Blogs > Liberty and Power > Occupiers Setting Up Democracies: Not So Rare

Oct 31, 2006 11:51 pm


Occupiers Setting Up Democracies: Not So Rare



Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen makes the following assumption:
Modeling the current Iraq is difficult for a few reasons. It is rare for an occupying power to set up a democracy, so historical data are scarce. In any case this is not the world of MacArthur and postwar Japan.

This does not bear clear scrutiny. It is not rare at all for occupying powers to set up democracies. The British, and to a lesser extent the French, did so on multiple occasions when granting independence to their colonies in the decades after World War II. The results were not generally encouraging, however. Most of these new democracies, especially in Africa, soon gave way to kleptocratic and/or ethnic/religious dominated dicatorships.

India is a rare exception but it has a history that differs significantly from Iraq and the African colonies. Like Japan, and unlike Iraq, an overwhelming majority of India's population comes from a single ethnic/religious group and the concept of nationhood dates back for centuries.


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Jonathan Dresner - 11/1/2006

Thanks, Sudha. I was wrong, then: the commonality is a period of tutelary pseudo-democracy or subaltern democracy.


Jason Pappas - 10/25/2006

What a vivid and rich description of India’s vast demographic variations.

But as to Pakistan, from what I’m reading and hearing, there seems to be a turn towards a homogenous religious revival that shocks some expats when they return for a visit. It isn’t confined to the Madrassahs along the western border but now pervades the public school system. Do you find this is happening?


Sudha Shenoy - 10/25/2006

I'm travelling at the moment, but briefly:

1. The present Indian constitution is the one the British regime implemented in 1935. There have been elections since the 1920s in undivided India, with the electorates progressively widening. Partition occurred _solely_ because Muslim politicians wanted to be large fish in a small pond, not small fish in a large lake. Jinnah, in particular, was _not_ going to play second fiddle to Nehru. Also, Muslim politicians feared being a permanent minority in an unlimited democracy -- where the govt had unlimited powers solely because a majority of the electorate had voted it in.

2. British administrators actually lived in India for their entire careers. They began by directly administering a particular district. They had to select a particular region, so they could learn the local language. They were required to pass exams in the language, which they learned from local teachers. Thus the British knew India, so it is impossible to see a 'single ethnic/religious nation' through a _British_ lens. Ignorance of the 'ethnic', linguistic, cultural, etc., diversity of India requires a _non_British outlook.

'Hinduism' itself is a portmanteau word, covering a huge variety of beliefs & practices, from sophisticated philosophical speculation to goat-sacrifice & 'spirit possession'. Similarly, there are some 15 _official_ languages mentioned in the Indian constitution; some 300-odd in practice. North India is virtually a separate world from South India; & there are equally great diversities amongst specific regions (compare Punjab with Bengal!) Add 'caste' & 'sub-caste' ('jati') differences & the result is a huge cultural mosaic. Muslim minorities -- highly diverse, both culturally & regionally -- are therefore part of the mosaic.

Indian politics is caste politics -- the dominant sub-caste in the area is also the most powerful politically.

Thus political stability in India is a matter of a mosaic: of regional coalitions of locally-dominant sub-castes. Majoritarian democracy more or less guarantees that politicians of the locally-dominant sub-caste will have permanent power.

3. Pakistani politics is also regional. In addition there are the fanatic Islamicists vs. the rest. Also in a small country, the military are larger players, as compared with a huge country like India. Hence the vacillation in Pakistan between military rule & majoritarian democracy.


Jason Pappas - 10/24/2006

While we’re at it let me elicit your opinion on the difference:

India has been able to maintain a stable parliamentary system in the short time since its independence. However, that achievement is significant as compared to the rest of the world’s post-colonial governments. Pakistan, created at the same time, has failed to maintain such a system. India has maintained a 13% Muslim minority while Pakistan has virtually no Hindus left.

To what extend does the difference in religion, either in doctrine or disposition, account for the difference in stability of parliamentary democracy? Does the inherent militancy of original Islam make it susceptible to authoritarian governments? Do the traditional caste aspects of Hinduism give it a “mixed constitution” that keeps it from degenerating into pure democracy (“mobocracy”)? Do other considerations swamp these?

Any opinions?



Jonathan Dresner - 10/24/2006

And the whole concept of "Muslim slaughter" is kind of a Hindutva backreading, as well: the Mughal and Delhi empires weren't, as near as I can tell, particularly bloodier in its approach than were the several domestically-grown empires that preceded them, and most of the Muslim members of these empires were domestic converts and their descendants, not immigrants or outsiders in any way.

In other words, the "eternal" ethnic and religious tensions which exist now are actually quite modern in origin.


Jason Pappas - 10/23/2006

If you look at Greater India (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) the percentage is 32% Islam. Partition created more homogeneous populations with Pakistan being 97%, and India becoming 80% Hindu.

Some have given historic estimates of Islamic slaughter of Hindus prior to British of over 60 million on a cumulative basis. I expect that this is high but I don’t know who to trust on these estimates.


Manan Ahmed - 10/23/2006

1. "Like Japan, and unlike Iraq, an overwhelming majority of India's population comes from a single ethnic/religious group"
- Um, Nope. That would have made something so juicy as On the Aboriginal Races of India impossible to exist.

2. "and the concept of nationhood dates back for centuries."
- And which nationhood would that be? Bharat? Pakistan? Bangladesh? Nepal? Tibet? and how many centuries back can we look? back to the Mughals? the Delhi Sultanate? Chola? Gupta? Ashoka?


David T. Beito - 10/23/2006

Perhaps I am mistaken in how far back the Indian sense of nationhood can be dated.

I'll have to ask my colleague, Charles Nuckolls, to weigh in. Certainly, the close identification of Hinduism with India has no real counterpart in Iraq.


Jonathan Dresner - 10/23/2006

centuries? I'm not sure I'm aware of India having any sense of "nationhood" that predates British colonialism, and not much that runs concurrent with it until the 20th century, but it's a bit out of my field. The "single ethnic-religious" thing is pretty tenuous, too: definitely reading backwards through a very British lens.

What makes India so striking, actually, is that it's about the only functioning democracy I can think of that didn't have a long period of colonial democracy (or, as in the case of Germany and Japan, pseudo-democracy) as a tutelary period.

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