Thursday, August 25, 2005

Engaging Political Pluralism: Lesson from India

The great Indian nation under the British Raj was finally divided into two very distinct entities in 1947: a secular democratic and vibrant country of India and a religiously based, non-democratic and riot-ridden state of Pakistan.

The Two Nations theory that sparked the partition process in 1947 could be described as a fatal choice taken by the then impatient Indian national leaders in their efforts to achieve an independent India. The eventual break up of Pakistan into the present day Pakistan and Bangladesh further diminished the relevance of the Two Nations theory which was based on religion – Pakistan was meant for the Indian Muslims while India was for the Indian Hindus.

The failure of Pakistan to keep its unity as a country that is a home for the Indian Muslims and the eventual emergence of Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan, into an independent, Muslim country in 1971 became a vivid proof of the failure of religion as an adhesive force that is capable of binding a homogenously religious community into one single nation. On the other hand, India, which was initially meant for the Indian Hindus, has been developing into a vibrant democratic country with a secularly based Constitution that guarantees the freedom of its citizens to profess and practice their own faiths without any disturbance or any slightest hindrance.

The remarkable experience of India in managing the pluralism of its citizens is of an example of the working of democratic values in a plural society.

Having Hindus as its majority constituents in a now more than one billion populations, India is experiencing the benefits of the age-old Hindu culture that respects the existence of others as an integral part of a society. Islamic traditions that dominated India for over four centuries before the British rule in India became an aspect of importance in building a tolerance in Indian society which is highly multicultural, multilingual as well as multireligious. The synergy of these two great civilizations in the world marked the strengthening of secular philosophy of Indian state in guaranteeing the freedom of its citizens of its rights.

Gandhi, Tilak, Maulana Azad, Nehru, Ambedkar are several prominent Indian leaders that have put a strong foundation for the functioning of a secular and democratic India. Despite several differences between them, they agreed that the tragedy of 1947 would never to ever happen again in the future. The differences of aspirations that exist in the society are being properly accommodated through the channels that enable the functioning of a democratic system. The Indian National Congress party as a congregation of different values, views, ideologies as well as political aspirations became the vehicle for the functioning of good governance. However, the combination of firmness and sensitivity that was attempted finally broke down. With the growing aspirations in the masses, the transformation from a single party dominance into a multi party and coalitional politics cannot be denied. Started with the split in the INC after the demise of Nehru and its failure to further play its role as a natural party of the government, the transformation into the present day India became natural. Several factors have come to support the process: the highhandedness of the new INC leadership, the new wave of Hindu nationalism, the caste politics as well as the increasing demands in several regions for more autonomy have resulted in the emergence of regionally based political parties that led into the multipartism in Indian politics.

Religion, Caste, Region and Coalition Politics

The failure of the new INC leadership to accept the new reality in Indian politics resulted in the disappointment and the formation of breakaway political parties. The secularly based INC met the challenge of the Siv Sena, the Jan Sangh party, later known as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that used religion as its driving force. The Janata Dal party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party are several parties that emerged later as the vehicle of caste-based politicians to rise to power. The Telugu Desam Party, the DMK as well as the AIADMK are several regional parties that emerged as a result of regional dissatisfaction towards the Center. At the same time, the grand old party of the INC has split into several parties like the Trinamool Congress Party, the Congress (I) as well as the National Congress Party.

The complex Indian society faced a very difficult situation in which accommodating the various aspirations of different communities is a huge task. The INC failed in keeping up with the growing differences in the society when it was rejected from power and split into different factions. The 1980s and early 1990s witnessed the new political reality in Indian politics. Political opportunisms and political survival have brought the previously harmonious society into jitters. The implementation of the recommendation by the Mandal Commission on the rights of job reservation for the backward classes and lower caste groups by the Government and the exploitation of the sentiment of the majority by several major players to reap electoral harvest marked the departure of Indian politics into a more communal and caste-based politics. Riots and social disharmony was the phenomenon that cannot be avoided. The Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992 by the Hindu hardliners became the turning point of the political scene in India. The post 1992 Indian politics is more communal in nature as compared to the previous decades.

Riding on the wave of religious sentiment, the BJP defeated the secular forces led by the Congress Party to capture the power in the Center and led the formation of the first successful coalition government in New Delhi, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). With the success of this BJP-led coalition government in New Delhi and the absence of a single national party to be a majority power in the national politics, the compulsion of a coalitional politics to accommodate the increasing demands of the voters became unavoidable. The needs to make compromise between coalition partners became the key success of a coalition government. However, the growing maturity of the Indian society saw the setback of communally based politics in which the general elections held in early 2004 witnessed the emergence of the Congress-led government coalition in New Delhi. The return of the secularly based Congress-led coalition in New Delhi on the compulsion of coalition politics became the landmark of a new innings of a harmonious India in which a secular India is tightly uphold by its citizens.

Lessons Learned

Living in a complex and composite society is quite an experience. Building a nation that integrates the different constituents into a single, powerful entity needs special efforts and bond that work as an adhesive to unite the differing components without neglecting the diversity it possesses. A great nation like India found an integrating force in the form of secular belief based on its age-old tradition of respect and harmonious existence between differing components in a united society. The painful experience of 1947 partition of India based on religion was firmly rejected and forcefully to be avoided in the future chapter of Indian history. However, there are always players that use communal sentiments for personal gain of power and greed. The communalization of Indian politics after the failure of the grand old party to perform its duty as a binding organization have transformed the political compulsion between differing groups into making certain alliances that is benefiting. The changing scenario witnesses the transformation from a single party system into a multi party system. In the absence of any single majority power to occupy the Parliament, the compulsion of coalitional politics becomes abundance. This new phenomenon in Indian politics is necessary to be observed in the efforts of engaging the complex aspirations of a diverse community.

Indonesia is an immediate neighbor of India that shares a lot of aspects with India. Be it the religions, traditions as well as cultures. The influence of the Indian tradition in Indonesia is very much apparent that we cannot miss. As a plural society, Indonesia also needs a binding instrument that is capable of acting as an adhesive to bind the various and diverse components of Indonesian society. While India found the bond in the secular tradition of Indian society, Indonesia had decided to make Pancasila, derived from the diverse traditions of Indonesian society, as the binding instrument to hold the great nation together. Pancasila acts as a ‘social contract’ of a consensus by the Indonesian people to hold together as one nation. It has an integrative force for the idea of Indonesia as a nation-state. However, a question has come up as how far is the commitment of the Indonesian people to hold Pancasila as the binding instrument? Throughout the Indonesian history, we witnessed different groups that have mounted several challenges and oppositions towards Pancasila. But, the failure of these groups to drag the Indonesian society into their folds and chose to stay as a nation that respects the diversity of its constituents is a proof of the firmness in the society to uphold the values of diversity.

The initial accommodation of various political aspirations through a single party in India that proved to be a failure, led into the creation of multipartism in which the compulsion of coalition politics is the phenomenon. The Indonesian experience with a democratic exercise is relatively young to be compared to the Indian experience. But the tendency of living in diversity has also brought Indonesia into the experimentation of multipartism. With the legitimacy of the executive being derived from a direct presidential election, the compulsion of coalitional politics for the formation of a government is of a lesser degree to be compared to the parliamentary system of Indian politics. However, securing legitimacy without being able to create stability in the functioning of the government would only create problems. Hence coalition politics in Indonesia is a necessity stage before transforming itself into a dual party system that would guarantee more stability as well legitimacy to the government. The successful coalition politics of the NDA government in India based on Common Minimum Program, a practice being faithfully followed by the current Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, is something to be imitated to create a stable and working coalition. Learning from the functioning of Indian democracy is of an advantage for Indonesia as it shares a lot of similar aspects of a plural society. The successful experience of the Indian democracy in engaging the political pluralism within its diverse society could become an immitation for the future working of Indonesian democracy based on the Pancasila, a manifestation of diverse Indonesian traditions.

A Qisa'i
New Delhi - August 2005