistan independence movement while India struggles against separatists in Kashmir, Punjab and the North East.

Now however this system is here to stay and the best that the people of the Subcontinent can do is simply to do evolve both their democracies as well as their own societal structures. India for example is still confused about its political system with both the features of a republic as well as federation existing side by side and clashing on various chokepoints. Bangladesh struggles on the question of its secularity as well as the refugee crisis which threatens to change its entire demographic. Pakistan falters on the protection of minority rights as well as the military grip on the political system.

Now is the time for friendship, reconciliation and negotiation on the external front and reform and deliberation on the internal otherwise these three nations risk falling into the hands of the next reactionary radical wave of political fervor and perhaps even giving birth to another tyrant.

No one can truly afford this.

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