The difference is democracy - by Jug Suraiya Back   Home  
Appropriately enough, it's like a Bollywood story: twins get separated at birth and grow up to be on either side of the law, one a cop and the other an underworld don. So, is there a rapprochement at the end, with the two embattled siblings finally enfolding each other in a fraternal jhappi? Time alone will tell.

For the two real-life twins are, of course, India and Pakistan. Siamese twins sundered at birth by the savage surgery of partition, each to follow a career diametrically opposed to the other. One as a pluralist democracy, warts and all. The other as a sectarian, feudal hegemony, held for long spells under the jackboot of successive military dictatorships. Sixty years on, the two represent a case study of stark contrast.

Despite its farmer suicides, its Maoist insurrections affecting 165 districts, its appalling record of infant mortality which is worse than that of either Nepal or Bangladesh, its continuing caste and gender oppression, India stands in the international community as a unique experiment in political, social and economic unity, predating the European Union by decades. On the other side of the border, having pulled back from the brink of being a failed state and 'the most dangerous place in the world', post-poll Pakistan is on the precarious threshold of a new hope and a new beginning.

What went right - or at least partly right - with one, and what went wrong - tragically wrong - with the other? A correspondent writes:

"The two Ambani brothers can buy 100% of every company listed on the Karachi Stock Exchange and would still be left with $30 billion to spare. The four richest Indians can buy up all goods and services produced over a year by 169 million Pakistanis and still be left with $60 billion to spare.

"In 2004, the UN, the representative body of 192 sovereign member states, had requested the Election Commission of India to assist it in holding elections in Al Jumhuriyah al Iraqiyah and Dowlat-e-Eslami-ye in Afghanistan. Why the Election Commission of India and not the Election Commission of Pakistan? After all, Islamabad is closer to Kabul than is Delhi.

"Twelve per cent of all American scientists are of Indian origin; 38% of doctors in America are Indian; 36% of Nasa scientists are Indian; 34% of Microsoft employees are Indian; and 28% of IBM employees are Indian. Azim Premji, the richest Muslim entrepreneur on the face of the planet, was born in Bombay and now lives in Bangalore. India now has more than three dozen billionaires; Pakistan has none (nor a single dollar billionaire).

"Indians and Pakistanis have the same Y-chromosome haplogroup. We have the same genetic sequence and the same genetic marker (namely: M124). We have the same DNA molecule, the same DNA sequence. Our culture, our traditions and our cuisine are all the same. We watch the same movies and sing the same songs. What is it that Indians have and we don't? "Indians elect their leaders.

The writer is not a self-satisfied Indian, but an anguished Pakistani who has summed up the difference - a difference more fundamental than genetic codes or articles of religious faith - between India and Pakistan: democracy.

What is this magic ingredient which makes all the difference, this panacea for all ills? Can its near-miraculous effects be achieved overnight, by ceremonial rites such as the holding of elections? Unfortunately not. Democracy is an intricate and ongoing architectural project, the foundations of which must be based on the bedrock of civil society, which is not a concomitant but, in many ways, a precursor of democracy. And civil society is a sum of myriad day-to-day transactions and negotiations that individuals and communities within the larger sphere of the nation have with each other: it's the space of mutual manoeuvre which prevents, or minimises, head-on collisions.

An indispensable dimension of this space is education. Though the Indian state has, by and large, failed miserably on this count, the middle classes' investment in education has reaped dividends both at the individual and national level. For it to have a civil society comparable to that of India, Pakistan will first have to create a middle class which will, in turn, create Pakistani counterparts of India's Doons, DPSs and Sainik schools.

Pakistan - where 2% of the people own 98% of everything - lacks a sizable middle class, lacks that space of give and take which makes for a viable civil society. India - despite its many desperate economic and social inequalities - has by luck or design, or both, created this space of interdependent accommodation for itself. But it's an endangered space.

It's endangered every time a Raj Thackeray mounts an assault of parochial chauvinism, or when fanatics of whatever ideological or religious stripe attack the inalienable right of freedom of expression, or when livelihoods and habitats are brutally dispossessed in the specious name of progress. The more of this space we destroy, the more we destroy what we call ourselves.

As post-election Pakistan resounds with the drumbeat of celebration, it looks with envy at us. But if India is an object lesson for Pakistan, Pakistan should equally be an object lesson for India. Because there - but for the grace of democracy - go we. We in India, no less than those in Pakistan, should realise that the 'revenge of democracy' is a double-edged instrument.
Published in March 1st, 2008 edition of TimesOfIndia daily, India.