To set the context [since I took a long break after the last post] - I see our Independence Movement as a movement in which we overthrew many of our masters (not all). As a young boy, I always thought just like many others around me, that this struggle for Independence was a fight against British. Later on I began to realize that this fight was not just against British, it was a complete revolution where we set in pace many reformations in an accelerated mode. Of course, as we all know, instant foods never give the same taste and satisfaction as the home cooked meals prepared from scratch by Mom. Though we came out with flying colors in a very short period of time, it is still an instant meal. There are still some inherent flaws that keep showing up now and then. [Moreover, it seems that movement of reformation stopped with our Independence Movement.]
It is my attempt here to look at our Independence Movement in a different light. I have already set the tone in the previous articles. Here I elaborate.
Europe, the seat of Western Civilization, went through a very long period of turmoil starting from Dark Ages, the Renaissance, and then the Age of Enlightenment, where ordinary people began to taste the pleasure and power of freedoms and went about negotiating their freedoms from their kings. One of the first steps was Magna Carta in England but it took many centuries after that to get to a modern nation.
History of Europe is history of common man, trying to fight the bondage, the enslavement, the servitude towards a king or monarch, and it was a series of many small revolutions. This struggle of man starting from being a subject of a king eventually to a citizen with rights and freedoms was a very long one indeed, and is mired in blood. Each of those European kingdoms contributed to the eventual modern nation in a different way. No wonder, we could not see a modern nation developing elsewhere on the planet. The ingredients were missing elsewhere.
In this long struggle spanning many centuries, the people revolutions happened differently in different lands. England, where the struggle started, went through a series of negotiations between the kings (or queens) and people, and to this day, this modern nation retained its monarchy, more as a symbol and not as seat of power. Russia, which did not go through same set of negotiations till 20th century, where feudal system was more pronounced, got influenced by socialist ideas emanating from modern Europe, and the revolution was swift and bloody. The monarchy ended within few days. After a brief honeymoon where people ruled themselves, the new rulers formed their dictatorships under the blanket of communism, and freedom eluded its people for a long time. France, which contributed to and received the ideas of freedom, of citizenry, of civil code, went back and forth on its promise to make a modern nation. Storming of Bastille was only the first step, but did not guarantee a smooth ride. After a brief experiment where people ruled the land after killing their kings and queens, it got back to being a monarchy. But seeds were already sown, and monarchy could not live long enough.
Meanwhile United States of America became an experimental ground, a fresh canvas to sketch a new political landscape using the skills and lessons that was gained from centuries of experience in Europe. The founding fathers of United States had many lessons to learn from history, and they indeed spent lot of time learning those histories. They created a modern nation, as a culmination of many struggles that were carried out in Europe. No single European nation takes complete credit, but each of them contributed in their own way. None of these countries is perfect, and yet they all set an example.
Many European nations have eventually become modern nations, but some of them where the struggle was long and pronounced retained monarchies as mere symbols. And wherever the struggle was short and immediate, the revolutions were swift and often bloody and a rejection of monarchy ensued.
As for the rest of the world, these European powers became their colonial masters. The ideas of freedom and a modern nation were disseminated through them into these lands. The colonial masters had no benevolent intention to free these lands. In fact, most of them were intent on enslaving the people. However, there were enough seeds for everyone. The ideas of freedoms once gained cannot be lost. They keep thriving in the minds of people, in the works of people, flowing freely from one curious mind to another. These nations under the colonial masters grew up to learn the same ideas of freedom and they were ready to follow suit.
While many European nations had undergone prolonged struggle in which monarch was forced to give up power in a slow and painful process and hence a state of live and let live has evolved, other nations whose people have learnt about the pleasures and powers of freedom from others didn’t have enough time to go through the same long struggle. Most often, the revolutions were bloody and the results not very appealing. Communism is a by-product of such swift revolutions which promised people a quick fix solution to getting to rule themselves – most of them turned out to be major disasters. Very few post-colonial nations have come with flying colors and India happens to be one of them – hence this story.
1. Monarchies toppled.
Monarchies are not toppled so easily. It took Europe many centuries to do the same. But India did that in a span of hundred years.
In a country which was seeped in hereditary monarchies spanning centuries, where ancestry was quite an important attribute to rule, this was a major achievement. Inadvertently, the British masters put an end to our allegiance to a single mona
The people’s movement that came later had unifying effect that could not have been possible if the ruler hadn’t been alien. Muslims kings and Hindu kings were seen as native to the land, since many subjects could identify with the king’s religion and practices. English, on the other hand, stayed aloof, looked different, and did not mix with the locals. As a result, most Indians could easily see why these masters were different and alien. It would have been tough for a Nehru, Gandhi, or Bose to rally their people against a Hindu or Muslim King the same way they did against British. There would have been many loyalists for each of those kings, based on religion, language, or caste to make sure the king stays on the throne. The end result of British as single and sole master was in a way the first step towards envisioning a single and united India. It was much easier for Indian leaders to rally their people to rebel against a foreign master. The elusive unification under one banner was now a possibility. Without British, it is inconceivable that we would have seen India as it is now.
The key difference between the erstwhile masters, such as Mughals, and these British masters was that the latter started introducing systems of governance, legal systems, and education in place, which eventually helped India in fighting many of our masters, including the British themselves.
Many local kings were made effeminate by the British. They became paper kings, suitable for taking pictures with a dead tiger or riding imported cars. It became very easy for Independent India to completely rid of them. When India became Independent, Nehru was in charge, not the local kings.
Toppling of monarchies was very important for us as a first step to eventually become a constitutional democracy with citizen rights. Look at some other third-world countries where there is monarchy even now. Their countries never underwent the necessary transformation that could bring in a democracy.