At 65, it's democracy that separates India from Pakistan

Written by: Shubham Ghosh
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Pakistan completes 65 years of independence and with each passing year, the country looks to be getting more and more enmeshed in the intricacies of deadly politics. India, which will complete its 65 years of independence tomorrow, has experienced a better voyage although that does not conclude that it is a perfect picture.

Neither visionaries of Pakistan and India lived long to see how their dreams shaped up in the subsequent years.
The two nations have witnessed different path of evolution of the socio-political way of life. Founding fathers of both states wanted a secular state with Hindu and Muslim majorities, respectively, as noted journalist MJ Akbar said, but he added that while Jinnah's idea of Pakistan was exclusive, Gandhi's concept of India was inclusive. Perhaps, this is the biggest difference which had scripted two different histories for India and Pakistan, who otherwise share a lot of similar features.

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If we look at the political evolution of the state system in both sides of the dividing line, both countries have seen dynastic politics emerging as a serious obstacle to their respective political culture. The post-Nehru India saw how Indira Gandhi and her successors ensured a strong centralisation, which led to the decay of the once-dominant Congress culture. Pakistan, too, has seen a similar story unfolding.

Last September, Fatima Bhutto, the estranged niece of the late Pakistan prime minister and PPP leader Benazir Bhutto said during an interview last year that dynastic politics of her family had destroyed the prospects of democracy in that country. She also said the politics of assassination had become a serious bane for the country. Besides Benazir, Fatima's father Murtaza was also assassinated. Her grandfather, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was hanged by former military ruler Zia-ul-Haq. India also saw two members of the Gandhi dynasty assassinated owing to various political blunders committed at home and abroad.

It is not only the Gandhis in India or the Bhuttos in Pakistan but several other smaller families who continue to dominate the respective national politics and this has narrowed the power elite in both states. That fact that industrial elites like the Sharifs too got absorbed into Pakistan's prevalent pattern of feudal and personality-based politics has hit the country more. The military, which has ruled Pakistan for the most part of history, has also played a key role in co-opting the political dynasties in the country in a bid to strengthen its own political root.

Regular electoral democracy did the trick for India

India, still manage to score better than Pakistan owing to the fact that it has successfully held elections regularly since independence. A reliable leadership during the initial years and strong democratic institutions helped India to travel the path of democracy while the scenario was just the opposite with Pakistan.

Military had the last laugh in Pakistan

Lack of a deep-rooted democratic political culture and fragile civilian government have given repeated chances to the military to intervene in the country's politics and wrest power for a long period. This basically put into play a vicious cycle. The more the military got powerful, the more sidelined democracy became and lack of a democratic growth failed to get the country rid of the clutches of a men in uniform.

In India, the fact that at least a strong procedural form of democracy is active and ensures that all voices have a say in choosing the rulers of the day. There are definite loopholes with the Indian democratic system, no doubt. The north-eastern part of the country as well as Kashmir have not seen smooth functioning always and the country had its tryst with authoritarianism once, in the mid-1970s. But yet the political culture nurtured by parliamentary democracy makes the civilian government India a powerful one and not like Pakistan, which is yet to see an elected government completing its full tenure. The Pakistani state, nevertheless, is witnessing a growing public awareness against another military coup and the army is aware about that change, says noted Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid.

India's stronger judiciary

Another big advantage for Indiahas been its strong and relatively untainted judiciary. It has played a major role in upholding the constitution of the country and keep the governments grounded. The Pakistani judiciary, on the other hand, has targetted to undermine the rulers of the day in the country and like the army, has established itself into a serious threat to the civilian government. We saw the judiciary even went on to disqualify an elected prime minister for not reviving corruption cases against the President, something quite unusual for a true democracy. It is true that key institutions like judiciary and Parliament in India have also been hit by a declining standard but there is no imminent danger of the political system of the country crumbling overnight.

Socio-economic issues: Pakistan still miles behind

Two important socio-economic issues demand a mention in this study. They are, freedom of women and insurgency. Religious fanaticism poses a serious threat to the Pakistani women while in India, the story is different and perhaps more complex. Indian women, today, are also facing threats but those are caused more by changes effected by the socio-economic transformation in the country in terms of neo-liberal growth. The process of democratic deepening in India needs to be carried out further so that women at the lower rungs of the society are also assured a freedom of life. In terms of the insurgency, the Taliban have thrived in Pakistan, thanks to a weak government and democratic politics, but in India such insurgent groups are yet to emerge as a strong force to challenge strong elected governments, both central and provincial.

India has grown economically, but for Pakistan military is the only concern

India, today, has made great advancement in terms of economy, education, communication, space programmes, military prowess, sports and all these have been made possible by a liberal regime. Pakistan, on the other hand, still lags far behind despite having a big population and rich resources. They have been dependent on western aid for ages and now suddenly, a deteriorating relation with the US, has left the Pakistani state under great stress.

The country's military is strong though but it is mainly to keep itself at par with India. But while the Pakistani elite keeps itself obsessed with a military balance of power, India has moved miles ahead in other fields and more seen as a competitor with countries like China. True, Indian economy is undergoing problems but it can always improve the situation but Pakistan might not.

A booming middle class, a predominantly young workforce, an English-speaking working class, an active media and all these led by a democratic leadership have defined a new India today, which has made it a dear of the USA. The Pakistani state, on the other hand, has been left in a shambles.

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