22 April 2006

Freedom and democracy

Reading about the crisis in Nepal led me to realise something about India. Our leaders fought for independence from the British, but they also wanted to ensure that we would be a democracy. In order to do this they had to take power away from the existing feudal landowners. Those guys who initially ran the country realised that the only way democracy would take root and grow was to co-opt the already existing system of village democracy and ensure that land was redistributed from feudal landowners to their former tenants. Also, they reduced and eventually did away with the powers of the monarchs, whom the British had kept around so that they could indirectly control the population. These things are what has kept Indian democracy flourishing. If the country were controlled by a narrow band of feudals, then we would only do what is good for them, rather than what is good for the nation. The power was in land redistribution.

I also believe that this is why Pakistan has not succeeded in staying democratic. Despite getting independence at the same time as India and getting some of India's best people to run the country, they did not empower the people by redistributing the land. Thus, the interests of the nation were subservient to the interests of the small ruling class who have done everything they can to stay in power, including causing a seccession of more than half of their country. Anyone with more expertise on this can feel free to disagree, and I'd welcome their input if it corrects some of my thinking on this point.

Nepal faces a similar choice now. King Gyanendra should hold elections as early as possible and allow the people's elected representatives to curtail his powers for the good of the nation and redistribute some of the wealth to the poorest of the people.

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