India’s Democratic Triumph - A beacon of stability

IANS Photo

New Delhi, June 10 (IANS): On June 4, India’s 82-day election process concluded with the declaration of results.

This is the largest democratic exercise in the world, conducted in a staggered manner through seven phases, allowing 969 million eligible voters to cast their ballots in this once-in-a-five-year national event.

The scale of this endeavour is underscored by the fact that India’s electorate exceeds the combined population of Europe and is followed by Indonesia’s electorate of 204 million, which is nearly five times smaller.

Nevertheless, while the successful conduct of this election is a testament to India’s robust democratic credentials, it rebuts those who often attempt to undermine the world’s largest democratic country. It further highlights how India has ingrained democratic values into every aspect of its socio-political life, standing in contrast to the military-run hybrid regime of Pakistan and the communist authoritarian regime of China in the region.

After gaining independence from the Britishers in 1947, India’s leadership chose the multiparty parliamentary form of democracy not only as a mere form of governance but as a decisive political system where the constitution reigns supreme.

Drafted by visionary leadership, it has not only withstood the test of time but emerged as a true representative of the core democratic ideals: a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”.

The country’s rich ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity is very much reflected in this political diversity, with different ideologies and social groups coexisting and battling within a non-violent framework, thereby adding colour to the democratic richness of India.

The nearly eight-decade democratic journey of the country demonstrates how India has built strong institutions that have withstood various pressures over the years, consolidating the country’s democratic gains while upholding constitutional supremacy.

While India may seem amenable to external influence because of its vast diversity, Indian people “have continued to take their own political decisions, expressed in the polling booth, based on their own judgment, after examining the ideas proposed by their own domestic parties, every five years.”

This is facilitated by the supremacy of parliament, to which all organs of the state remain accountable. The constitution provides for universal adult suffrage, period elections, and a structured process for the transfer of power from one government to another, which has ensured India maintains political stability, which has been its hallmark since independence.

As such, every election since the first general election of 1951 and every government formation has happened as per the constitutional framework of India with a smooth transition of power.

This is significant in light of the erosion of democracy in the broader South Asian and developing world over the years, where fragile democratic institutions “collapsed under the weight of strongmen and dictatorships, coups and ethnic strife.” As such, India is sandwiched between Pakistan’s military-dominated hybrid government and China’s communist authoritarian regime.

Take the case of Pakistan, which emerged as an independent country along with India after the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. While India framed its constitution within two-and-a-half years of gaining independence and proclaimed the country as a democratic republic, it took nearly 10 years for Pakistan to adopt its first constitution in 1956, proclaiming a theocratic republic. Still, it failed to incorporate requisite checks and balances in the governance structure and, as such, became susceptible to recurrent military interventions.

Pakistan and Pakistanis could not hold onto this constitution for even two years as it was dismissed by President Major General Iskandar Mirza with support from the country’s military establishment in 1958.

This was followed by the Pakistan Army’s first coup d’etat in 1958 when its Commander-in-chief, Ayyub Khan, overthrew and exiled President Iskandar Mirza, effectively laying the path for direct and indirect military control of civilian institutions in Pakistan. As such, it has directly ruled Pakistan for nearly half of its existence since 1947.

The shades of the Pakistan military’s overt or discreet control and its political interference continue to this day. Nevertheless, it took Pakistan another fifteen years to proclaim another constitution in 1973 under the civilian rule of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

In terms of the transition of power as well, unlike India, there has been hardly any instance when the losing party has not stalled the government formation process in Pakistan.

For example, following Pakistan’s first general elections of December 1970, which took place nearly 23 years after independence, the institutional failure to effect a transition of power to Dakha-based and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman-led Awami League by President General Yahya and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto cost Pakistan half of its country as Bangladesh was born out of East Pakistan in December 1971.

The story continues to this day, as was evident in how the Pakistan Army engineered the defeat of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakstan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) in connivance with other political parties like the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

At the same time, there is China, which has had a single-party authoritarian rule since 1949 under the Communist Party of China (CCP) that rules with an iron fist. There are no elected leaders, with elections only allowed at local levels. Even in those managed elections, all those partaking are approved by the CCP.

As per various rights bodies, China has criminalised any form of dissent, outlawed political opposition, and severely curtailed the rights of various religious-ethnic minorities of the country, such as Tibetans and Uyghur Muslims. Even religious affairs are controlled by the CCP.

As much as democratic values and the constitutional framework are hallmarks of India’s internal stability, they also drive its non-interventionist foreign policy precepts towards its neighbouring countries and bilateral partners.

While India's relationship with its neighbours such as Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bangladesh has always been one of friendship and respect and beyond commercial considerations, China pursues predatory relations with these small countries.

Take the case of the Indian Ocean nation of Sri Lanka. China leveraged its financial largesse to bring former President Mahinda Rajapaksa into its orbit only to push the country into its debt trap. It used this debt to take over Sri Lanka’s strategic Hambantota port and evaded extending any help as the country defaulted in fulfilling its sovereign debt commitments in April 2022.

Despite Colombo’s honeymoon with Beijing, India did not think twice about extending the USD 1 billion credit line to help sustain its import chain in May 2022, which has been since renewed in May 2023 and May 2024 respectively.

India further co-chairs an ‘Official Creditors Committee’ with Japan and France to restructure Sir Lanka’s debt conundrum and facilitate its bailout package with the International Forum. China has stayed away from engaging and alleviating Sri Lanka’s financial circumstances even through this multilateral mechanism. The story is the same with the Maldives, where China has propelled Mohammad Muizzu’s government, which won the election in September 2023.

As such, the conclusion of the grand festival of democracy in India underscores the supremacy of its constitution and the resilience of its democratic system, which has endured multiple pressures to deliver the world’s biggest electoral exercise. It is a celebration of democracy, an Indian variant of democracy, and a hope for people’s supremacy. Indian people and India’s democratic system have proved it once again that the road to development is adhering to the Constitution only.