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December 2008 - January 2009


Obama factor in Indian politics

by Krishan Ralleigh

In the wake of the post-4th November victory euphoria of Barack Obama in the USA, the English media in India, especially the visual media dominated by Star TV and NDTV has been probing into the so called Obama factor hoping that it could help solve some of the problems facing the Indian democratic system at present which has created far more fissures in the Indian society than ever existed even before the partition of the country in 1947. This sort of flight of fancy in any serious political debate reflects political immaturity and is definitely harmful to the image of India as an Independent Democratic State, a nation with ancient heritage and culture.

The United States of America, on the other hand, has been a nation state only for about 200 years. The new United States of America, consisting of 13 states, was recognised as an independent state by Britain only in 1783. Although, Jefferson, one of the founders of the American Constitution declared loftily that “All men are born equal”, it took a civil war (1861-1865); and more than one hundred years of Civil Rights Movement to achieve that equality which has brought an Africo-American at the apex of power..

Abraham Lincoln described slavery ‘the greatest wrong inflicted on any people’ but the civil war was not to uphold racial equality but to preserve the Union. India, almost at the same time, in 1857 fought its first war of independence against the British colonial rule. The British Raj, consequently, strengthened its stronghold on India by every mean possible.

It was Mahatma Gandhi with his first hand experience of ‘White Supremacy’ in South Africa who brought home to then Indian National Congress the urgency of resisting the evils of imperialism. The new leaders were highly educated (mostly at British universities) and dedicated freedom fighters. Gopal Krishan Gokhle, Bal Ganga Dhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Vallabh bhai Patel and many other who suffered for years in jail before they could take the command of free India on 15 August 1947.

After independence, the new constituent Assembly drafted the constitution which was promulgated on 26 January 1950. It is under this constitution that the present system is operating. Any crises in the present democratic process could be blamed on the founders of the constitution.

May be, it is the right time that we look again at the present constitution to find ways to keep the country united and able to face the challenges of the 21t century. Harping on Obama’s phenomenon in Indian politics is specious,tendentious and almost an insult to those stalwarts of India’s freedom struggle who gave their all so that the coming generations of Indians could live in freedom.

And Freedom, for a nation or an individual, is the most precious political right. Indians have achieved it after a thousand years of political serfdom, first under Muslims and then the British.

Many great empires and nations in the last two millennia have lost their identities or have shrunk to almost Zero. India, on the other hand, has enriched itself by the experiences of long contact with the Mughals, the Turks, the Arabs, the Pathans and the British.

The present Constitution, in spite of many amendments after independence, remains a legacy of the British Raj. The Constituent Assembly was elected in 1946 under limited voting system. It did not represent the new India after independence. Within three years of independence, two of the top leaders Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had died. The first General Elections in 1952 gave overwhelming majority to Indian National Congress. The party has remained in power with small gaps between 1977-1980, 1989-1991, 1996-1998,1999- 2004 .

Today, the Congress (with merely 25% MPs)is at the head of a coalition government as were the previous opposition governments.

The political analysts always believed that British electoral system of ‘first-past-the-post’ would almost always bring one of the majority parties in power; thus strengthening the two-party system. This did not happen; and will not happen as India is too large a country, in population as well as in size. There are too many regional, religious and caste loyalties which will take India into further fissiparity which may endanger the existence of India as a free nation. It is, as I said before, the most precious right Indians have achieved after a thousand years.

However, this is where the Obama phenomenon may come in. Every educated Indian has seen the gradual accumulation of popular votes by Barack Obama from county to county, state to state, ending in the final triumph on November 4. He is now the President-Elect, waiting to be sworn in, although ethnically he represents only 15% of the population, a majority of whom are still in lower category of jobs and have far lower standard of education than the white majority.

His triumph made United States of America more united. The Presidential system of Government always does. It is time that political leaders of India look at the presidential system of government and separation of powers between executive and legislature more closely. A president as the Head of States of India, from North to South and East to West, will bring more sense of unity in this land of divergent people with different religions and languages. As the head of administration with a majority of Indians behind him, he will be able to bring the most able individuals into the cabinet without any hindrance from the legislature which could even be by a different party. He will not have to beg, buy or coerce legislators to run his administration. Similarly, all the states of the Union will have one governor who would be responsible to his people. To preserve democracy from the unbridled ambitions of any president, there will have to be a limit of maximum ten years tenure or two elections. It is also th time, that political leaders reexamine the education and legal systems; which are again a legacy of British Raj; and do not take account of India’s cultural heritage and social environment.

To be truly secular, education system should not be encouraging different faith schools. Private education is nothing but a sop to the rich. By law, India should be able to provide free and compulsory education to all its young citizens. Education curricula in schools and universities need review and changes that emphasise the ancient heritage of India in the fields of medicine, psychology, science and spirituality. Today we have graduates in economics who have never studied Arthshastra of Chanakya, medicos who know little of ancient system of Ayurveda or teachers in literature who have never read Kalidasa.

Similarly the Justice system is too costly and encumbered with prolonged procedures. A civil code for all is long overdue. The rule of law is not a new concept in Indian jurisprudence. It was upheld by all great rulers from Ashoka to Akbar. All Hindu scriptures uphold the predomiance of Dharma, the eternal law that guides nature and human beings. Even the caste system, as it prevails today in the Hindu society, is only the perversity of the true ancient system. People are not born into a caste. They become one of the castes by their actions. In a modern free India, caste, gender, region and religion should be relegated to personal choices.. This should be the goal of the new constituent assembly representing all political parties. The Assembly should be given enough time and money to enable it to give a new constitution to India of the 21st century. If such a change happens then I will consider it to be the most creative and salubrious influence of Obama’s victory on India.

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