Why the two roads diverged

  • B. Surendra Rao
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B. Surendra Rao

hose who watch Indian movies are frequently treated to melodramatic conflicts between two siblings taking opposite routes in life in which circumstances of their upbringing overrule the dictates of genetics. If we do not allow the force of the melodrama to overwhelm us, we can use this motif to shed light on the experience of the Indian subcontinent, where, following the freedom from the colonial rule, India opted for democracy while Pakistan kept stumbling into unstable autocracy. Though this phenomenon had drawn the attention of historians and political analysts earlier, Maya Tudor interrogates it with fresh confidence to situate it in the broader discourse of post-colonial democratisation.

The differing trajectories of development in India and Pakistan have hitherto been variously explained as the result of differential colonial inheritance, economic growth or income inequality, varying religious and ethnic factors and even international influences. But Maya Tudor shows that their empirical bases and explanatory efficacy are weak and argues, instead that, first, the kinds of social classes leading each country’s independence movement and, second, the strength of the dominant political party at independence were the most important causes of India’s and Pakistan’s divergent democratic trajectories.

Drawing on the Weberian definition of classes not as objective communities but as “merely represent (ing) possible, and frequent, bases for communal action”, the author validates Barrington Moore’s hypothesis ‘cautiously but conditionally’ which stresses the importance of both a substantial commercialisation of middle class and a weakening landed aristocracy to the emergence of democratic regimes.

She seeks to show that social classes with opposing interests in promoting democratic reform founded political movements in British India and that class attitudes toward democratic reform were directly responsible for the primary goals of independence movements in India and Pakistan.

While the growing ranks of a new, educated, and urban middle class across colonial India established the Indian National Congress as a means of promoting its own upward mobility, it did so by advocating limited but clearly pro-democratic reforms. If the leaders of what was seen as “the germ of native parliament” initially preferred elite bargaining to mass politics, later developments nudged them, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, to popular, programmatic and pro-democratic nationalism. The Muslim League, on the other hand, began as an association of landed aristocracy which felt threatened by the demand for, and introduction of, the elective principle into colonial political institutions, so much so the ideology of the Muslim League in its early years “is better described as loyalist and anti-democratic than as pro-Muslim.”

Whatever concession it got in the 1909 reforms was largely due to colonial patronage and the decision to over-represent Muslims was directly taken to countervail Congress’s growing influence. It paradoxically undermined any need for political mobilisation until the prospect of Indian independence loomed.

Gandhian leadership

The dynamics of Indian freedom movement under the Gandhian leadership emanated from its ability and willingness to connect with disparate constituencies in a bid to develop a programmatic unity, so that by 1947 “Congress had helped delimit an Indian nation, establish its egalitarian character, and broadly popularise nationalism in the consciousness in a broad swath of colonial Indian society…” The Muslim League as the ‘institutional incarnation of Pakistani nationalism’ was “anti-democratic in the sense that it rejected a defining process of democracy.” Its social and political alliances were weak, it had no economic programmes to project and was driven only by its anti-Hindu rhetoric and the Pied Piper charisma of Jinnah. If Congress was able to hammer out coherent coalitions with class groups with conflicting interests, the Muslim League merely cobbled together “a relatively incoherent distributive coalition” eschewing the need to build regional and local party organisations.

In fact, the central contention of the book is that the relationship between distributive conflict on the one hand and regime stability on the other is mediated through the construction of robust political institutions, particularly, political parties. That explains the relative strength of the regime-founding coalitions in India and their brittleness in Pakistan.


The democratic strength of Congress and the weak democratic impulses and practices of the Muslim League had a determining impact on the nature of political freedom and society which India and Pakistan established. While the making of the Indian Constitution or implementing it was rendered easy by the content and experience Indian national movement, the fragility of Pakistani national movement returned to haunt the new nation, to render it democratically unstable. It also suffered progressive loss of immunity to fitful civil autocracies and military dictatorships, argues Maya Tudor. As we sow, they say, so we reap.

The jacket of the book carries two photographs: One, of the bare-headed Mahatma addressing a disparate but attentive crowd of khadi-clad women and men in the open, and the other of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, - imperious, cigarette between his lips and under a parasol held by a liveried servant, holding court. Together they offer a fine example of visual semiotics.

The book itself is an eloquent exposition of the suggestive difference. Comparing the birth and trajectories of Indian and Pakistani nationalisms has its risks, suffused as they are with differences, conflicts and recriminations. But The Promise of Power promises an academic and analytical fare, and it has more than redeemed its promise.

( B. Surendra Rao is a former Professor of History, Mangalore University )



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