What went wrong with Indian Independence? chapter - 6
THE ELITIST’S DEMOCRACY
During the British regime, the people of India were divided in the political question into several streams of thought. The three principal streams were: 1) high caste Hindus 2) Hindu backward, and 3) Muslims. The Caste Hindu could themselves sub-divided into the urban or the rural. Each of these sub-groups contained those who followed the traditional hereditary vocations as also those who followed modern trade, commerce or industry.
Similarly, the backward classes had difference of opinions depending upon whether they were urban or rural based. They were also sub-divided into several castes an sub-castes. Often the sub-castes had little contact with each other. Muslims also were sub-divided into urban, and rural as also according to the professions they followed, modern or traditional. Further, there were some who were nationalists and others, who were fundamentalist, who considered Islam transferred all national frontiers
There was a small but a significant group of socialists and communists, who at least in theory, disregarded all the barriers of caste and creed. Before the return of Mahatma Gandhi from South Africa, the urban upper caste Hindu leaders had a conservative stream as also radical school of thought. It was under Gandhi’s leadership that Congress became a national movement, unifying all urban upper caste communities. After the death of Lokmanya Tilak, radicals faded away by the Faizpore Congress. The upper caste Hindus, who provided the leadership in the rural areas, had also joined the Congress. This created an impression that all the Hindus without distinction are staunch Nationalists, devoted to the idea of driving the British out of the country. The idea persists even today. The British had made clear their intention to transfer gradually and increasingly the political responsibilities to the native representatives of the people. Since the days of Montague, Chelmsford Reforms, the government sources often stated that the British were prepared to quit India once it became clear as to who would succeed them. And what would be the system of political governance after them. The two questions had no easy solutions. There is reason to believe that the British deliberately obstructed any effort at a general consensus on the subject. They were certainly interested that the consansual is delayed as much as possible. It would not be surprising if some British officers and statesmen tried to alienate the backward classes as also the Muslims from the nationalist movements.
But,. this was not true of all the Britishers. A majority of the Britishers felt a certain closeness and affinity for the Muslims as also for the backward classes. Islam’s close to Christianity as both venerate the old Testament. Both the religions have multinational following. The Indian leaders of the Muslim Community generally affluent western educated and lived in a modern style of life. The British rulers found it easier to communicate with them. The poor illiterate and backward Muslims, who constituted a large majority had little link with their westernised spokesmen. Whosoever, the fear of Hindu domination was a power sentiment, which forced the entire Muslim community to tow the line of the urban elite leaders. This tendency became notably progressive with time. The Muslims who had lead the 1857 revolt against the British rule in more States shifted their positions till the days of Lokmanya Tilak, the Hindu and the Muslim leaders had arrived at a covenant that the two communities will settle their differences amongst themselves by amicable means and fight the British rules unitedly.
Khilafat to Pakistan.
This situation started changing rapidly with the appearance of Mahatma Gandhi on the scene. The Muslims had a suspicion that Gandhi’s ecumenism was strongly biased in favour of orthodox Hindu world view. The confluence of Ram And Rahim could hardly be acceptable to the fierce monotheism. Gandhi’s life style and his prayer meetings, never really won over the Muslims’ admiration. Gandhiji openly flaunted his orthodox Hindu convictions. This was music to Hindu ears however in other communities it raised both some suspicion and inquisitive. To win over the Muslim support Gandhiji launched a movement against the abolition of the Khilafat by the British after the fall of Constantinopole. He failed to salvage the Khilafat and also in bringing about Hindu-Muslim unity. On the contrary, the Khilafat movement made the Muslims strongly conscious of their separate identity. It was this; identity which fostered and with passage of time helped the creation of Pakistan. Once the Muslims developed a sense of separate identity, their leaders, with the active encouragement and abatement from the English rulers and officials, raised a major bogey. Hindu constitute a large majority in the country; Muslims are a small minority. Even if the Muslims are backed by the Hindu backward classes, this alliance- would be ineffective in front of a massive Hindu majority. In all constituencies the caste Hindu leaders will feign that they were the only true nationalists sincerely wishing to obtain political independence and get elected on that populist agenda. They apprehended that, as a consequence, the Hindu delegates would be in majority quite out of proportion with their share in the population. The Muslims have their own life-style and a distinct religious faith. Their civil systems are different. They feared that their distinct identity and the economic interests will be trampled and that Muslims will be reduced to second class citizenship. The Muslims leaders, abetted by official support, succeeded in fomenting these apprehensions. Muslim leaders started demanding that their community must have a separate representation in the legislatures and the representatives of the community should be elected by Muslims alone, since the Hindu majority could force on the Muslim community a leadership of individuals sold out to the Hindu cause. They also demanded that the legislative system should be such that it would be impossible for the Hindu majority to impose any change effecting the Muslim community without its concern. Mahatma Gandhi himself did not seriously oppose this proposal of a separate electorate. He had made his reservations when this proposal was discussed in the Round Table Conference. Later on, when the question of separate electorate for the Backward classes came up, Gandhiji opposed; it by risking life in an indefinite fast. The opposition to a separate electorate for Muslims was never that strong. It is likely that he feared any opposition to the proposal would harden Jinnah’s position. The separate electorate for the Muslims paved the way for the partition of India and creation of an independent State of Pakistan. The cessation from India had an effect on the post-independent India for a limited period. only. The Muslim delegate in the Constituent Assembly of India did not raise a demand even for reserved constituencies, the idea of the separate electorate would have appeared suicidal for them. Briefly, Muslims who decided not to migrate to Pakistan but to continue living in India agreed voluntarily to join the national main-stream. Of recent, some voices have been raised to secure for the Muslims some reservations in Government jobs. With that exception Muslims have had no distinct place of their own in the Indian polity since the creation of Pakistan.
REPRESENTATION OF THE BACKWARD CLASSES
The situation of the backward classes was very different from that of the Muslims. Muslims had been the victorious rulers for centuries. The caste Hindus had a grave antipathy combined with respect, Caste Hindus had nothing but contempt and disdain for the backward classes. The religion and tradition denied the backward classes all human rights. The caste, nevertheless, expected that the backward classes should stand by Hinduism and take pride in this religion. Most people in the backward classes saw no alternative millennia of caste slavery had rubbed out all wastage of aspirations to human rights. It hardly occurred to them that they could live in a state of dignity on equal terms with their caste superiors. There were social reformers who tried to eradicate untouchability but they were motivated more by compassion than by considerations of human rights. Most Hindu leaders maintained that theirs was a flexible, accommodative and developing society;. it absorbed new ideas and lifestyle; it would in due course of time shed inhuman practices, like untouchability and soon everything would be all right in the best of the world. They insisted, therefore, that all reforms should take place within framework of Hindu scriptures and traditions. They were disturbed at the fact that the British invited representative of the Backward classes as a separate delegation to the Round Table Conference. The British were strongly alienated from the caste Hindu and community that worshipped cows and burnt alive its widows, could hardly earn their respect. They were convinced that the caste Hindus left to themselves would never be fair and just to the depressed classes. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s position and activities during the epoch had cast fierce controversy of late. He has been called a traitor to the freedom movement and to the nation. In fact, there was hardly anything new in his outlook. It was consistent with the thoughts of Jotiba Phule, who maintained that the backward classes are illiterate and have been sequestered from the core of the society. The advent of the British are for the first time getting an opportunity to educate themselves. Political reforms and unification of the society should precede the launching of a freedom movement demanding that the British lead the country. If social reforms do not precede political reforms, the newly Independent India would be very much like the feudal castist fiefdoms of the pre-British days. And the backward classes will have lost the opportunity of getting education and they would become subjugated to the domination of the cast superiors.”
The talk of unified nationalism suited the convenience of the upper caste Hindus. Their attempt was to push under the carpet the injustices f the system in a din of nationalist, jingoistic talk, Political, independence for them was of paramount importance, everything else was secondary. Patriotism they considered was the monopoly of upper caste, and the leaders of the backward classes were agenda of alien imperial rule. Traitors selling out their nation to please the imperial rulers. Even today, with minor differences, the proponents of Hinduism hold the same position which clearly shows how poor the understand of Hindu society was on the problem of the depressed classes.
REPRESENTATION OF BACKWARD CLASSES.
The British in their plans for quitting wished to provide for a distinct voice for the depressed classes. Along with the Muslims, they provided for a separate electorate for the backward classes. Mahatma Gandhi took that as an orthodox Hindu. It was his religious duty to resist the division of the Hindu society. He went on an indefinite fast in the Yerawada jail. The dalit movement of the epoch was essentially a product of Dr Ambedkar’s genius His importance was recognised by the British. However among the people of the backward classes there was a class ignorant about the issues involved and Dr Ambedkar’s position thereon. They had a lukewarm support for Dr Ambedkar. On the other hand since Gandhi began his fast, the whole nation was in contradiction. Dr Ambedkar could not mobilise people to counter the sympathy work in Gandhi’s favour. Helpless he gave up his insistence on a separate electorate and accepted to be contented with a system of reserved constituency with the backward classes. Gandhi broke his fast with a glassful of orange juice. In the Yeravada Pact Dr Ambedkar had put in a very significant proviso. He stipulated that there should be a primary election in which the backward class voters could alone vote. For short-listing the candidates who would in the panel of candidates in the reserved constituency. This proviso was never implemented. The question of communal representation seems to be after Yeravada or stumbling block in the tractations with the British.
The Second World War changed the whole scene abruptly. The British decided unilaterally to quit India without any pre-conditions relating to communal concord. Muslims who had already obtained a separate electorate persisted Pakistan under the threat of direct action. The Constituent Assembly of Independent India retained the system of reserved constituencies for the backward classes. for a period of 20 years. The system persist even 50 years after that and it seems unlikely to be terminated in the near future.
While reviewing all the developments relating to communal representation, one encounters a very remarkable phenomenon. It appears that every one concerning Gandhi, Jinnah, Dr Ambedkar as also the authors of the Constitution appears to have overlooked all formats of elections, except the one followed in Great Britain. Elections are held in England according to geographical constituencies. The candidate who wins the highest number of votes individually is declared elected. This method was copied in all its details in India. Other countries of the world follow electoral system that are quite different. Some of them are better suited to the needs of a country of coninentan proportions and having diversities of creed, cast, language etc. It is surprising that none of the stalwarts, erudite men, particularly in legal matter, failed to examine the possibility of giving a trial to the alternative system of elections.
In some countries, voters cast their votes not for a candidate but for a party. The number of seats won by a party depends upon the proportion of the votes scored by that party. If the party gets 20 per cent of the total votes, it gets about 20 per cent of the seats in the legislation. Each party publishes a list of its candidates in a descending order of preference. The candidates in the list equal to the number won by the party. Starting from the top are considered as elected. This system is called the System of Proportional Representation makes it difficult for any candidate to win elections on the support of a local community, cast or religion. It makes it difficult to win votes by promises of diverting funds for the benefit of the constituency, or jobs, projects etc. No one has a vested interest in following corrupt practices to pamper a constituency in order to win votes. The system also permits citizen with a common view point on a given subject to be represented in the legislature even though they may be widely dispersed over the territory of the whole country.
SYSTEM OF ABSOLUTE MAJORITY
Certain countries that have geographical constituencies but do not follow the English system of “First Past The Post” that is of doctrine as winner, the candidates who win more votes than any of his rivals. In France, to win in a constituency la candidate must obtain at least half the number of votes actually cast. If no candidate obtains absolute majority in the first round of polls a second round of polls is held in the interval between the two rounds. The candidates are allowed to form groups and alliances about the trend in the round. Some other countries limit the second round of polls only to the two candidates winning the highest number of votes in the first round. The same involves additional expenditure no doubt, but permits alliance to be formed in an informal manner in the countries where coalition governments have become a fact of life, a standing pattern
All those system rule out possibilities of various dubious means used in Indian electoral policies, such as presenting dummy candidate to split the votes of the rival candidates, nominate candidates on the basis of his caste etc. Today, coalition governments have become a normal feature of the Indian politics. The coalition alliance are formed most of the time after the election results are known by the methods more common in the cattle market. Leaders of alliance form before the policy, encounter series of difficulties in settling rival claims of alliance parties for allotment of constituencies. Parties stake their claims on the basis of elections held long back that have no relevance with the existing situation. The French system appears to be ideally suited for a coalition government so that coalition parties come together so that information on the strength in recent polls
CONVENIENCE OF UPPER CASTE
The caste Hindu leaders found that the British system suited their convenience. That possibly explains why other electoral systems were not examined. With a few exceptions, the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas constitute a predominant proportion of electorate. In the British system there is a statistical bias. A party enjoying support of 30 - 40 per cent in the large number of constituencies, can win 50 or even 60 percent of seats in the legislature. There is enough evidence to indicate that the Caste Hindu curiously adopted the British system “First Past Post” with the calculation that they stood westenists politician prudence. A curious phenomena is why the leaders of the Brahmin community accept this system without protest. Jurists like Dr Ambedkar must have been fully aware of the relative merits of different electoral systems. Why did he not speak in favour of an alternative system Proportionate representation or absolute majority? When Gandhiji fasted at Yeravada, the whole politics was limited to two alternatives : Separate electorate or reserved constituencies. Minoo Masani advocated in the Constituent Assembly for proportional representation. No one appears to have been convinced that possibility after Masani. It is likely that if the system of proportionate representation was adopted before the departure of the British, the extreme solution of creating Pakistan would not have been considered as the only solution for apprehension of the Muslim community by the leaders like Jinnah. If only somebody had overcome the habitual pattern of copying the British system, may be, the partition and its horrible aftermath could have been avoided.
Independence came while the country was fractured by the caste system. The system of proportionate representation would have helped overcome separatists tendency in different regions and provided a more satisfactory method of empowerment of the backward classes. Jotiba Phule’s predictions came true. Independence brought rule of black Britishers of upper caste native. English system of election ensured that this minority group commanded absolute majority in the legislature. This permitted switch over to socialism in 1950s and it is permitting today switch over to the Swadeshi brand of communal forces.
Capital formation for industrialisation required extortion of surplus from agriculture. In the Indian context, this got translated to a system of transfer of l surplus from farmer to industrialist ,or, even worse, from low caste to the upper caste. In rare cases, where the farmers were able to retain surplus on land, they appear to be broken under healthy process of industrialisation. Villages in Punjab and Kolhapur Districts of Maharashtra are the eloquent testimony to this phenomenon.
Land reforms in the countryside were sought to be justified by the principle of equity. If equity was the guiding force reforms would have been attempted for equal distribution of wealth in urban area as well.. Economic and political mechanisation resulted in neo-colonial situation, where the countryside was plagued for the benefit of industrial sector and year by year the peasants started moving to the cities in search of livelihood.
- Sharad Joshi