The Indian-Pakistani Divide

Why India Is Democratic and Pakistan Is Not

In This Review

India, Pakistan, and Democracy: Solving the Puzzle of Divergent Paths
by Philip K. Oldenburg
Routledge, 2010
278 pp. $39.95

Since 1995, when the historian Ayesha Jalal's pathbreaking and controversial book Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia was published, there has been no serious study comparing the political trajectories of India and Pakistan. Those who have tried to fill this gap have succumbed to the temptation of attributing India's democracy to Hinduism and Pakistan's autocracy to Islam -- a reductionist and not particularly productive approach, since religion is usually only secondary in explaining political trajectories, whether it is Indonesia's democratization or Sri Lanka's march to dictatorship. In the remarkable India, Pakistan, and Democracy, Philip Oldenburg, a research scholar at Columbia University, is wise enough not to resort to such sociocultural explanations. Instead, he examines historical, political, sociological, cultural, and external factors to explain the reasons why India and Pakistan diverged.

Oldenburg is quick to dispel some common misunderstandings about India and Pakistan, the first being that they had similar experiences during the colonial era. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the British began gradually devolving power to local authorities in several provinces across India. They did not pursue such reform very far in the North-West Frontier Province and Punjab, two provinces that would make up the bulk of Pakistan after the 1947 partition. Both territories were important military recruitment grounds for the Raj and were located along its restive western frontier, where devolution was considered a security threat. Whereas several of the provinces India inherited from the Raj had experience with some democracy, Pakistan inherited two highly militarized provinces with no such background, laying the groundwork for the country's military-bureaucratic ethos. Even more, India was born with an intact bureaucratic apparatus in Delhi, whereas Pakistan had to build an entire government in 1947 under a state of emergency.

There was also more popular support for India at the time it was created than there was for Pakistan. The Indian National Congress, the torchbearer of India's nationalist movement, had enjoyed mass support since the 1920s, when Mohandas Gandhi became the party's leader. The Journal of Asian Studies article, one of the foremost on the 1971 breakup of East and West Pakistan, Pakistan was "a place insufficiently imagined" among those who would eventually live there. Feeling that lack of popular support, Muslim League leaders were hesitant to let other political parties develop once the country was created. Additionally, they feared that parties would divide an already weak nation. Since independence, the government has tried to limit Pakistan's political liberalization by introducing notions such as "controlled democracy," which has involved holding partyless elections at times. India's party system, on the other hand, is a venerable and robust arena for aggregating and articulating citizens' interests, and the field of parties is ever expanding.

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