Friday, May 09, 2008

Dethroning our Masters II

I see our Independence Movement as a culmination of many internal struggles, not just the struggle against British rule. I like to see it as a fight against our masters – and those masters are many, not just the British.

In this fight against our masters we started off with overthrowing absolute monarchy and came out as constitutional democracy. Usually that step cannot be achieved in a short period of time, and it cannot be achieved within a generation, and more so, it cannot be achieved peacefully. The process of overthrowing a monarchy and emerging one as constitutional democracy is a long process, and most often leads to unintended results (especially if it is a violent one).

Many such attempts that tried to dethrone an absolute monarchy to replace it with rule of people have turned out be major disasters. French Revolution and Soviet Revolution are examples. On the other hand, the English have had their pretty long struggle with monarchy, and each step towards democracy required time, energy and struggle, spanning many centuries. The eventual balance of monarchy and democracy that we got familiarized with came about after few hundred years of internal struggle.

That kind of transition to a constitutional democracy requires installing the right kind of institutions. One needs to have the freedom of press, the popular movements, the enlightening of the masses, the reason, the debate, upholding of citizen’s rights, toppling of the feudal masters, secularization of the state away from the priestly power, and so on. Usually the journeys towards such a path have been quite long for many western powers.

India stands out as a curious case. Constitutional democracy is an alien concept to this sub-continent. So, how did India overthrew its autocratic monarchy to come out as a constitutional democracy in a span of 90 years? How did we manage to take care of installing the right kind of institutions? How did we ensure we did not turn into another autocratic nation? And how did we transit so peacefully?

While the West went through its long internal struggles, most other nations in the world were given a shortcut because they were ruled by the West. Each of those colonies had a chance to take that shortcut. Some took those shortcuts and came out successfully; some took it and ran through pitfalls. And some others refused to take those shortcuts dismissing them as artificial constructs of the West.

India was fortunate enough to be one of those nations who took those shortcuts to come out successfully. And as icing on the cake, this transition was mostly peaceful.

Though I am about to describe our journey and the steps we took as if it was intentional, as if there was a design, I want to let my readers know that there was no such design. It was not God or Providence, or an intelligent design that led these movements one after the other.

At each stage, we had a set of leaders who pushed the movement from one stage to another, only because it made sense. Fortunately, we had the right kind of elements to make this work and right kind of people came onto stage to make it work. Some countries were not that fortunate because they had some of these pieces missing. They went onto become dictatorial, autocratic, communist and fascist countries.

In short, our Independence Movement is a combination of all the following struggles – toppling of our monarchies that ruled over us for centuries, making the feudal and landlords irrelevant, especially those who served these autocrats helping them in perpetuating monarchy, the rise of intelligentsia that eventually went onto author the Indian Constitutions and spawn the new set of leaders who not only governed India as elected leaders, but also overthrew superstitions, ignorance and irrationality from its sacred pedestal, overthrow of Muslim superiority and dominance reducing them to a common man almost equal to every other Hindu, rise of common man, inclusion of the common man in the struggle, the farmer, the cobbler, the Hindu, the Muslim, the Sikh, and every Indian to eventually make this a vibrant democracy, overthrow of caste dominance and along with it the Varna system and its practices of untouchability and caste-based-discrimination, rise of women as equal citizens and abolition of practices like sati while encouraging widow marriages, and finally, embracing constitutional democracy as our choice over other prevailing school of thoughts such as fascism, communism, dictatorships, etc.

[To be continued]

Related Posts: On our Independence Movement, Dethroning our Masters


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