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Posts Tagged ‘DesiPundit’

Hindutva and the Romans

Posted by RB Kollannur on September 21, 2009

(Author’s Note: A really long post, Maybe I should have split it up into three or four parts.)

“It is said that God created man in His own form. But what is not said is that man created God in his own.”

A long, long time ago a city was founded. East of the River Tiber flowing through the Italian peninsula. The founders  –  two brothers, princes of the Latin city of Alba Longa, and descendents (as per Virgil’s Aeneid, maybe some retconning of history / mythology (?)) of the Trojan prince, Aeneas. The city would eventually grow on to dominate the affairs of the world for close to two millennia, albeit in different forms – military, governance and religion.

The city, of course, is Rome, founded as per legends in 753 BC, on seven hills east of the aforementioned river.

It was ruled by Romulus and Titus Tatius, the King of the Sabine City of Cures (Wiki “Rape of the Sabines” for details) in its formative years. After their deaths, Numa Pompilius, the son-in-law of Titus Tatius, would be elected king (Yes, kings do get elected now and then, and need not always be dynastic like in India).

He is also credited with having organized the religion of Rome into an institution that would eventually provide the base for the Roman Catholic Church.

Initially, the Roman religion borrowed heavily from the Greek and the Etruscan religions. During the years of Numa Pompilius (717-673 BC), there were three major deities in the Roman Pantheon – Jupiter (God of Sky and Thunder), Mars (God of Agriculture) and Quirinus (God of War). Please note that Mars is mentioned as the God of Agriculture and not of War, which he would later become when he is more closely associated with Ares, the Greek God of War. The Roman Kingdom (753-509 BC) was largely agriculturist in nature and when the city became more militaristic in its Republican era (673-27 BC)., even the Gods changed portfolios.

These three Gods (What is with Gods and the number three?) and some of the lesser deities had priests associated with them – flamines, city officials and a post created by the aforementioned Numa. Numa also created the office of the Pontifex Maximus, who would eventually become the head of the Roman religious institution in the Roman Republic. The College of Pontiffs was also established during this time period and became the authoritative body of the religion.

Included in this College among others were the Pontifex Maximus, the flamines, the Rex Sacrorum, who would be the nominal substitute for the King in the Republic (which of course did not have a monarch and for that matter a solitary head of state, except in exceptional situations) chairing religious sacrifices, and the Vestal Virgins, an office that Numa had “borrowed” from the religion of Alba Longa.

Vestal Virgins were not the only practice that the Roman religion borrowed from other religions. In fact it was a compilation of all the religions it touched.

Rome absorbed the deities and religious customs of the lands just as they adsorbed those lands. With the absorption of the nearby Etruscan cities (The last being the city of Veii in 396 BC), the Roman Triad changed, to mirror the Etruscan one – Jupiter, Juno (Protector of the city and Jupiter’s wife) and Minerva (Goddess of Wisdom) as against Tinia (God of Thunder, among other things), Uni (Patron of the city of Veii and Tinia’s wife) and Menrva (Goddess of War and Wisdom). Juno and Minerva were borrowed from the Etruscan Uni and Menrva, though the latter lost the War portfolio to Mars (Maybe Quirinus, not sure if he was still relevant in 396BC). Later conquests of Greece, Egypt and Syria would induct their Gods to the Roman Pantheon as well. Isis, Egyptian Goddess of fertility and El-Gabal, Syrian Sun God, would have their tryst with fame in the later Roman Empire.

All this Borg like absorption of religions and changes in divinity may tend to be confusing to the layman, had it not been for the organized nature of the religion. The Pontifex Maximus and the College of Pontiffs were around to oversee the nature and order of the religion was preserved.  The Roman religion became a reflection of the nature of affairs in the city of Rome.

One thing that was distinctly smart on the part of the Romans was how they used their religion, especially in the course of a battle, to boost morale. Taking after the Etruscan tradition, Romans consulted their Gods before they went on battle (Or maybe after it, to interpret the results).  It considerably helped matters when the Roman Gods visited their generals in their dreams.

As Scipio was preparing his army for the crucial battle of Cartagena (which would be the turning point in Rome’s defeat of Carthage), he was visited in his dreams by the Sea God Neptune to convey that He would assist Rome to victory. Scipio promptly conveyed his God’s message to his troops. The troops motivated with the God on their side, readied for battle and proceeded to turn the tide in the Roman favour. When Constantine I took on the usurper Maxentius, blockaded within the Roman city walls, he was told in a dream to use the Cross as a standard for his army before going on battle. Maxentius, frustrated by his helplessness on being stuck in the city, ventured out to launch an attack, and was easily defeated by Constantine.

The Roman religion was a full-fledged state run institution. In the Republican era, the College of Pontiffs and the Roman Senate were distinct, though not necessarily mutually exclusive, bodies. It was consistent with one of the principles of the Republic, which held that no single individual will have complete authority in the city (The position of Dictator was an exception, but was used very rarely and only in times of emergencies). This relationship between the religious and the administrative bodies of the state was to change with the coming of the Roman Empire.

Julius Caesar, himself a skilled manipulator of his armies, was the Pontifex Maximus for close to two decades and most of his military career. The office of the Pontifex Maximus would later be integrated with the title of the Roman Emperor during the time of Augustus (13 BC), till it was eventually devolved during the reign of Gratian (375-383). But by that time Christianity had become the official religion of both the Roman Empires (380). The Roman Empire brought with it the custom of God Emperors as well (a custom prevalent in Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid well, wherever they ended up ruling), with most Emperors being deified after their death. This gave the Emperor absolute authority over all the affairs of the state – religious and political, something which Republican Rome had sought to prevent.

All this meant was that the Roman religion mutated along with Rome to become an umbrella of different cultures and people. But it also maintained a definite structure and order, thanks to the Pontifex Maximus and the College of Pontiffs, and was reflective of the nature and stability of the state. It became what can be described as a secular religion for that time period, open to people of any faith while making room for their beliefs as well. There was no imposition of one religion over the other, more a case of both sides accepting each other’s beliefs, with some adjustments here and there. However, refusal to collude with the state religion and still be part of the state was not healthy, which the Christians found out during the reigns of Nero, Domitian and much later, Diocletian (The Jews were the other religion prevalent in the Roman Empire, but they kept largely to their Levantine bases and did not go around looking for converts)

However, like Rome, its religion would also eventually come to a close.

A long, long time ago a book was written. It was a sacred text of an ancient religion. Among other things it talked about Gods – Devas led by Indra and Agni and Asuras led by Varuna and Mitra. There were three followers for this religion – Aryans, Persians and the Mittani. But each of them viewed this religion in a different form. The Mittani disappeared a long time ago, but the other two forms of religion still exist, albeit in a different state. While the Aryans worship the Devas and demonize the Asuras (Though Varuna becomes a Deva), the Persians worship the Ahuras and vilify the Daevas (It has been debated whether Ahura Mazda, the supreme deity of the Zoroastrian faith is Varuna Himself, or a combination of Varuna and Mitra (who is a lesser deity in the Avesta), or something distinct and entirely beyond either of them).

The book, of course, is The Rig Veda, the sacred text of the Vedic religion and origin of which is unknown beyond our reckoning.

A long, long time ago there were few people living on the banks of the River Indus and the neighbouring areas in the Indian subcontinent. They worshipped a deity named Shiva, identified by the archaeological findings of the civilization. It is not clear whether the IVC subscribed to the Vedic texts as well nor is it clear whether the Aryans or the other Vedic people lived among the IVC (That was me trying to steering clear of the Aryan Migration vs Out of India debate).

But given the prominence of Shiva in the excavations and the lack of it for the Vedic deities, it follows that neither Indra nor Varuna had a significant role among the people in IVC.

Sometime later, but still a long time back, the Deva worshipping Aryans and the Shiva worshipping IVC combined to give the predominant form of the Vedic religion that now exists in the Indian subcontinent – Hindutva (or Hinduism if you prefer that nomenclature). Like the Roman religion that integrated the Greek with the Etruscan, Hindutva was a summation of the Aryans and the IVC. However, there were some significant changes in the theological line-up.  Vishnu, a minor God in the Rig Veda, shot into prominence while Indra and his Deva colleagues fell into the backdrop. Also prominent was the IVC Shiva, who was now integrated with the Vedic deity, Rudra (Another minor God in Rig Veda).

Curious nature this religious upheaval is, but clear not the reasons are.

During the reign of the kings of Magadha, Jainism and Buddhism (during the time of Ashoka) dominated the subcontinent. It was only during the rule of the Guptas (240-550) that Hindutva would recover its mantle as the main religion of the subcontinent. However, Jainism and Buddhism would have a lasting effect on this re-jigged form of Hindutva, now in prominence. Diwali, which marks the attainment of Nirvana by Mahavira among Jains, was celebrated by the Hindus to mark the return of Rama to Ayodhya. Whether this is an assimilation of a festival of the former dominant religion (Something the Roman religions are guilty of a lot) or if the Hindus followed Diwali prior to the rise of Jainism is not known.

The Guptas were predominantly a North Indian country. Over the centuries the fluid boundaries of India have been drawn and redrawn many a time, one state has always been left out of these boundaries (till 1947) – Kerala. Perhaps not surprisingly, Kerala do not follow Diwali (Disclaimer: The reason may actually be mythological in nature. Diwali, among other things, celebrates the downfall of Mahabali as well, while Mahabali is revered in Kerala).

Diwali is one of the many regional inconsistencies that prevail in Hindutva. It is cluttered with regional cults; Of Goddess Durga, Ayyappa and to a certain extent, Ganesha. A deity like Ayyapa, an offspring of two of the three main Gods of Hindutva, has very limited relevance in the northern states of the country, while being one of major Gods in the south. These inconsistencies in festivals and Gods have an interesting bearing on the nature of the religion.

It is more likely that the over the last three millennia, Hindutva evolved across the Indian subcontinent integrating itself with local beliefs, much like the Roman religion as mentioned earlier. However, without a central point of authority, the evolution has been chaotic and inconsistent. Also, the evolution was slow and time consuming.

But in the end, Hindutva is a religion similar in character to the Roman one, with respect to religious belief, though not theology.

Back to Rome.

During the years of 186-284, the Roman Empire fell into chaos. It had become too big to rule by a single individual (but not too big to fail) and after the death of the Marcus Aurelius (The old Emperor who gets killed early in Gladiator), periods of misrule, civil wars, rebellions and usurpations would haunt the Empire. The Empire would be revitalized firstly by the soldier Aurelian who reconquered the breakaway peripheries, then by Diocletian’s Tetrarchy and finally by Constantine I, a masterful spinner like no other in the pages of history.

The Crisis of the Third Century was also reflected on the Roman religion. With Emperors changing favours from one God to another and multiple Pontifex Maximus at the same time, the religious institution that preserved the order of the Roman religion for close to one millennium would fall flat. Aurelian (270-275) would attempt religious reform by strengthening Sol Invictus as the main Roman God in an attempt to form a single God, but he would die before he could complete the reform successfully. The reform would happen eventually during the reign of Constantine I (306-337).

By the time of Constantine I, Christianity had gained ground on its Roman predecessor. It had become the state religion of the neighbouring Kingdom of Armenia (301), while it attracted many followers within the Empire. Indeed, Constantine I’s mother was a Christian and so was Diocletian’s wife. More importantly, it was monotheistic, unlike the quagmire of the Roman Pantheon.

Rome needed a clear religion without ambiguity while also being under Roman control. This was the case of the Roman religion prior to 186 before it went awry. Unfortunately, Christianity was neither. The Donatists, who wanted Christians, who colluded with Diocletian when he persecuted Christians, to be kicked out, fell out of Roman favour after the (First) Council of Arles in 314 and were persecuted by Constantine I for continuing their ways (Yes, Constantine I did persecute Christians). The theology was also inconsistent with opposing views over the divinity of Jesus. So, the (First) Council of Nicaea was called in 325, again by Constantine I, to discuss debate and decide what Christianity should be. Finally, Rome had a clear-cut religion like before (It would take some time for Roman Christianity to be completely in force, but it had become only a matter of eventuality). The Pontifex Maximus would eventually be replaced by the Pontiff or the Bishop of Rome, while the College of Pontiffs would be replaced (much later) by the College of Cardinals.

The Roman religion outlived its usefulness to the State of Rome. It became chaotic and out of State control. Soon, it was replaced by the more tenable Christianity (With a definitive Roman touch after the Council of Nicaea).

The world has come a long way since those ancient times. Roman Christianity has undergone many subsequent changes, without the Roman State to shepherd it.

Now, here in India, we have a religion that is much in the similar vein as the Roman religion before its downfall. A combination of the different cultures and people of the Indian subcontinent, secular in the archaic sense of the word. It survives because it is not a creation of the state. It varies from person to person, carved by their own free will (At least in theory). It also chooses not to interfere with other beliefs that exist in the subcontinent (Again in theory). But, if it becomes a creature of the State looking to devour or control everything it sees, it loses its relevance, just like its Roman counterpart.

The days when the state created its Gods are long gone. But religion still tries to define the state not knowing it was state who created it in the first place. The cycle continues…


Posted in History, Society | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Spot the Differences – Manmohan Singh and Flavius Belisarius

Posted by RB Kollannur on April 1, 2009

Manmohan Singh was called upon by the Congress President, Sonia Gandhi, to lead the India when Congress gained control of the House after 8 years. After successfully completing five years in office, Manmohan Singh gained popularity among the masses and within his party where he was seen as a political outsider. However, as the next national elections came, where he was projected as his party’s undisputed leader, he chose not to run for election, relying on his membership in the nominated upper house of the Parliament – a membership that would expire midway through the next legislature and can be renewed with the support of the Congress President. Though Manmohan Singh lacked political expertise prior to 2004 when he became the Prime Minister, his rule for the next five years gave him enough popularity and support to ensure his victory in an election.

Flavius Belisarius was called upon by the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Emeperor, Justinian I, to lead the Eastern Roman army to conquer the erstwhile lands of the Western Roman Empire. After successfully conquering Carthage and Italy, General Belisarius gained popularity in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire and was given Roman Triumph, the last one ever. However, as he stabilized Byzantine rule in the Adriatic, at the height of his popularity,  he was called back to Constantinople by the Byzantine Emperor. Historians see it as a move by Justinian I, concerned by the General’s increasing popularity, to remove the popular General before he became a threat to his throne.

Why did Manmohan Singh choose not to stand for election? Is it because Sonia Gandhi told him not to, so that three years down the road, Rahul Gandhi can step into Congress leadership with no danger of a popular political rival against him?

PS : For the readers familiar with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, General Bel Riose was based on General Belisarius, though the former suffers a much worser fate.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Reading Between the Election Numbers

Posted by RB Kollannur on March 15, 2009

Disclaimer: Vote share and seat data has been obtained from wikipedia. I haven’t been able to access the ECI website for confirmation, but I’ve confirmed the latter from Manorama Year Book. And please read through and think before you react.

Sometime in August 1947, two nations were born in the Indian subcontinent, leaving behind a century of hardships and the shackles of a colonial past. There were no silver spoons attached nor were there three kings visiting with mead (Or was it three kings visiting from Mede?). But it was still a momentous occasion in human history – the beginning of the end of European colonialism.

They did not get along too well to start off. First there was the bickering over Junagadh and Hyderabad, and then the battle over Kashmir. But the worst was the senseless riots over relocation; a sad event for humanity. In hindsight, it may have been better that they were separated at birth. Imagine Advani trying to sell Hindutva to the most populous Muslim country in the world*. The divisive politics prevalent in India these days would have exploded the nation beyond proportion, even before the Mahatma could have said “Hey Ram”.

While still learning their baby steps, both lost their fathers. In 1948, Gandhi was assassinated; while Jinnah would die of a long term ailment (Incidentally Jinnah’s only child is an Indian). India had Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel to fill in Gandhi’s sandals (Which, by the way, a beer baron has been trying to get his hands on), while Jinnah’s right hand man and Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, would be the key person in Pakistan. Tragically, fate intervened once again, though in reverse this time. It was Sardar Patel who would die of ailment, while Liaquat Ali Khan who would be assassinated.

Leaderless, Pakistan would soon fall into political instability. While the politicians bickered over the Constitution and who should form the government, military insurgency would develop in the Baloch regions (Balochistan) and the Pashtun regions (NWFP & FATA). Regional activism was on the rise in the East with the pro-Bengali Awami Muslim League entering the political arena. The East had the numerical superiority over their western counterparts but the industrial might and the economy was centered in the west. This posed a significant challenge for the west centered government structure of Pakistan.

With the departure of the Muslim League to Pakistan, there was hardly any opposition to the Indian National Congress, who had paved the way for her independence. Communist parties had a limited profile in the country, while the socialist parties, recently devolved from the Congress, were still making early inroads into the countryside. Congress also had Jawaharlal Nehru clearly at its helm, having consolidated leadership after the death of Sardar Patel.

In 1952, India would finally let go off the Windsor monarchy and the Dominion status to become a republic on its own stead, with its first general elections. Unsurprisingly Congress would win with 364 of the 489 seats and 45% vote share in their pockets. The main opposition would be:

1) Communist parties (CPI, Forward Bloc & RSP) – 20 seats and 5% vote share
2) Socialist parties (Socialist Party of India & Kizan Mazdoor Praja Party, who would later merge to form Praja Socialist Party) – 21 seats and 16% vote share.
3) Hindu right wing parties (Jan Sangh, Hindu Mahasabha & Akhil Bharatiya Rama Rajya Parishad) – 10 seats and 6% vote share.

With the stability of the civilian government confirmed and military firmly behind them, the path was set for India to move forward. Though military insurgency would subsequently develop in the North East regions and the East regions and regional activism would rise in the South with the pro-Tamil Dravida parties, who would later enter the political arena, neither had the resources to take on a united central government or its army, unlike in Pakistan.

Pakistan would finally become a republic in 1956, with a civilian government in place. But repeated instability in the government would lead a military takeover of the nation in 1958, under General Ayub Khan. In the meantime, Congress and Jawaharlal Nehru would be brought back to governance in India in 1957, with an even more resounding electoral victory than in 1952 getting 48% of the votes.

By 1958, both India and Pakistan had a level of political stability, albeit at the opposite sides of the freedom spectrum. Bilateral agreements were made. Both would sign the historic Indus Water Treaty in 1960 sharing the waters of the panch ab of Panjab. International diplomacy was in view as well. Pakistan allied itself with USA while neighboring Afghanistan, which had a historic claim over the Pashtun lands of Pakistan, had aligned itself with USSR. India would remain neutral attempting to organize a third front in light of the western / capitalist and the socialist / communist circles of power.

Nehru would be reelected in 1962, but with a mildly lesser majority. The liberal C Rajagopalachari and his nascent Swatantra Party would garner 8% of the electorate (Though only 18 seats in 494 member assembly). Pro Tamil Dravida Munntera Kazhagam would also make its debut in the Lok Sabha with 7 seats. Nehru’s regime would suffer a further blow when China established its presence in Aksai Chin, which connected the Chinese provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet, despite being claimed by India since independence.

General Ayub Khan would also suffer minor reverses winning a highly controversial Presidential election against Fatima Jinnah in 1965, amidst allegations of election fraud. The General needed to recover his losing grip over the populace.

Nehru died in 1964, leaving an open door for a power struggle in Congress. His daughter, Indira, had limited experience in governance, while party veterans like Morarji Desai were eyeing for the leadership. With elections still three years away, the soft spoken Lal Bahadur Shastri was ushered into Prime Ministership.

In 1965, Pakistan would launch a military attack to capture the disputed Kashmir from India. While over-hyped glorified reports filtered into the Pakistan media, the attack was countered by India proceeding to attack Lahore, one of the chief cities of Pakistan. The war would end in a stalemate, with neither party looking forward for a lengthy battle. Status quo was returned, which would precipitate into another crisis for the Pakistani dictator. One of his key ministers, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto would leave and start his own party – Pakistan’s People’s Party which would grow onto become the key opposition for the dictator in West Pakistan. The neglect shown towards East Pakistan during the war would worsen the relations between the East and the West Pakistan.

Lal Bahadur Shastri passed away in Tashkent while bringing the war to a close. Indira Gandhi would succeed as the Prime Minister. As the elections approached, Indira Gandhi would consolidate her hold over the Congress, albeit at limited cost. Regional party leaders like Ajoy Mukherjee and Harekrushna Mahatab would leave Congress to start their own regional parties. The major gainers in the 1967 elections would be the socialist and liberal parties, started by former Congressmen, while Congress would manage to hold on to majority with 283 of 520 seat assembly and 41% vote share – a throwaway compared to the results a decade ago.

Popular discontent would eventually force Ayub Khan out of office and General Yahya Khan would takeover as Head of State. He would call fresh elections in Pakistan that would be won by the pro Bengali Awami League which would gain 160 of the 300 seats, but no representation from West. The largest party in the West would be Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s PPP with 81 seats, creating lot of discontent between the two.

Internal politics would eventually force Indira Gandhi out of Congress and Morarji Desai would takeover as the Congress leader. However, Indira Gandhi would take along most of the party with her leaving behind only a rump party renamed Congress (Organization). Congress (I) would regain most of its lost vote share in 1971 having to deal with fragmented opponents. Incidentally, the socialist and the liberal parties would be the major losers. Indira Gandhi would finally consolidate her governance over India.

Uncertainty continued in Pakistan over governance. An attempted military takeover of East Pakistan would turn badly with the East declaring its independence as Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Liberation War would escalate into a subcontinent war, but Bangladesh would eventually be liberated with the leader of the Awami League, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman as the President. Military rule would be ejected in Pakistan, with civilian government formed under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He would finally consolidate his governance over Pakistan.

As the next reelections came close, Indira Gandhi would declare a controversial national emergency, giving her despotic powers. The opposition – the socialist parties, the liberal parties, Congress offshoots like Utkal Congress, Bharatiya Kranti Dal and Jana Congress and the Hindu right with Jan Sangh, would combine to form the Janata Party and contest the 1977 elections after the emergency. They would go on to obtain simple majority with 295 seats in the Lok Sabha and 41% of the vote share. Congress (I) would only manage 35% of the votes while the communists, who stayed out of the Janata formation would capitulate to their worst performance since 1952 with only 8% of the vote share. However, differences between the various constituents of the Janata Party would cause the “coalition” to collapse and soon the nation awaited fresh elections.

The opposition – Pakistan Muslim League, the leftist Awami Party and the Muslim right wing parties would combine to form the Pakistan National Alliance and contest the 1977 general elections. They would be trounced by PPP who would manage 155 of the 192 seats. However popular unrest amidst allegation of vote rigging would encourage a military coup by General Zia ul Haq promising fresh elections.

The fresh elections in 1980 would yield power back to Congress (I). The fractured Janata contingent would garner only 28% of the votes, a drop of 13% over the last election.

The fresh elections that were promised never came, with General Zia taking over power. The growing Baloch insurgency, in the wake of Bangladesh freedom, would be tackled by martial law with General Rahimuddin Khan in charge of Balochistan.

The elections in 1989 would usher in a decade of political instability in India. No single party would gain the majority in the Lok Sabha for the first time. Congress (I) was the leading party with 195 seats, but well short of the 272 needed for majority. The Janata Party, reorganized as the Janata Dal, formed a coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party (erstwhile Jan Sangh) and regional parties to form the government. However, the coalition would not last long and another one, with the support of Congress (I), would be propped up, which also failed quickly.

Fresh elections in 1991 would bring Congress (I) to power, though they again failed to achieve majority. They would receive support from other parties to notch up the government. Though they saw through their time, another unstable coalition regime was propped up in 1996, after the next general elections, which would collapse and reorganize and then collapse, eventually leading to another quick election.


The decade of 1989 – 1999 saw Congress (I)’s vote share nearly half – from 49% in 1984 to 28% in 1999. Bharatiya Janata Party, the reorganized Jan Sangh, would steadily climb the party pyramid increasing from 8% in 1984 to 24% in 1999. However neither party would have the ability to form a government on their own.

The Janata contingent which gave opposition to Congress in the early years of the republic would collapse into state based regional parties. Their combined vote share would remain more or less constant through the decade, fluctuating between 12-15%, while the communist parties moved around 8-10%.

The period also saw the growth of home grown regional parties. The pro Tamil Dravida parties had been around since the 1960s, but more parties like the pro-Telugu Telugu Desam Party, pro-Mahratti Shiv Sena, pro-Assam Asom Gana Parishad & Uttar Pradesh based pro-Dalit Bahujan Samaj Party would gain headway within the electorate.

Congress (I) would have rebellion issues as well. After the quick assassinations of Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi, the party lacked a proper direction for leadership, similar to the one after Nehru’s death. There would be many leaders who would distance themselves from the new Congress (I) regime like Arjun Singh, Narayan Tiwari, Madhavrao Schindhia and Sharad Pawar. Although many would eventually return, the last among them, Sharad Pawar, would form the Maharashtra based Nationalist Congress Party.


With the addition of the former Janata parties and the Congress offshoots, the regional vote pie would grow from 6% in 1980 to 34% in 1999. The national parties, Congress (I), BJP and the Janata (while they still a single party) would garner 70% of the votes in the 1980s, but this would fall in the 1990s to less than 50%, with the collapse of Janata and the steady decline of Congress (I).

One fall-out of the frequent changes of party by politicians was to put into word and practice, the Anti Defection Act establishing the primacy of the political party over the politician.

1999 would finally bring back a sense of stability with a seemingly stable coalition propped up by BJP. However, the stability was more on paper than in practice as the national parties grew more dependent on aid from the regional parties. The same scenario would repeat in 2004, though Congress (I) would form the government.

The elections in 1988 would usher in a decade of political stability in Pakistan, for Pakistan’s standards. With the death of General Zia, civilian government would return with Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, leading PPP to majority. However, the Pakistani Presidency, a remnant of the Zia regime which had sweeping powers over the legislature, would dismiss the government after allegations of corruption. Another government headed by the newly formed Pakistan Muslim League (N) headed by one of Zia appointed civilian government’s key ministers, Nawaz Sharif, would take charge. He also had to deal with a power struggle with the President leading to new elections in 1993 and the resignation of the President. PPP would gain majority with the help of independents and allies. That government would also be dismissed by the President later in 1997, leading to a return for Nawaz Sharif to the government. However a military coup in 1999 would change the political environment yet again and civilian government would be brought back only almost a decade later, after popular unrest and uncomfortable union between PPP and PML – N.

* Going by information from wiki, combining the Muslim population of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh would give over 450 million Muslims in the subcontinent, (30% of the population of the combine) and considerably more than the population of Indonesia, the nation with most Muslim population, close to 200 million and even the entire population of USA pegged at a shade over 300 million. Incidentally India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have roughly the equal Muslim population.

Breakup of groupings used
Congress – Indian National Congress and after 1969 Congress (I)
BJP – Jan Sangh, Hindhu Mahasabha, Akhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad & Bharatiya Janata Party
Janata – Socialist Party of India, Kizan Mazdoor Praja Party, Praja Socialist Party, Socialist Party (Lohia), Samyuktha Socialist Party, Bharatiya Lok Dal, Janata Party, Janata Party (Secular), Janata Dal, Janata Dal (Gujarat), Janata Dal (United), Janata Dal (Secular), Samajwadi Party, Biju Janata Dal, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Samata Party, Samajwadhi Janata Party (Rashtriya). Rashtriya Lok Dal
Left – Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist), All India Forward Bloc & Revolutionary Socialist Party
Liberal – Swatantra Party
BSP – Bahujan Samaj Party
Dravida – Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Pattali Makkal Katchi, Maraumularchi Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam, MGR Anna Dravid Kazhagam
Congress Rebels – Congress (O), Congress (U), Congress (S), Bangla Congress, Utkal Congress, Jana Congress, Bharatiya Kranti Dal, Nationalist Congree Party, Tamil Maanila Congress, Nationalist Trinamul Congress, Haryana Vikas Party, Himachal Vikas Party, Himachal Vikas Congress, Madhya Pradesh Vikas Congress, Arunachal Congress, Manipyr State Congress Party, Karnataka Congress Party, Akhil Bharatiya Lok Tantrik Congress

Breakup of groupings used
National – Congress, Janata (1977-1991), BJP (1984- )
Idealogical – Janata (1947-1977), Left, Liberal
Regional – Political parties who derive their votes primarily from a single state.
Andhra Pradesh – People’s Democratic Front, Praja Party, Telengana Praja Samiti, Telugu Desom Party, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Telengana Rashtra Samiti
Arunachal Pradesh – Arunachal Congress
Assam – Asom Gana Parishad, United Minorities Front Assam, Autonomous State Demand Committee, Natun Asom Gana Parishad, Plains Tribal Council of Assam
Bihar – Jharkhand Party, Chota Nagpur Santhal Praganas Janata Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United), Lok Janshakti Party
Goa – Different factions of United Goans, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party
Gujarat – Nutan Maha Gujarat Janata Parishad, Janata Dal (Gujarat)
Haryana – Haryana Lok Samiti, Vishal Haryana, Haryana Vikas Party, Haryana Lok Dal (Rashtriya), Indian National Lok Dal
Himachal Pradesh – Himachal Vikas Party, Himachal Vikas Congress
Jammu & Kashmir – National Conference, People’s Democractic Party, Panther’s Party (Only J&K parties in all cases)
Jharkhand – Jharkhan Mukti Morcha
Karnataka – Karnataka Congress Party, Janata Dal (Secular)
Kerala – Travancore Tamil Nadu Congress Party, Indian Union Muslim League, Different factions of Kerala Congress (incl IFDP)
Madhya Pradesh – Madhya Pradesh Vikas Congress
Maharashtra – Different factions of Republican Party of India, Peasants and Workers Party of India, Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party
Manipur – Manipur People’s Party, Manipur State Congress Party
Mizoram – Mizo National Front
Nagaland – United Front of Nagaland, Nagaland People’s Council
Orissa – Utkal Congress, Biju Janata Dal
Punjab – Different factions of Shiromani Akali Dal
Sikkim – Sikkim Janata Parishad, Sikkim Democratic Front
Tamil Nadu – Different offshoots of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Tamil Nadu Toilers’ Party, Madras State Muslim League Party, Tamil Maanila Congress
Uttar Pradesh – Bharat Kranti Dal, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party, Samajwadi Janata Party (Rashtriya)
West Bengal – Bangla Congress, Nationalist Trinamool Congress

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The Equilibrium of Democracy

Posted by RB Kollannur on December 28, 2008

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth” – Abraham Lincoln on 19 November 1863 in Gettysburg, USA

A century ago, Abraham Lincoln made this powerful statement in the wake of a revolution in his country. The statement resonated over the course of the twentieth century as Old World Imperialism was shunned away and New Age Democracy came into being around the world. The twentieth century personified the power of the people and brought about a level of societal progress never heard in the lore of history.

It is in the second half of the eighteenth century that the power of the people started to rumble. The Americans freed themselves from the dominion of the German prince ruling far away beyond the Atlantic and formed one of the oldest democracies we have in our world today. USA have been a stellar example of the success of democracy and its strongest herald, spreading the message of democracy around the world and as its influence over the world grew, so did their rhetoric over democracy and impatience over non-conformance.

But it was in France that people found a stronger voice when they stormed the fortress of Bastille, usurped their king and freed themselves from tyranny. Though the French First Republic was a failure, France has had a tumultuous time chasing the right rule for their people – Two empires, two monarchies and four republics followed the failure of their first attempt of self rule. Safe to say, France can be an apt reference to understand the evolution of a democracy.

After the fall on Napolean, the usurped Bourbon Monarchy of France was restored but not with absolute powers. France became a constitutional monarchy in the lines of a Presidential democracy (With the King as the President). However, when the king attempted to over reach his authority, he was removed and replaced by a distant cousin. This monarchy also did not work and the French Second Republic was formed as a Presidential democracy, with Louis Napolean, a nephew of the former Emperor, at its stead as the popularly elected President. However, three years later he was able to divert his popularity to crown himself as Emperor Napolean III through a referendum.

French Third Republic was formed after the defeat of Napolean III in a war against Prussia. It was a Parliamentary democracy, though a strong public sentiment towards the Bourbon Monarchy continued. However, an attempt by a monarchist leaning President to dismiss his republic leaning Parliament to move the opinion towards monarchy fell flat and the cause of monarchy was finally laid to rest.

French Third Republic, however, was crippled with political instability although it somehow managed to stumble from one crisis to another unscathed, till it finally faced one beyond its control – Nazi Germany. After World War II, France was reorganized as the Fourth Republic, in lines with the previous one. However, political instability continued (Running through 20 Prime Ministers over 11 years) and faced with the Algiers Crisis, France needed strong leadership. They went to their WWII hero, Charles de Gaulle, who insisted on complete authority, and came into power as a popularly elected President. The French Fifth Republic adopted a Semi Presidential system, with a grim reminder of the autocratic leaders of eighteenth century France.

Over the past two centuries, France has seen it all when it comes to democracy. Its failures also underline the defects of each democratic process. Presidential democracy with its focus on singular leadership has the tendency to move towards an autocratic and an absolute regime, while Parliamentary democracy with its focus on plurality of voices has the tendency to move towards split verdicts and political instability (It has been suggested that political stability is more due to proportional representation used to elect the legislature, but as we can see in India, which follows the Westminister system, fractured verdicts and divisive politics are part and parcel of the system). Both tendencies can prove fatal to a nation if the wrong decision or no decision is taken in times of need.

Exceptions exist in both systems. USA has successfully completed two centuries as a Presidential democracy, while UK has managed to wade through the deep water of coalition politics without much harm. However, from an Indian perspective having given fractured verdicts for two decades, a stitch in time may save nine.

France has made an attempt to outlive the deficiencies by constructing a hybrid model. However, there should be clear separation of powers between the branches of the executive. Otherwise, a strong dissonance between the two may arise leading to inaction or incorrect action. Even if the division of powers is formalized (Finland) or accepted (France), it does not provide the complete solution. Coalition politics will still persist in the legislature and could lead to instability on one hand of the executive. If the President is given more powers, then the tendency towards autocracy will persist. So, in essence, it just prolongs the inevitable.

So, what is the solution?

The tendency towards autocracy or towards plurality is a factor of the mindset of the electorate. Louis Napolean became an Emperor with the support of the people and later Charles de Gaulle managed to overcome the failure of the republic with the support of the people. It is the electorate that continues to give one fractured verdict after another in a Parliamentary democracy leading to coalitions and political instability. While the society is tuned to accept an autocratic leader in the former, it is ready to accept fractured verdicts in the other.

To avoid the pitfalls of each system, what is needed is a correction in the system at the right time. When faced with increasing political instability, some of the political dissonance should be reined in to focus on leadership driven society. When faced with increasing autocratic overtures by the executive, the political discord should be let loose, by having a plural system. A fixed state of constitution cannot solve a problem which arises well after its formation.

From a long term perspective, equilibrium is formed meeting the plural and singular needs of the society, moving from one axis to another.

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Post Mumbai Attacks, A Time To Act – Where Are The Leaders?

Posted by RB Kollannur on December 8, 2008

What happened in Mumbai was dreadful and the nation will unite on how to handle terror, but what about the second concern that every Indian has raised after the whole incident – the inability of the political class. Cribbing about politicians over coffee table is our favorite hobby, but have we done anything to change that? Every election we vote for the same politicians, for want of better leaders.

Why aren’t there better leaders?

If a Ratan Tata or a Narayana Murthy chose to enter politics, will they be able to make an impact? They are both leaders of national prominence, so given the disillusionment with the current set of politicians, it follows that they will have support at a national level. But, it is not the people who elect the government, but the Parliament. The voice of the people is limited to electing representatives and not the government. So, Tata or Narayana Murthy will have to find 500 odd people who will be electable as well. But then can we count on them to do the right thing? And how long will it take for them to make an impact at the national level. Ask Vajpayee or Advani how long they needed to build a national party.

What about an inspired group of Indian citizens who want to make a change? First they will have to establish their credentials, which in itself a long run process. But crucially, to provide any semblance of impact they will have to be part of the government and for that they will have to rely on the existing politicians whom they are trying to avoid. In essence, any new blood in the Indian political system will have to either join or perish leaving the people with no new choice.

Before asking for better leaders, we need a system which will allow them to contribute properly. Parliamentary democracy has run its course in India. If you are familiar with the product life cycle in marketing, parliamentary democracy is in the decline stage. It was in introduction after 1885, when it was a group of elitist British supported group. With Mahatma Gandhi it became nationalist and reached the growth stage. Post independence, it matured and now it declines.

What we need now is a Presidential democracy where the people can elect the government directly. The three bodies of democracy – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary should not be intertwined. We have an independent judiciary and now we need an independent executive. With a Presidential democracy, we will be able to vote for the Tatas and the Murthys should they come forward. Otherwise, we will be left with no option but to vote for the same old politicians.

Now, you may ask how we will change our constitution since we need the politicians to change it. We have accused them of politicians of playing votebank politics, when we ourselves are their biggest votebank. It is time for us to stand up united and be counted. India is looking for a solution for the future. Presidential democracy could be one.

There is a time to burn candles and cry, but what is needed of us now is to act. All I can ask is if you believe we can act and reform our political system, spread the word about Presidential democracy for India.

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A Myth Called “Divide and Rule” ?

Posted by RB Kollannur on October 15, 2008

The British are said to have nurtured a communal divide in India to rule India easily. Though divide and rule is a consistent method of conquest, especially in Africa, where Europeans favored one side against another, in the end ruling both. But in India, where it was most prominent, given the partition of the India and Pakistan in 1947, I find the picture to be far murkier.

It was near the end of the first Elizabethan era of England. On 31 December 1600, the Queen of England and Ireland granted a royal charter to group of merchants to trade in the shores of the far off Indian subcontinent. The route to India had been opened a century ago by the adventures of Vasco da Gama. Spice trade from India had always been routed through the far reaching arms of the Ottomans, Venice or the Habsburgs. Vasco da Gama gave the other Europeans a quicker way to spice. The Portuguese, Vasco’s countrymen, were the first off the blocks. By the start of the sixteenth century, they had established bases in the states of Kerala, Goa and Mumbai. Being true Catholics, they propogated their religion (Probably explains why most Indian Christians are Roman Catholics). Wait, I am digressing here.

The Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies, as they were initially called, set sail to India to bring spice to the British Isles. When the British East India Company came to India they faced opposition from their European counterparts, Portuguese and French. But things improved when the British Crown made a commercial treaty with the Indian Mughal Emperor, Jahangir. Also, the Portuguese, now part of the much larger, Spanish Kingdom (albeit ruled by mostly impotent rulers), which had huge gold reserves in their American provinces, did not find India much attractive. With dwindling Portuguese interest and support of the strongest of the Indian Kingdoms, British East India Company flourished.

India, like always, was a region divided into many kingdoms. The Mughals, in the north, were the strongest of them all. In Central India, they were the five Deccan Sultanates, remnants of the older Bahmani Sultanate – Bijapur, Golkonda, Ahmadnagar, Bidar and Berar. Down south were the remnants of the Vijayanagara Kingdom, which fell apart in the disastrous Battle of Talikota in 1565. Though the Vijayanagara King still exercised control over the south (It ends in 1646), it was largely nominal, with the provinces more of less independent. In the north-east was the dynasty of Ahom. There were probably other smaller kingdoms as well.

By the time British East India Company established themselves in India, Berar was assimilated by the Mughals and Bidar by Bijapur. So in all, India was divided between the Mughals in the North, Bijapur, Golkonda and Ahmadnagar in the Centre, Ahom in the North East and in the South – the remaining Vijayanagara Kingdom, their former subsidiaries – Mysore, Keladi Nayaks, Thanjavur Nayaks, Madurai Nayaks and Chitradurga Nayaks, and their former tributaries in Kerala – Samoothiri, Kochi and Thiruvithaamkoor. In all the Indian sub-continent was divided into thirteen nations. Later the Mughal Kingdon would first conquer the remaining Deccan Sultanates and fall apart by the beginning of the eighteenth century. The Maratha Empire replaced the Mughals as the powerful empire in the north, though they also fell apart and divided into numerous principalities.

After the Battles of Plassey (1757) and Buxar (1764), the British East India Company would usher in British rule over India till 1947, when India was partitioned into two – India and Pakistan.

Okay, done with the History lesson. To put it in short. When the British came to India, India was divided into at least thirteen different nations. By the time they came to power there were much more. When they left, there were just two. So, where is the divide and rule? In fact, British did something that no Indian had ever been able to before (outside mythology). Unite India under a single banner (Note that the princely states were subsidiaries to the British Empire, which acknowledged their overlordship, similar to the Holy Roman Empire and German princes)

The impression about a policy of “Divide and Rule” arises from the belief that the British intentionally divided India on religious grounds, (after uniting it regionally). So, I thought I’d look at the times the British made attempts to do so. In case I have missed out anything, please give me the details.

The first thing that came to my mind was the Partition of Bengal.

The first decade of the twentieth saw many controversial policies by the British regime. The first was the Partition of Bengal. Bengal, at the time, included the states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa in today’s India and Bangladesh. The state had a population of around 85 million people, hosted the national capital and the center of the intelligentsia. It is difficult to govern such a huge chunk of people from one place. So, the Governor General chose to split the state in the middle. Unfortunately for him, the split divided the state at a religious level, with the west 16% Muslim and the east 58%. Seen as an excuse to divide the nation by religion, it led to mass protest throughout the nation, with people of all religion uniting together. The partition was reversed later in 1911 and instead Kolkata and the narrow strip of area that now forms West Bengal were added to the earlier East Bengal. The western parts were devolved into a different state. Oddly enough, the addition of Kolkata to East Bengal garnered no negative opinion. The Partition can also not be seen as a case of divide and rule, since it in fact united all religions and had to be repealed to in wake of strong national sentiment.

The second act of “Divide and Rule” was reservation.

After the fiasco of 1857, the British encouraged India self rule. In 1885, Indian National Congress was formed under the auspices of the British Governor General to bring out pro British elite British education Indians to bring some semblance of self rule in India. Instead, it provided to be fertile grounds of Indian nationalism against the British. By the start of the twentieth century, Congress was divided into two factions – the extremists (led by Bal Gangadhar Tilak) and the moderates (led by Gopala Krishna Gokhale). There was also a concern among the Muslims that the Hindu dominated Congress may ignore them. The wikipedia article on Bal Gangadhar Tilak has clubbed him as a part of “Hindu Politics” series, suggesting he was a staunch Hindu and could have been a source of the concern among the Muslim. However, since the article also mentioned he chose Muhammad Ali Jinnah to defend him in court, it suggests he had no ill-feeling towards Muslims. (Do correct me, if I am wrong). However, these concerns were met in the Government of India Act 1909 (Also known as the Minto-Morley Reforms) which gave reservation to the Muslim minority in order to safeguard them from the Hindu majority. On paper, it seems fine, since our nation follows a much maligned form the same reservation by extending to many more categories of people. But this reservation would lead to strife between the two religions till the end of British rule.

I have tried to find more influences of the British with regards to religiously divide India, but have come to no avail. If it is these two instances that caused a religious divide in our country during independence, then the fault lies directly on our grandparents who lived during that time. Reservations were asked for by Indian politicians because of the genuine concerns of the Indian people (Minority interests are something that every nation seek to protect). Post independence, the problem has been compounded by extending it to many more minorities. It seems more in the interest of the nation’s politicians to keep a policy of “Divide and Rule” in effect. If somebody asks me, about the British Divide and Rule policy, I would say it was purely “Made in India”.

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