Democracy and violence - Democracy And Violence In India And Beyond Economic And Political Weekly In about a years time the citizens of India will vote

Democracy and violence - Democracy And Violence In India...

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Democracy And Violence: In India And Beyond, Economic And Political Weekly In about a year’s time, the citizens of India will vote in their sixteenth General Elections. The last such exercise, held in May 2009, showcased a bewildering variety of parties and politicians. Some 700 million adults were eligible to vote; about 400 million actually voted, to choose five hundred and forty-three members of the national Parliament. The Republic of India also has twenty-eight states, in which elections are likewise held on a five-year cycle. Altogether, many more Indians have freely chosen their political representatives than have citizens of Western democracies of far greater antiquity. Demographically and otherwise, India dominates South Asia. Of the other nations in the region, Pakistan, born at the same time as India (in August 1947), and Bangladesh (which seceded from Pakistan in 1971), have both seen periods of civilian government alternate with military rule. In Nepal, an autocratic regime with a King at its head gave way to a constitutional monarchy in 1990; this, in turn, being replaced by a republic in 2008, when, quite remarkably, a party previously committed to armed revolution on the Maoist model emerged as the largest single force in Parliament. There has been an equally striking change in neighbouring Bhutan, where a King younger than Prince Charles, and (by all accounts) more popular among his people, voluntarily abdicated in favour of his son after overseeing the first multi- party elections in the nation’s history. Apart from India, however, it is Sri Lanka that has had the longest experience of electoral democracy in the region. The country, then known as Ceylon, was granted independence from the British in 1948. It has since regularly held provincial and national elections. As in India, in Sri Lanka too all adults were immediately granted the vote, regardless of their class or gender. This was in contrast to the experience of the West, where the franchise was granted in stages: first to men of property, then to educated men, somewhat later to all men, and later still to women as well. Outside of the North Atlantic world, the most extensive experiments with the idea of democracy have taken place in South Asia. Here, as in the West, the forging of democratic institutions has been intimately connected with the making of nations. Thus, the people of a certain, clearly demarcated, territory come together under a single flag and single currency, while ridding themselves of rule by foreigners or rule by kings; at the same time, or soon afterwards, they conceive of electing their leaders through an exercise of free will. Notably, in South Asia democracy and national independence arrived at more-or-less the same time. Thus adult franchise was promoted in India and Sri Lanka even as the majority of voters were poor and illiterate. In the 1950s, when blacks were largely excluded from the franchise in the American South, erstwhile Untouchables were Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers in India. In the 1960s, a woman was the Prime Minister of
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