Shashi Tharoor I Photo: Bijuraj AK
My answer is simple: democracy. Nehru’s greatest satisfaction would have come from the knowledge that the democracy he tried so hard to instil in India had taken such deep roots, despite so many naysayers claiming that democracy would never work in a developing country. Through democracy, rooted in the constitutional rule of law and free elections, India has managed the process of political change and economic transformation necessary to develop our country and to forestall political and economic disaster.
India’s democracy has flourished while pursuing some of the most intractable challenges of development the world has known. Of course, fiercely contentious politics can be a significant impediment to India’s development, since reforms are pursued with hesitancy as governments keep looking constantly over their electoral shoulders. But this also ensures the acceptance of reforms when they are eventually made.
The experiment begun seven decades ago by India’s founding fathers has worked. Though there have been major threats to the nation from separatist movements, caste conflicts and regional rivalries, electoral democracy has helped defuse them.
India has also been proud of being able to demonstrate, in a world riven by ethnic conflict and notions of clashing civilizations, that democracy is not only compatible with diversity, but preserves and protects it. India is united not by a common ethnicity, language, or religion, but by the experience of a common history within a shared geographical space, reified in a liberal constitution and the repeated exercise of democratic self-governance in a pluralist polity. India’s founding fathers wrote a constitution for this dream; we in India have given passports to their ideals.
It’s still true that in many parts of India, when you cast your vote, you vote your caste. But that too has brought about profound alterations in the country, as the lower castes have taken advantage of the ballot to seize electoral power. The explosive potential of caste division has been channelled through the ballot box. Most strikingly, the power of electoral numbers has given high office to the lowest of India's low. Who could have imagined, for 3000 years, that a Dalit woman would rule as Chief Minister of India's most populous state? Yet Mayawati has done that three times in UP. And the ascent of a self-declared chaiwallah (tea-seller) to the position of Prime Minister is the ultimate testament to the triumph of Indian democracy. Let us hope he resolves the nation’s challenges rather than adding to them.