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Diversity and Democracy: Our Strength

September 11, 2010

The Indian Parliament is a microcosm of the Indian nationhood. Members of Parliament from various parts of the country enter the holy precincts of temple of Indian democracy. The sheer diversity of the members of parliament is mind boggling. From the North East – Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh to Assam and then Bengal to the cow belt of UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan and the recently created states of Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh it is a kaleidoscope of people and cultures intermingling to form the Indian nation. The western and northern states of Himachal, Haryana, Punjab and Kashmir give their own flavor to the diversity. The southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have MP’s that give a touch of the Southern spice to the proceedings. The Western states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and the Eastern states of Orissa and West Bengal making this whole conglomeration of Indian diverse statehood an inevitable stamp of beauty and flavor uniquely Indian. In that, the mammoth size and diversity of languages and cultures is like a painting full of bright, beautiful colors that attracts everyone from a distance. India is uniquely diverse and this makes it perhaps the most beautiful nation. I may be biased but even the worst critics will concede that if not the most beautiful country in the world, this is a singularly unique nation that has a plethora of languages, cultures and food habits that is unmatched anywhere in the world. The representatives of these diverse states bring with them their own culture and fragrance. Indian parliament is as colorful as the nation that is India. It is a sight to behold when the representatives from various states come dressed in their own traditional state attire for the customary photograph before every Lok Sabha session. From the Sikhs of Punjab in their pagadi, to the Nagas in their beads and loin cloth, to the Tibetan attire of the Ladakhis to the traditional kurta pyjama of those from Hyderabad, to the mundu of those from Kerela and Tamil Nadu – it is a riot of colors. It is resplendent and utterly unique to India.

The political loyalties are as diverse as the country itself. In that the parliament is a microcosm of the nation that is India. There are representatives of small regional parties from all over India. While we did embrace the western style of democracy and having had the British here we inevitably went in for the Westminster model of democracy, yet Indian democracy is unique by itself. India for one can never be a two party system as it is in the US and to a large extent in Britain (not withstanding Nick Clegg and the Social Democrats). There are regional parties and they represent the aspirations of the people of that region. The BJD in Orissa, Trinmool Congress in West Bengal, Asom Gana Parishad in Assam, Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, the Akali Dal in Punjab, the National Conference and PDP in Jammu and Kashmir, and Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, AIADMK and DMK in Tamil Nadu, JD (S) in Karnataka and the Shiv Sena in Maharshtra. There are many other smaller parties that have a presence. It will be impossible for me to enlist all the regional parties that have a stake in the democratic process in their respective region of influence. Suffice to say that these smaller parties apart from the two pan India parties, the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have a role to play in the Indian democracy.

When there are so many parties and so many regional aspirations, there is going to be some element of chaos. Indian democracy is unique and the sheer diversity is an inspiration to anyone who looks at the political process dispassionately.

Various issues come up in the Parliament and they are dealt with by the various parties in their own way. The recent Nuclear Bill is a point in order. It is alleged that the two largest pan-India parties the Congress and the BJP have come to some kind of understanding. It is true that the passage of the Nuclear Bill is critical to the future of developmental needs of the country, but the smaller regional parties created such a ruckus in Parliament that they could not be ignored. The aspirations of the people of the various states gets mirrored and while it may become impossible to accommodate all points of views all the time, it is but a matter of compulsion for a parliament where no one party is in majority to have to listen to voices of smaller political outfits. The people of India assert themselves through their representatives and that gets mirrored in the ‘chaos’ that is the Parliament sometimes.

This is where the leadership matters. In situations where there are contentious issues of national importance with global ramifications, the responsibility of the leadership becomes that much more vital for they are not only required to take the right decision but many a times it becomes their responsibility to educate their constituency back home on why they needed to vote one way or another. Remember, India masses are still largely illiterate. Having said that it will be a fallacy to equate illiteracy with ignorance! They are well informed in matters of their self interest but many a times their information is based on hearsay and selective information that may not give them the complete picture. Therefore the responsibility of a political leader in India is infinitely more arduous as compared to other countries. Luckily for us, we had an enlightened leadership at the time of independence where such stalwarts as Mahatma Gandhi, Patel, Nehru, Rajaji, Rajendra Prasad, S.P. Mookerjee, Anne Besant and others were there to decide on matters of import dispassionately and with due diligence. The masses had faith in their capability to decide what was best for the country. Today we cannot say that an average Indian believes that the present leadership is such that they can blindly depend on them to make the right choices. In that, this is a good thing too. Awareness among the people is much more now and therefore they are that much more demanding. The explosion of information technology tools has made it easier for them to keep abreast of the developments.

There is no faith in the world that has not made India its home. From the Christians to Jews to Muslims to Parsees and others, people of every faith have made India their home. This is India’s strength. This is no mean achievement and the credit must go to the majority Hindu population to have welcomed all and sundry. The intrinsic pluralism of Hinduism is the reason why people of different faiths are welcome here. Imagine, during the 1971war, the prime minister of India was a Kashmiri Pandit lady (Indira Gandhi), the chief of staff was a Parsee (Field Marshal Manekshaw), the commander of the forces in Bangladesh was an Indian Jew (JFR Jacob) and the chief of the Indian Air Force was a Sikh (Air Chief Arjan Singh). All these personalities were institutions by themselves. India liberated Bangladesh in 14 days flat when the Seventh Fleet of the US had started for the Bay of Bengal. Field Marshal Manekshaw conceded that his men were so well prepared that the Pakistan army had no chance. But the credit must also go to a maverick Commander of the forces on the ground, Gen J.F.R. Jacob who defied orders from Delhi and rather than take Chittagaong first as per orders marched straight to Dacca, which surprised the Pakistanis such that they surrendered. Gen Jacob brought with him booty of a hundred thousand Pakistani soldiers as prisoners of war. Air Chief Arjan Singh’s dynamic leadership saw the Indian Air Force convert Antonov transport planes into ‘bombers’ to pummel Pakistani military and strategic installations so effectively that the Pakistanis were left wondering whether we had imported bombers from the Soviets on the sly! The magical diversity of the nation is such a source of strength that it makes us Indians’ hearts swell with pride.  This is not something new. Those who question the concept of India must remember that when Maharaja Ranjit Singh was asked for help from the ruler of Asom, he dispatched his general and an army of Sikhs who drove away the intruders (the Sikh general was killed in action). I may add here that if we look at Sikh’s closely we will find them as devout Hindus who made changes to their lifestyle to protect Dharma. Ranjit Singh was only helping his brothers in distress. There are descendents of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh army still living in parts of Assam. They speak Assamese and follow Assamese customs while remaining devout Sikhs.

Today the nation is being led by a party chief who is a Catholic of Italian descent (Sonia Gandhi), married to the son of a Parsee father and a Pandit mother (Rajiv Gandhi). She has become the party chief for a record fourth time. Having married an Indian she has been accepted as one of us with open arms. She has also taken up to India and Indian customs with aplomb and carries the saree with more grace and felicity than many an Indian women. The Prime  Minister is an erudite Sikh with simple tastes (Manmohan Singh). How do Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi define themselves; Hindus, Christians or Parsees? I guess it is enough for them to say that they are Indians.

The beautiful diversity of languages, dress, customs and food habits makes India unique. There is no country like India. And there are no people like Indians. Let us recognize our strengths and work on it to make India the land of our dreams.

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2 Comments leave one →
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