Posted by: Vikram | January 26, 2010

10 things you can do to make India a better Republic

“In politics we will be recognising the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions?” – Dr. Ambedkar

    Try to read about the guy in the picture above. Quite a remarkable fellow.
    If you dont want to read about him, atleast read the seven lines of the Preamble to the Constitution he was the architect of,
    Stop calling people chaiwallah, kachrewali, autowallah, naukar, driver etc. Ask them their names and use that information.
    Stop treating the maid(s), drivers and others that work for you ‘pretty well’ and treat them as you would like/expect your employer to treat you.
    Replace “since Independence” by “since we became a Republic”, that will atleast remind people that we are supposed to be a Republic. Technically even the Mughal Empire and the other kingdoms were ‘independent’.
    Start voting. Beginning with your local municipal elections.
    If you follow the voting advice above, try not to vote for people who are obviously retards, criminals or like to get votes based on appealing to your caste/religion/region etc etc
    If you are about to break a law because:
    a) Everybody else is doing it.
    b) India is already so messed up.
    c) You are too smart to obey the law.
    DONT. This includes spitting on walls that are already covered with paan stuff, throwing stuff out of railway coaches onto dirty tracks, breaking traffic lights ….
    If you know someone who is corrupt or regularly breaks the law, make it clear that you are not going to associate with them. Let people know that it is not okay to be corrupt.
    Stop watching India TV.


  1. I think that only missing link in India is the Govrnance

    • Yes fixing the state is going to be the challenge for Indians. It will be a tough struggle but one that has to be done.

  2. I dont know if you can do the above mentioned stuff, but…

    ….stop cribbing ya..!

    thats the only thing i would recommend to all bloggers/news readers/media/etc etc.

  3. Nice list!

    But why only India TV? Are the others any better?

  4. An excellent post. Agree with most of the views!

  5. It had been better to place a link to the picture above. I did read the preamble to the constitution but that link doesn’t say who was responsible for it! Is that Ambedkar?

    • Welcome Mr. Deepak. I dont think it is known who was responsible for the Preamble (or any particular part of the Constitution.) But the words below Babasaheb’s picture are taken from his speech to the Constituent Assembly before presenting the Constitution.

  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by DesiPundit and sherenejose, anand_bala. anand_bala said: | Nice Post By Vikram Garg on Republic Day […]

  7. @ amreekandesi, well I think India TV is the worst among equals. The others atleast occasionally try to give actual news.

    @ Nova, Thanks !

  8. some nice points mentioned here…
    the things that is most concerning is… ppl cribbing tht this is wrong tht is wrong and then doing it themselves…

  9. Vikram,

    Replace “since Independence” by “since we became a Republic”, that will atleast remind people that we are supposed to be a Republic. Technically even the Mughal Empire and the other kingdoms were ‘independent’.

    Besides, Independence was more or less guaranteed—it could be argued that 15 August was more a result of the Brits making a loss out of India than any concerted effort on India’s part. Talks on India getting Dominion status (which is what India achieved on 15/08/1947) had been going on since the 30s.

    The Constitution, now there’s a whole different story; it’s something that every Indian should be justifiably proud of.

    Try to read about the guy in the picture above

    Please recommend some books.

  10. LOL @the last line 🙂

  11. @ Munish. Welcome. Yes we have to do not just crib. And what I have suggested is not that tough to do.

    @ Hades. Yes Independence was the British leaving, Republic was us defining what we wanted ourselves to be.

    I have read 2 books on Babasaheb, Dr. Ambedkar and Indian Constitution by D.C. Ahir and Ambedkar on law, constitution, and social justice.

    There is a national award winning movie on him here,

    @ Reema, Thanks !

  12. Vikram, Dr. Ambedkar was among the leading intellects of his time. We have had a number of posts about him on The South Asian Idea. Readers wanting to know and read more of his writings should refer to the excellent resource developed by Prof. Frances Pritchett of Columbia University:

  13. Nice post once again.
    love the last line…

    Thanks Anubhav.

  14. Vikram,

    Thanks for the book ref. Would you by any chance have an email address that I could reach you on?



  15. @ Vikram : I don’t like Republics. I am a Monarchist, India has always been an Empire and so it should be rightfully.

    Although I do feel it should be a constitutional monarchy and there should be an elected prime minister and perhaps an elected viceroy. (Hint Hint). I think we would be better off as a commonwealth realm.

    If that doesn’t work out we should restore the last house to run India. India needs a central figure that unites it. A faceless presidency is never going to achieve it. In any case the constitution needs to be abolished, we have a good enough common law which can run this country well with a mixture of the Monarch and the Parliament.

    Odzer, restore the last house for what ? Perpetuating feudalism and creating social conflicts ?

  16. @ Vikram : Humans are not equal in nature and neither can they ever be equal. Equality itself is a propagated utopia. As long as there is democracy people will always find their own means. Naturally if a monarchy has to be restored it would either have to be the house of windsor or the mughal house. This presidency thing wont cut any ice in the long term but only led to the eventual dissolution of this country.

  17. @ Odzer – LOL

    on a serious note –

    there are two extremes which lead to terrible leadership and/or abuse of the post of a leader.

    1. extreme insecurity regarding your position – what has plagued India time and again since independence – what is part of the reason behind our terrible politics. You can’t appease the entire nation and make sensible decisions at the same time (because most of the nation is likely to be ignorant about the facts surrounding the same anyway).

    2. extreme confidence and comfort in your position as a leader – what has been proven to be a failure time and again. For most kings – the only way you can get them to rule is by handing them a hollow crown of thorns – otherwise they start using it as chalice for wine and nothing else.

    and even if the king does his best to rule – what is to say he won’t make mistakes – we can live through hesitation and slow progress – we may be doomed by a decisive mistake.

    but all this was assuming your comments were serious to begin with – I’m assuming they’re not

    so – LOL

  18. @ Anubhav : The monarch will not rule, it will be the prime minister who will rule. An elected leader. I am only talking of abolishing the republic and bringing back the Empire.

    An Empire would then give India legitimate reason for ruling over its various territories. The Emperor or Empress would only be a symbolic figurehead. The constitution will be abolished and the common law and penal code along with parliamentary convention will replace it. That would be the ideal situation in my point of view.

    India needs a symbol of unity and a well loved monarch is the only solution in my opinion, otherwise it doesn’t have any common link between its various people’s. Spain restored monarchy for the very same reason, we need to think seriously about it as well. I did not say this in jest.

    I also think the Monarch gives more accountability than some person who just has to enjoy staying at the former viceregal palace for 5 years and knows that he / she would even have a slim chance of getting a second term.

    I also sometimes think we can even do away with the Presidency completely, if we are not going to opt for a Monarchy. The Prime Minister is good enough, why waste money on maintaining a large mausoleum with a figure head then if it is not symbolic of anything. Most Indians can’t even tell who is the Vice President of this country or I bet even who is the President. I am willing to wager any amount that when the Emperor’s head starts appearing on the money and the stamps everyone will know plus it will bring in good tourist revenue because sooner or later we are bound to have a Royal Scandal. Perhaps even a Homo king. Think about it, doesn’t my idea appeal to you now :p

  19. @ Odzer – OK that validates the assumption in my previous comment – LOL

  20. Odzer: It has become impossible for people to think in this perspective and it will also be impossible to go back to a constitutional monarchy BUT what you say makes a lot of sense. This is the system we should have persevered with. The ethos of South Asia is still monarchical and a system of governance works well when it is in harmony with the social reality.

    On The South Asian Idea we have made the same argument about Afghanistan and Malaysia:

  21. odzer, in reality it is the monarchy that is functioning now in india – the nehru raj. no governments have been able to last 5 years without the figure head of the seeds of nehru. so essentially india is not a democracy but a monarchy.

    And with succeeding seeds of senior MP’s now in parliament – it is only more of an attestment.

  22. Anrosh: This is a correct observation. All South Asian countries are de facto monarchies – the ethos is monarchical, otherwise one cannot explain the pattern of dynastic successions. We have discussed this in a number of posts on The South Asian Idea:

    • While the ethos is monarchical, what is needed is a change of ethos and not a change of polity. Democratic culture needs to be cultivated and nurtured.

      • Vikram: I agree completely. There is no going back. But it helps to fix the problem if one recognizes the underlying reality. We need to think of the practical measures that would help to change the ethos that persists both amongst the leaders and the led.

  23. Do not agree with first 1. India is not America. The respect carries a lot of value here, social hierarchy (this does not have to be caste) is rigidly enforced and more often than not Indians get offended if they hear strangers calling them on a first name basis. Chaiwale would not be offended to be called as “Raju bhaiya” or plain Raju (because I am older than him) or driver would not be offended to be called by “driver uncle” by kids. But if kids call the driver by name such as “Ramshankar” or I call the 15 year old kid at roadside tea-stall, Mr Raju Solanki or Raju seth, he is going to get offended. His sensibilities apparently does not mirror mine or yours. These are cultural differences and they would remain as such. The offense has much to do with the tone and the choice of words than nouns/adjectives in India (and in countries like Japan too). Such subtleties in communication is short of missing in America, but in most conformist and rigidly hierarchial eastern societies like ours, they carry important message.

    Regarding second one, did you ever work in an Indian office, I mean, the ones which are running business for last, say, 40 years? There is really not much decency between the owner of the company and the employees working under him. Exploitation – both labour and “Phanish Murthy” kind – are so ramapnt that I used to wonder in my first job (a big name in Indian IT) whether they choose lecherous old foxes as high level managers or all decent people become like that after reaching there. There is no wonder that eighty percent Indians dish out the same behavior to the other people whom they percieve to be in the lower rung than theirs. This is also the same way some ministers treat beaurocrats who are not well connected or know enough to be dangerous. This is also a very complex topic.

    “..try not to vote for people who are obviously retards, criminals or like to get votes based on appealing to your caste/religion/region.” – It contradicts your third point. Candidates are chosen on those basis. If you rule out these considerations, most people would not be able to vote. Democracy in it’s present form never worked in India, let us not shut our eyes and pretend the opposite.

    About last one, I have stopped watching tvs long ago. Try not to watch tv, invest in reading, surf the net and go out to meet new people.

    • Welcome Sid.

      “But if kids call the driver by name such as “Ramshankar” or I call the 15 year old kid at roadside tea-stall, Mr Raju Solanki or Raju seth, he is going to get offended.”

      My point here is that we should not call people things like ‘chaiwallah’, ‘dhobi’ or ‘driver’, ‘kachrewala’. We should try and use a proper noun (of whatever kind is socially acceptable), for eg, calling the dhobi, Raju bhaiyya instead of dhobi. I am definitely not asking 15 year old kids to call people older than them by first names.

      “There is no wonder that eighty percent Indians dish out the same behavior to the other people whom they percieve to be in the lower rung than theirs.”

      Perhaps you did not read what I had written carefully,
      “treat them as you would like/expect your employer to treat you.” If your employer does not treat you in the manner you expect you have no right to mete out the same treatment to someone who works for you.

      “If you rule out these considerations, most people would not be able to vote.”

      I am asking people to try not to vote along these lines, not forbidding them from voting if they want to vote along those lines. I understand why many Indians vote along caste lines.

  24. Replace “since Independence” by “since we became a Republic”, that will atleast remind people that we are supposed to be a Republic. Technically even the Mughal Empire and the other kingdoms were ‘independent’.

    Excellent like this bit especially; people who waffle on about a monarchy or raise bogeymen about supposed enforced equality, don’t really have a clue what republic is or what a ‘res publica’ stands for. Very few of the subaltern groups would in anycase prefer any other system of govt. A republic itself contains many contradictions; the classical models which all subsequent ones draw from – Rome was hardly an egalitarian ideal, though it did formulate the concept of citizenshp and public participation in political policy and self-government. The concept of a republic is also not unknown in pre-colonial times; where many of the tribal confederations and ancient non-monarchical polities like the Lichavvi republics were organised along such lines.

    Liked most of the others too!

    • Conrad, middle class India often fails to understand India from the point of view of the marginalized groups of India. I had written a post on how Dalits see India,

      Even Muslim views about the modern Indian Republic are rarely explored in Indian media. Only meaningful exploration I can think of in recent times is the song ‘Maula Mere Lele Meri Jaan’ from the movie Chak De India.

  25. Conrad: Re your statement “Very few of the subaltern groups would in anycase prefer any other system of govt.” It would be good to get some empirical evidence to pursue this further.

    According to Sunil Khilnani in The Idea of India the starting point was one in which “Most people in India had no idea of what exactly they had been given… Constitutional democracy based on adult suffrage did not emerge from popular pressure for it within Indian society, it was not wrested by the people from the state; it was given to them by the political choice of an intellectual elite [that was]… remarkably unrepresentative.”

    From this starting point of non-preference, some numerically significant marginalized groups have definitely found it to their advantage as it has opened paths to a share of political power. Other marginalized groups are locked in armed struggle against it. Yet others seem ambivalent without the numbers to make their votes count in a politics still based on identity.

  26. SouthAsian:

    Thanks for your comments, I think they raise a lot of relevant points, because the topic is huge and I have some time constraints I am just going to respond to them briefly sequentially, as I don’t want to lengthen the thread by fisking:

    1) Yes, it is hard to determine what form of govt subaltern groups would actually like and the choice is complicated because they won’t be able to choose from anything but will have a restricted set of choices just like us in the modern world. However, I doubt that given a choice between a monarchy or a democracy, that many would opt for the former – for the simple reason that monarchical states in the past did not really do much for them in India and at best excluded or were indifferent to their existence. In an era before nationalism, it was difficult for many, not just subalterns to get excited about the rise and fall of various monarchies because it had so little impact on everyday social structure – a point brought out very well in Premchand’s short story “the Chess Players”. With the arrival of nationalism as an ideology and the state as encompassing all its citizens rather than just a few of them things are obviously different. Empirical proof can be seen in the rising levels of electoral turnout for subaltern groups over the last three decades as famously pointed by Yogendra Yadav. It isn’t the subalterns that have lost their faith in democracy but the elites and the middle classes.

    2) Yes, most people in India didn’t have any idea what they were given at independence – but lets not overdo this point. What the various independence movement and Gandhi’s mass mobilisation strategy did was for the first time to take what was a talking shop for middle-class urban professionals and mobilise the peasantry and the masses on a scale that was unprecedented in Indian history. There was no such mass movement in the past at the time of European colonialism’s arrival in India, one reason why having defeated the ruling elites of that period, they were able to easily rule over a much more numerous mass who were disinterested in political rule, with one set of rulers being not too much different from another. The spread of nationalism as an ideology and Gandhi’s specific genius in political mobilisation changed all that by increasing the participation of people and groups like women and Dalits who had never before even thought of political action on such a scale. It is unlikely that having once tasted it and sacrificed a fair bit for independence, they would have been happy to hand over power to some set of hereditary rulers. Lets also not forget the record of the actually existing monarchs at the time, conveniently overlooked by the enthusiastic supporters of monarchy on this thread, which was pretty oppressive and craven towards the British colonialists. The popular mahals in the Princely Kingdoms were quite widespread and clear on their desire for the removal of princely rule as it actually existed. The whole concept of swaraj, didn’t just mean self-rule at the level of international states, it was a total political and moral philosophy, that meant a measure of self-rule over oneself and also self-government, not government by an elite. There are of course problems with Gandhi’s philosophy, in its adherence to hierarchical forms which persisted and the failure to address questions of distribution but I don’t think it detracts from the radical break that it constituted with what went on before.

    3) Of course some marginalised groups have resorted to violence (though this needs to be qualified and looked at more critically) but I would argue this isn’t from a rejection of democracy but from a failure of democracy and the contradictions inherent in liberal democracy that Vikram outlined in his quote from Ambedkar in the original post. To this end, it should be remembered that part of the reason why the elites conceded universal suffrage and franchise was due to the realisation and fear that if they did not; a popular revolt and pressure from below which would advocate change violently would increase rapidly. The traditional arguement about Indian democracy and Gandhianism has always been that it was a way to defuse class and social conflict from becoming overtly violent or a revolution from taking place; as people like Francine Frankel have argued since the 1970s and Atul Kohli more recently. I recommend you look at the Constituent Assembly debates for more detail on this.

    4) Of course subaltern revolts are not new, most kingdoms and empires were plagued by them and the strongest polity outside the ancient period – the Mughal empire faced numerous subaltern and peasant revolts, which played an important role in sapping its vitality. Traditional models of kingship in India, were only able to buy social peace by effectively allowing far off and locally dominant social groups like forest-dwelling adivasis and the armed peasantry a large degree of local autonomy and self-government as long as they paid their taxes on time and were willing to give military support to the imperial govt when requested. Violating this arrangement or making excessive demands, almost always led to rebellion.

    5) lastly lets just look at the record when democracy was suspended in India such as the Emergency or the extended impositions of President’s rule for no good reason or the extensive use of the ASPA: these have all led to violent resistance – in stark contrast where and when democratic rule is respected, the levels of political violence have been much lower (though other forms of violence, of course are still very much a problem). Imposition of arbitrary rule from above will always be met with violence from below, because the historical experience of India is such that there is little faith in the benevolent aspects of such rule and little trust in power that is not accountable.

  27. Conrad: Thanks for the detailed response. I will respond later if I have something to add but I do want to clear one misperception. The choice being discussed was not an alternative between monarchy and democracy – you are quite right that there is no comparison.

    The counterfactual under discussion was whether a constitutional monarchy (a ceremonial monarch instead of a ceremonial president) might have proved a superior alternative. For the rationale see the post on Afghanistan on The South Asian Idea (which mentions that India is an exception amongst developing countries from which one ought not to generalize):

    • Yes, that is a fair distinction; however I remain unconvinced about the exact benefits that a constitutional monarchy is meant to deliver. Such roles are really symbolic ones and their power is very limited, in European democracies, their actions are limited really to dissolving parliament and state occasions. Most of their other actions rely on acting on the ‘advice’ (in reality instructions) of their Prime Ministers, our President has much more power than monarchs do, as she/he can reject such advice and bills (Within certain limits).

      Why exactly a ‘constitutional monarchy’ would be better in India, is not really explained in that post. Afghanistan actually had a centralised monarchy, more crucially, the monarchy was held by Durrani Pashtuns, an elite within the dominant group. India has a long tradition of minority elites being monarchs, you can imagine the whining from right-wing Hindu nationalists if we rescusitated some form of the Mughal imperium. Not to mention the fact that in many parts of India, such as the South, the monarchical rule of the northern Empires have not been effective for more than a thousand years. Can a constitutional monarchy really form a unifying symbol under these conditions? The Scandinavian and British monarchies have long continous traditions (except perhaps Sweden and even there the monarch in the 19th c was selected by parliament) we don’t have that.

      I also question the Spanish example, the problem with counterfactuals is that you can’t prove or disprove them for the most part (as my colleagues constantly tell me!) but I can just as easily provide the counter-example of Portugal a fascist dictatorship that was toppled by a leftist military coup in 1974 and which went on to become a democratic republic, without needing a ‘monarch’ to guide the transition to democracy. Personally I am not that impressed by the Post-Franco transition, it allowed way too many fascists to survive into the new order and did not allow the crimes of the past to be addressed.

  28. From the link that SouthAsian gave I found the following from a transcript of the discussion between Mahatma Gandhi and Ambedkar

    You say I have got a homeland, but still I repeat that I am without it. How can I call this land my own homeland and this religion my own, wherein we are treated worse than cats and dogs, wherein we cannot get water to drink? No self-respecting Untouchable worth the name will be proud of this land. The injustice and sufferings inflicted upon us by this land are so enormous that if knowingly or unknowingly we fall a prey to disloyalty to this country, the responsibility for that act would be solely hers. I do not feel sorry for being branded as a traitor; for the responsibilities of our action lie with the land that dubs me a traitor. If at all I have rendered any national service as you say, helpful or beneficial, to the patriotic cause of this country, it is due to my unsullied conscience and not due to any patriotic feelings in me. If in my endeavour to secure human rights for my people, who have been trampled upon in this country for ages, I do any disservice to this country, it would not be a sin; and if any harm does not come to this country through my action, it may be due to my conscience. Owing to the promptings of my conscience, I have been striving to win human rights for my people without meaning or doing any harm to this country.

  29. Vikram: This is almost exactly the framework within which Martin Luther King fought for the rights of blacks in America. A very enlightened perspective. The “I have a dream” speech is worth reading to get a sense of the greatness of leaders like King and Ambedkar and Mandela.

    “But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

  30. To have resepect in constitution means to have a civic sense – the sense of being citizens in a common entity. We don’t have that in India.

    The simplest example is about throwing trash. Everybody tries to keep their home clean, but trash the street. There is no idea that the street “also” belongs to them. That it belongs to the common entity that they are part of.

    Unless we have this basic feeling of civic sense developed in India, we won’t go anywhere. It is easiest to develop this from the grounds up. Nelson Mandela once said that the problem with today’s world is that people have a very small definition of what a “family” means. So first start with family, then expand it to your school friends, then to the village (or to a neighborhood in a town), then to your district etc. What do these entities own (and how do you exercise ownership through these entities). It is not hard to do.

    The simplest advice that anybody can get is “to be clean”. Both physically and metaphysically. Even if the others make dirty, doesn’t mean you should also make dirty. Being clean is for your own good. I think such cleanliness automatically builds a civic sense.

    • Good one man I respect your emotions towards our nation

  31. Totally agreed that’s the positive attitude which we all require in our life

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