Democracy does not depend on dynasties

Issue 

Democracy does not depend on dynasties

By Kamal Mahotra

I am greatly distressed and disappointed by much of the Australian media's coverage of the assassination of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. Many of the reports show a lack of understanding of both India's democracy and the Nehru dynasty's impact on it.

Although violence should not be condoned and the sudden and violent death of Rajiv Gandhi is a tragic event, it is unlikely to result in the collapse of Indian democracy. While the media here are carrying banner headlines about violence in India, several reliable observers in India, with whom I have been in daily contact, say there has been no significant increase in political violence after the assassination. BBC correspondent Mark Tully remarked on the general mood of restraint on the day of Gandhi's funeral.

Dynasties and democracies are not known to go together. For anyone to suggest that the survival of India's democracy is threatened because of one person's death and the end of a dynasty clearly reflects contradictions which should be self-evident.

The reason there is so much hue and cry in the West about the assassination has less to do with concern for democracy than with the West having lost someone they could deal with and whose values were more in line with Western interests than India's.

India's foreign policy has made Western governments less than happy in the past. But in Rajiv Gandhi they found someone they could talk to, wine and dine with and who was more cooperative. This is why Hawke, Evans and Bush found Rajiv Gandhi so "charming". But is "charm" supposed to qualify a someone to be a good leader for India?

Now the West does not know who to talk to in India.

Mr Murdoch, and those who express similar views, do ordinary Indian people great indignity by not recognising their resilience and deep-rooted commitment to pluralism. They also ignore India's experience under a dynasty which during the past two decades has done more to erode India's democratic institutions and political and economic stability than the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

Indeed, one can argue that India's chance of attaining greater political stability will be considerably enhanced in the coming months as a result of the inevitable split in the Congress (I) party and the subsequent political realignments which will take place. These could provide the basis for majority government and decisive leadership which India needs and did otherwise not appear likely to get in the foreseeable future.
Kamal Mahotra is director, overseas program, Community Aid Abroad.

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