- Separated at Birth?
Six and a half decades ago, on 14 and 15 August 1947, Pakistan and India emerged as sovereign states from what had been Britain’s Indian Empire. Within three years of independence, India had drafted a liberal-democratic constitution. Two years after that, it held its first free and fair elections, based on a universal adult franchise.
Pakistan needed nine years to produce its first constitution, and its initial experience with democracy was cut short almost before it had a chance to begin: A 1958 military coup led by General Mohammad Ayub Khan swept aside civilian rule in a pattern that would dominate Pakistan’s history. When Ayub Khan stepped down in 1969, he handed power to another military dictator, General Yahya Khan. Since the second Khan left office in 1971, Pakistan has seen additional stretches of military rule under generals Mohammad Zia ul-Haq (1978–88) and Pervez Musharraf (1999–2008).
The pathways of the two states could not have been more different. Except for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s 1975–77 “state of emergency” and suspension of key rights and liberties, India’s democracy, though hardly without flaws, has endured and indeed deepened. Pakistan, meanwhile, has lived under the shadow of the coup.
What explains the divergent paths of these two states? Why did democracy fail to find fertile ground in Pakistan but flourish in India [End Page 168] even though both states had emerged from the same colonial experience? The questions are significant because democracy took root in India under the most adverse circumstances. Shortly after independence and partition, literacy was just under 17 percent (according to the 1951 census), most people lived in grinding poverty, and social and ethnic cleavages were deep and widespread.
India’s experience belies the long-held notion that democracy requires the presence of a preponderant middle class. Pakistan has defied conventional wisdom in a less happy way: Despite enjoying robust economic growth in the 1950s and 1960s, the country failed to make a successful transition to democracy. Even when civilian and democratic regimes managed to take office, their tenures proved short.
As a nascent state, India faced rafts of problems. Yet the Indian National Congress, the party that had spearheaded the Indian independence movement, managed to foster institutions and practices that were and are soundly democratic—not least among them solid civilian control over the military. By contrast, the principal nationalist party in Pakistan, the Muslim League, proved woefully unequal to such tasks. Matters became even worse when West and East Pakistan fell into a civil war and (following India’s intervention) broke up to form the separate states of Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1971.
Even though the experiences of India and Pakistan stand out as glaring anomalies in the literature on democratic transitions, few scholars working with primary sources have explored how their paths managed to fork so dramatically. Maya Tudor is one of these scholars. After explaining the insufficiency of accounts that cite differing colonial inheritances, international influences, ethnic cleavages, and the possible link between Islam and political authoritarianism, she makes her own straightforward case. The key to grasping why India and Pakistan are so different politically, she claims, is to be found in the structures, organizations, and ideologies of the two political parties that dominated the respective nationalist movements. Her explanation, though not wholly novel, is nevertheless cogently stated, backed by original research, and superbly argued.
Some may quibble that she is covering familiar ground, but she carefully uses new evidence to show in exquisite detail how the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League emerged and evolved.
Congress began in 1885 as a moderate, mostly upper-class organization with the limited goal of lobbying for representative government. Its outlook was always liberal. By the early twentieth century, it was steadily expanding its political horizons and seeking to extend its reach into rural India. Tudor fairly credits Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948) for his extraordinary role in mobilizing India’s poor and dispossessed, even as she notes that his...