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Democrats and Republicans- Americans and Indian Versions

Recently a Russian friend of mine exclaimed “When I came to USA, I didn’t understand what the Democrats and Republicans are fighting about. Both want free market capitalism, both want democracy, so what is the argument.

It took some years for me too, to understand why they call themselves separate parties. But when I got it, I could not help wonder that no matter where you go, it’s the same two currents in society. Like yin and yang, they manifest themselves in different persona.

Democrats are more committed to principles. Republicans are more committed to practicality. Democrats worry about what is fair. Republicans worry about what works. Democrats prefer the type of government that works for poor and desolate. Republicans prefer less interfering government and have more of dog-eat-dog approach.

Democrats are about equality, about challenging the established class, pro-change, diversified party. Republicans are more interested in keeping local culture intact. They are against migration to some extent and take pride in being a patriotic, pro-establishment party. A good old boys club.

Welfare programs , taxation and wealth dissipation are usually characteristic of democratic policy. Focus on national security and overall conservative attitude is usually the main selling points of republican policy.

If I have to find the equivalents in Indian politics, I would say Congress is version of US Democrats whereas several regional parties like Shiv-sena and only one national party , BJP, is version of US Republicans. Congress claims itself to be the sole voice of poor people. It takes pride in being the truly secular party. For the last 50 or so years, Congress has indeed delivered several promises to poor class. In their reign, green revolutions occurred, slum dwellers got their huts registered and reservation quotas were introduced and expanded continuously. Sometimes by going overboard and snubbing middle class, congress has more or less managed to keep its image and keep its voting base. While BJP, in their brief ruling period, expanded India’s nuclear arsenal, built strong relations with USA and decisively won Kargil war.

The roots of USA Republican party lies in the political vision of revolutionaries who fought against British occupation. The same thing could have happened in India in early 20th century and Indian National Congress could have emerged as the voice of established Indian social class, the Republican equivalent.

However, the class struggle in India was far widespread and complicated compared to British occupied USA. The Republican equivalents in Indian Congress failed to address this class struggle issue effectively. They made political independence higher priority over social reforms. B.G. Tilak and Subhashchandra Bose were main proponents of this idea. Whereas the Democrat equivalents gave equal, if not higher priority to social reforms compared to political independence. Gandhi was the main voice of this stream. Thus, as explained in my other post on Gandhi’s strategy, the Democrat equivalent voice prevailed and Republicans went into sort of oblivion.

The leadership of congress changed from idealistic generation (sometimes overly so as in case of Nehru) to highly opportunistic, divided individuals. In the same time the leadership of so-called-Republicans went from freedom-struggle hardened, ideological generation to opportunistic and sometimes clueless individuals.

This Republican current remained splinter, fringe groups and pretty much failed to make a coherent comeback till the last decade of 20th century. But the concern of Islamic fundamentalism suddenly brought some sort of synergy between them.

Many people blame BJP, the most visible equivalent of Republicans, for Babri Masjid demolition and using religion for political purpose. However half the country voted for them and the notion that they converted half the country from seculars to fundamentalists is ridiculous. The single reason for their success was genocide of Kashmiri Hindus. Even though the politicians and media refused to categorize Kashmir violence as ethnic cleansing, the common people saw a vicious pattern of religious fundamentalism against Hinduism. When BJP came out with Ram Mandir yatra and projected themselves as the saviors of Hindu religion, all these folks, who were now suspicious of politicians who proclaimed to be secular, threw their weight behind BJP. It had little to do with Ram Mandir and more to do with this suspicion about secularism.

BJP completely failed to understand these concerns and kept on drumming the same issue. Result? The Ram Mandir strategy failed in next election.

As the danger of Islamic fundamentalism continues to grow, it is likely that the US Republican equivalents in India would gain prominence again.

I have read a lot about the great patriot and freedom fighter Veer Savarkar. I have tremendous respect for him. His literary skills were marvelous. His leadership qualities were exceptional. His courage was monumental.

I have heard a lot of people speculating about what India would be if he had power in his hand. I am sure if he were in the driving seat, India would be a superpower.

And there lies the biggest success of Indian democracy. India in 1960-1970 did not need to be a superpower. India needed to work on poor farmers first. Thus the party that worked with poor farmers got elected. Savarkar was a great leader, but not the right person at that time and place to lead, so he was not elected.

As we lift our masses out of poverty and take stride into 21st century as a confident nation well on it’s way to prosperity, there will be a time to switch. Indian people will need a leader who will assert India’s power, give higher priority to national security and enforce discipline on unruly elements. We will need a Savarkar again.

I hope we will be able to produce one.

One Response

  1. Kedar, there is so much to say here. Well, I hope we get a Savarkar. I dont mind Modi either!

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