India – Democracy and Identity

How old is democracy in India ? 56 years ? But from “some inscriptions”:http://www.sulekha.com/redirectnh.asp?cid=318876 in a temple near Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu, it is atleast 1000 years old.
bq. The village is known for its historic inscription of a written constitution that deals with elections to the village assembly, qualifications required of candidates contesting in elections, circumstances under which a candidate may be disqualified, mode of election, tenure of the elected candidates and the right of the public to recall the elected members when they failed to discharge their duties properly and so on.
And also if an elected person was found to be corrupt, he and his near relatives were debarred from cotesting an election for seven generations.
How old is India as a nation ? Did it ever exist as a nation before or was it just a British creation, an artificial entity. That’s what some westerners and secular Indian historians would like us to believe. Sankrant Sanu lays that theory to rest in this brilliant essay “Why India Is A Nation”:http://www.sulekha.com/expressions/column.asp?cid=305879

7 thoughts on “India – Democracy and Identity

  1. The traditions you describe where present in Kerala as well and probably were more democratic as it involved the welfare of people of all castes.
    Before the re-unification of Thiruvuthankur, southern Kerala consisted of many semi-independent principalities. This was more democratic than the ones in Tamil Nadu.
    Yet the power was concentrated in the hands of a few upper caste families and the contest for power was mostly between members of a few powerful families. This is yet another example of cronyism.
    Unfortunately, cronyism is the worst feature of the common culture of India.
    As for the article you referred to, it must be accepted that India is culturally one(even most parts of North East which went through a massive cultural change away from the mainstream culture of India in the past 100 years). Unfortunately “secularists” do not accept this notion and have tried to create even more categorisations by referring to some castes and tribes as apart from the rest.
    Yet India was never politically one. Real political unification came through the colonial rule of the British. This colonial rule was through a command and control structure in contrast to the slow development/unification that took place in the UK, France, Germany and Italy. What was lost through this colonial unification was the many compromises that have to be made between different regions of the nations as pre-conditions for joining a single republic. Thus we have a unitary system of governance centred in Delhi. To me this is increasingly looking like the Mughal empire of yore.
    India is suffering so many problems because it does not accept the differences in problems, priorities and solutions that each region faces.
    So the criticism from scholars that India as a political entity was created by the British is true and the proof is in the problems we face today.
    PS: I have been reading your blog for quite sometime. I will post a return email in time.

  2. SG,
    Before the re-unification of Thiruvuthankur, southern Kerala consisted of many semi-independent principalities. This was more democratic than the ones in Tamil Nadu.
    Yet the power was concentrated in the hands of a few upper caste families and the contest for power was mostly between members of a few powerful families. This is yet another example of cronyism.
    If power was concentrated in the hands of few upper caste people, then how can it be more democratic than the ones in Tamil Nadu ?

  3. I need to make my post clearer. It seems to have some spelling mistakes too.
    By more democratic, I meant that the plutocracy cared for the welfare of all castes. Moreover, the so-called lower castes had some powers because of the unique work segmentation in Kerala.eg; Thiyars in North Kerala were landowners and were part of the military.
    In fact calling those village councils democracy is wrong. It was plutocracy.
    As for the rest of the post, I just meant that India is an artificial state and is still going through the process of becoming a natural one a la Europe.
    PS: Is maintaining a blog tedious? Are there any good messageboards anyone knows about?

  4. Last word,
    Buddha and Mahavira were born in republics. I think this was more than 2000 years back.
    Democracy of one form or another existed at various times in many places. Yet, they may never have been true democracies.
    Some more examples, in the US African-Americans obtaining voting rights only in the 1960s.
    In Australia, Aboriginals were accepted as citizens only around early 1970s and before that they remained disenfranchised.
    I do not want to mar your blog with long meandering comments. Its a nice and interesting blog.
    I commented only because I thought the article you linked was an example of Indian truimphalism- not a good sign according to me.
    Keep up the blog 🙂

  5. JK, you are talking about the Uththiramerur inscription. This was a pseudo democratic system followed during the Later Chola period. I call it a pseudo democracy because it didn’t actually employ a voting system for elections – the names of every family head would be dumped in a pot and a child would be asked to pick one blindfolded. So it was more of a rotated office rather than an elected one. It is, however, true that any head-of-family (kudumbi) who payed taxes was eligible to contest. And it did provision for transparent governance, reviews, recalls etc., making it a fairly sophisticated political system. The elections where either to a council of 5 called the Aim Perum Kuzhu or to an assembly of eight called the En Per Aayam. The 5 decided policy and the 8 managed operations.
    I’ve always felt that we are a less cohesive republic than the US, and consequently need atleast as much federalism if not more.

  6. I found the following link.. thought this is was an intersting pice of information. I am not sure about the authenticity.
    Quote –
    Mauryan Administration
    Mauryan empire was the first really large and powerful centralised state in India.It was very well governed, with tempered autocracy at the top and democracy at the city and village levels….
    Look at : http://members.tripod.com/masad/mauryas.html

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