|The Great Indian Rope Trick: Does the Future of Democracy lie with India?;Roderick Matthews;
Hachette India; Pp 354, Rs 599.00
Intro : With the Modi wave, a check has been imposed on the rise of provincial powers and political fragmentation.
With the thumping victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the General Elections of May 2014 and the Indian electorate turning to the right instead to the centre of the left, wise heads are debating whether India and democracy can go hand-in-hand when the former is ancient and hierarchical and the latter, modern and egalitarian. Many pertinent questions raise their head and to which the author tries to provide his answers: What is expected of Prime Minister Modi in view of the current decisive parliamentary verdict? Will India grow? Will Modi’s victory permanently change Indian politics or will the electorate remove him if he fails to deliver? Does the catastrophic fall of the Congress–a dominant party in Indian politics for six decades–sound the death-knell for the party and its policy of socialism and secularism? Can Modi boost the political and governmental machinery or introduce radical changes in governmental style and policy? How permanent is this change likely to be?
In 1947, with the departure of British rulers and Partition of India, many believed that the newly independent Indian nation was an artificial creation, too large and diverse to hold together as one. But 68 years and 16 General Elections later, the Indian juggernaut continues to roll on despite facing many handships. The 2014 General Elections with 800 million voters and 8,000 candidates again confirmed India’s commitment to democracy. The author of the book under review, Roderick Mathews, who has also written the best-seller Jinnah vs Gandhi and specialises in Indian history and politics, discusses how Indian democracy has survived despite a highly diverse population, how the Indian Constitution has contributed to it, what lessons can be learnt from it and how this world’s largest democracy has stood the test of time while its neighbours in South and South-east Asia continue to struggle with maintaining democracy.
Matthews considers the 2014 victory of Modi an important historical moment for India as seen in connection with three pivotal points since Independence: the introduction of an independent Constitution (1946-58); the Emergency (1975-77); and the beginning of coalition rule; the introduction of Mandal reservations; the economic liberalisation and the destruction of the disputed structure (1989-92). After tracing the political scenario from the time of Independence to the present, Matthews says that with the Modi wave, a check has been imposed on the rise of provincial powers and political fragmentation. With this, “hopes that greater stability might emerge if the NDA and UPA could develop into more coherent, more permanent party machines have currently evaporated.” He also adds that as a result, the need for the NDA has disappeared as the BJP has been able to hold a majority by itself.
After expounding on the current political situation in neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, where internal subdivisions continue to this day, Matthews is of the view that in India the situation is far better. He adds, “Indians should be proud of and grateful for the legacy.” Regarding the future of Indian democracy, Matthews says that there are many paths to democracy and India has eventually evolved one of her own. He concludes by saying that in India, where liberty is secure and equality available, the presiding spirit of democracy “still comes from the fraternity preached by Gandhi and that spirit is what will keep the rope upright.”
Manju Gupta (The reviewer is former Editor of the NBT)