Last year, India held it’s general elections and as usual there was a smattering of political parties, all with something different to offer approximately 700mn adults registered or eligible to vote at least. The newly chosen (by public) members of the national parliament have had some time to spend on the budgets and they should feel proud of having been elected by a bigger democracy than most in the West. Elections in the country are a regular thing, despite insurgencies in Kashmir, and numerous piecemeal episodes of border struggles.
India is a gigantic country in South Asia – both demographically and politically, and the picture of rule here is one of reasonable stability because unlike in neighbouring Bangladesh, there has been no issues of autocratic rule, and a break with civilian government. Regionally, this is not an unnatural occurence: in Nepal, autocratic rule with a constitutional monarch was supposed to be the order of the day, as it has been since 1990. In 2008, however, Nepal became a republic, as a party convinced of ways of the armed revolution based on the Maoist model became the single-most dominant force in parliament.
In retrospect, India did plenty of things with its newfound freedom from the British Empire, such as introduce the rights to vote for both men and women, all together. Democracy is an experiment sometimes in this region, even though the thought process is aligned with the creation of effective democratic governance. Right after independence, democracy was tried to be made into a popular political choice for a nation of mostly illiterates and poverty-stricken people.
It has been tough to forge national unity in a land divided by language and religion, which is why even though a population diaspora might dictate the dominating language of the land, it cannot ascertain the sense of belonging that one single language is supposed to give one land. Democracy exists to provide citizens with the right to choose and replace their leaders, the right to speak up against misgovernance or be openly supportive about government decisions. In order for a government to function democratically there needs to be multiple political parties, and a constant presence of free, fair elections, the press needs to have freedom to conduct matters nationally.
Democracy in India has often been viewed with skepticism, particularly where Kashmir is concerned. The people of Kashmir have often voiced their anger at the constant injustices they have had to face because of repeated accounts of corruption in a localised rule. Violence sometimes escalated and because of these numerous political disagreements the region has constantly been subjected to conflict.
Although, from time to time Kashmiris have toyed with the idea of abiding by the local government’s customs and traditions, the response to the whole situation hasn’t always been positive. Regional development has almost always been forsaken but what has been astonishing to learn off is how the violence has often forced people to resort to military struggle. The scenario has been present both in Kashmir and in those Nepal locales where armed guerrillas are also equipping themselves with a greater awareness and learning about Maoist traditions and battling to remove the sophisticated manner of doing things. They want to do this by spreading the seeds of revolution and striving for independence from Nepal. It is difficult to imagine that Kashmiris should arm themselves to demand basic necessetities. But on certain days, that is the tallest order of the day because the region cannot afford to live relatively peacefully, when you compare it to it’s neighbouring Bhutan.
In Bhutan, the most politically eventful episode to have occured in recent times was the dethroning of a king by choice in favour of his son ruling. In Kashmir, citizens must arm themselves to protect and to practice the kind of politics they would like to see in government, because the state is being far too harsh on them. When you step out of Kashmir, and into the rest of India, the picture of democracy is fully intact and functional because the national assemblies, the state assemblies all conduct themselves with freedom and fairness. Capital, labour, and goods can move about the country unperturbed, but there is no denying that the nation is still a weak democracy. There are illiberal idealogies spreading through political corridors, and there is also a lack of thoroughness in governance.
A peaceful solution to Kashmir is possible, which would contribute to a better notion of democracy in India than the one present. Both the state and it’s citizens with demands need to co-operate on democratic matters, conduct more open dialogue about regional security, have more regular and fair elections, nurture the language and culture of minority groups and there needs to be a greater understanding of how more more power needs to be given to the people of Kashmir to shape their politics.