Indian society is king and queen minded
Few people could be blessed with a pedigree like that of Rajmohan Gandhi which, since childhood, drew him close to political ideas and events of unsurpassed significance.
After all, his grandfather was the great Indian leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and he is descended from his mother’s side from Chakravarty Rajagopalachari, the Indian political leader who became the last governor-general of India after independence. He has done both his grandparents proud and written their biographies. Mohandas: A True Story of the Man, His People and the Empire is a tome spanning more than 700 pages and slightly more modest is the biography Rajaji, A Life, as Rajagopalachari was often referred to.
This pedigree does not detract or add to Rajmohan Gandhi’s own stature as a scholar, although wherever he goes, he must be introduced as the descendant of these eminent political figures. That is not, however, as we introduced him to our members when he came to The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs on 8 February 2014 to have an informal conversation on The state of India’s democracy. His biographies of Gandhi, Rajagopalachari, Sardar Patel and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan apart, he has written on South Asian history and is credited with being, through his works, a reconciler of ideas, perceptions and conflicts. Reference is made here to only two of these works: Understanding the Muslim Mind and Revenge and Reconciliation. Rajmohan Gandhi gave balanced and restrained replies to the questions thrown at him – he was speaking to a Pakistani audience.
What does India have to offer to the world in terms of achievements as a functioning democracy, especially with respect to minorities and human rights? Examples from which other countries can learn? India, he said, has held elections regularly and the results of these elections have been accepted by the defeated political parties and the military which has never interfered with or intervened in the political process. At different times, the four pillars of democracy – the legislature, executive, judiciary and the media – have shown energy and a fighting spirit. Corruption levels in India are high but many corrupt leaders have been charged and sent to prison, especially after the anti-corruption movement. On the negative side, the vast majority of the people do not have easy access to the courts and the executive. The institutions of democracy serve a select few and ordinary citizens do not feel empowered.
The rights, culture and places of worship and teaching of the minorities are protected by the Indian constitution; India is not a Hindu state. But in practice, the record is not satisfactory and the minorities have not got their due. India has individuals who harbour biases and prejudices which are reflected in biased verdicts against the minorities. Muslims comprise 14 per cent of India’s population but seldom make it to the civil service or the judiciary and are not represented in the legislatures in proportion to their strength in the population. Symbolically members of minorities have held the highest positions in the state as presidents, ministers, governors and judges, but justice for minorities falls short of what they deserve.
He described India’s nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998 as a blunder, an error and a disservice to the world which made its own position in South Asia more insecure. India has a fair share of self- righteousness – that delighted me – but also of national pride which compelled it to go nuclear after the Chinese did so. Indira Gandhi in 1974 and Vajpayee in 1998 also felt that this image of India’s power would be good for the country at that time. Even now, a bilateral nuclear agreement between India and Pakistan could be made on draw down which can push back the issue provided that some assurance could be given by the world that China would not use its nuclear power to intimidate South Asia. This was a clear reference to intimidating India and not to other South Asian countries. As we know, China is a signatory to the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is hardly likely to make a first nuclear strike. India – like Pakistan – is not a signatory to the NPT, nor has it ever responded positively to Pakistan’s proposal to make South Asia a nuclear-free zone. Pakistan, which has no apprehensions from any other quarter, has always said it would sign the NPT if India does.
On the question of the sharing of waters, an issue most crucial to Pakistan’s very survival, he made suggestions which can be put into practice only when countries are not is conflict with each other or suspicious of each other’s intentions. He said that discussion on this issue should be ‘responsible and precise’ and must not be ‘vague’. If India was indeed diverting Pakistan’s share of the water and is determined to squeeze Pakistan, this matter should be accepted or denied before the world media. We all know that Pakistan has frequently expressed its fears in specific terms and, as a member of the audience pointed out, India’s very capability to divert the waters means that it can ruin Pakistan’s cropping pattern. How, indeed, can we bring the Indian government to a public platform on this issue?
The prevalence of anti-Pakistan sentiments in India took up some of the discussion. According to one questioner, these sentiments are reflected both in public behaviour and in the Indian media. When India won the cricket matches in Karachi and Lahore, the Pakistani public cheered its team, but when Pakistan won a match against India, the Indian public booed the Pakistani team. And the Indian media has created anti-Pakistan hype in a big way, especially after Kargil. Why is there such a marked difference in the display of public sentiment in the two countries? Rajmohan Gandhi agreed with the questioner to some extent but referred to many constituencies in India which harbour warmth for Pakistan.
One question which touched my heart was about the relationship between the future generations of the two countries. The first generation comprised families which had lived through the Partition. They had emotional links with the region and the cities and villages from where they had been uprooted. Let us say that they remembered all. The next generation consisted of women and men who lived through Partition by hearing about this emotional attachment but had no historical links with it although they might have occasionally visited relatives across the border. But the coming generation will have no memory of the past and no stake in that memory and, moreover, the cultural landscape had also changed over the years. On what basis then will their relationship evolve? Rajmohan Gandhi suggested that new ways should be found to create closeness and conveying at the people’s level the ‘wonderful’ things happening in both countries. He referred especially to the culture of assisting which prevails in Pakistan, symbolized by Abdul Sattar Edhi’s endeavours. The new generations may not share common memories but they face similar problems. However, this question had relevance mainly to the northern regions of the subcontinent because, apart from Hyderabad State, southern India had remained largely unaffected by the Partition migrations.
Finally, I could not resist asking the final question, one which cannot be considered relevant to Pakistan which has no pretentious to being a great democracy. India is considered by many as the world’s greatest democracy and has seen many general elections, the results of which have been accepted by political parties and the military. When, then, will India get out of the trap of dynastic politics? Rajmohan Gandhi responded that India has embraced dynastic politics ‘with a passion’ at all levels, which is the very anti-thesis of democracy. Indian society is ‘king and queen- minded.’ However, Rahul Gandhi appears to have some good ideas.