Hindus have faced multiple existential threats over the past millennium. From the ramaging Huns (who destroyed Takshashila) to the murderous hordes of Islamic invaders and Christian colonisers such as the Portuguese and British who destroyed the Indian economy and society, Hindus have faced them all and through sheer grit have defeated each of them.
How did Hindu society prevail over these powerful forces? Well, first up, the Hindus knew who the enemy was. Whether it was Mahmud Ghazni, Alauddin Khilji, Aurangzeb, Tipu or the British, it was easy to identify the enemy because he came with the sword or the gun, killing millions, ravaging the land and enslaving millions more. So Hindus fought them with all their might.
But over the past century a silent killer has been at work, destroying all the gains made by Hindus in their wars against the foreign invaders. That assassin is democracy which has empowered the defeated forces of Islam and Christianity through elections which are the No.1 cause of minority appeasement. In a pre-democratic form of government, the minorities would have behaved like a normal group, enjoying basic human rights but without stepping on the toes of Hindu majority. However, electoral politics allows the minorities to act like a vote bank and influence results. They thus develop a false sense of power over the majority and start making unreasonable demands.
Another major threat that democracy poses to Hindus is that elections are an incentive for the minorities, especially Muslims, to outbreed everyone. Because elections are a numbers game, the more Muslims (and Christians) there are in a constituency, the easier it is for the non-Hindu parties to win the poll. This is most starkly visible in Kerala where Muslims have grown from 20 percent of the population a generation ago to 30 percent today. Kerala Muslims thus not only have a lock on their citadel of Malappuram (where they are an overwhelming 70 percent majority), they are also a decisive factor across Kerala, making it all but impossible for the BJP to win a Lok Sabha seat in Kerala.
Democracy is a drag
Democracy is a drag that prevents India from achieving great power status. According to Lee Kuan Yew, the late Prime Minister of Singapore and one of the greatest strategists of the 20th century, India has suffered greatly due to electoral politics. In the words of the Singapore strongman, “The exuberance of democracy leads to undisciplined and disorderly conditions which are inimical to development.”
In Lee’s view, “Democratic procedures have no intrinsic value. What matters is good government.” The government’s primary duty is to create a “stable and orderly society” where “people are well cared for, their food, housing, employment, health”.
“Democracy is one way of getting the job done, but if non-electoral procedures are more conducive to the attainment of valued ends, then I’m against democracy. Nothing is morally at stake in the choice of procedures.”
In this book ‘Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World’ by Graham Allison, Robert Blackwill and Ali Wyne, there is a chapter on India. In this classic, Lee says in his no-nonsense style: “India has wasted decades in state planning and controls that have bogged it down in bureaucracy and corruption. A decentralised system would have allowed more centres like Bangalore and Bombay to grow and prosper….India is a nation of unfulfilled greatness. Its potential has lain fallow, underused.”
Lee believes the culprit is uncontrolled democracy. “There are limitations in India’s constitutional system and the political system that prevent it from going at high speed. Whatever the political leadership may want to do, it must go through a very complex system at the centre, and then even a more complex system in the various states….Indians will go at a tempo which is decided by their constitution, by their ethnic mix, by their voting patterns, and the resulting coalition governments, which makes for very difficult decision-making.
“Furthermore, populist democracy makes Indian policies less consistent, with regular changes in ruling parties.”
Nation building: no easy task.
During a rally in 1980, Lee described what it took to transform Singapore, which was a small, dirty colonial trading post, into one of the wealthiest nations in the world: “Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him, or give it up! This is not a game of cards! This is your life and mine! I spent a whole life-time building this, and as long as I am in charge, nobody is going to knock it down.”
Lee walked his talk. Under him, Singapore became a de facto one-party state. He disallowed dissent, curbed free speech, introduced corporal punishment, and even banned chewing gum. Was he a tyrant? Benevolent dictator would be a better description. For, Singaporeans loved him for raising their living standards and, more importantly, their prestige.
Lee served in office from 1959 to 1990, during which time he led his country through a period of remarkable economic growth and diversification. When he took over as Prime Minister, Singapore’s annual per capita income was $400; today it is estimated at $56,000.
The road not taken
If Singapore had taken the democratic route, would it have been as chaotic as India? Would it have been less prosperous? For the answers let’s turn to Russia and how it first experimented with chaotic democracy and later opted for strong central rule under President Vladimir Putin.
When democracy arrived in Russia after the collapse of communism in 1991, it was pretty much free for all. The country was under the grip of criminal syndicates and sundry opportunists. The economy, remote controlled by the IMF and the World Bank, was in free fall, without the bottom in sight.
And yet in the Western view, god was in his heaven and everything was right with the world. The suffering of the Russian people didn’t matter to them. Rather, the pictures of once proud pensioners now reduced to trading their World War II medals for a loaf of bread were gleefully published by TIME, Newsweek, and The Economist.
Putin walked into this mess. His entry was dramatic – the Russian stock market jumped 17 per cent the day he got the job in 1999.
During Putin’s first stint in power (from 1999-2008), the Russian economy recorded an average growth of 7 per cent annually. During this period, industry grew 75 per cent, while real incomes more than doubled. The monthly salary of the man in the street went from $80 to almost $600. The IMF, which worked overtime to destroy Russia’s state-owned corporations and banks, admits that from 2000 to 2006, the Russian middle class grew from 8 million to 55 million. The number of families living below the poverty line decreased from 30 per cent in 2000 to 14 per cent in 2008. Today, despite the impact of the Ukraine War, the Russian economy hasn’t collapsed, Russian banks haven’t folded, and Russian companies are well-placed to survive the global recession.
How did Putin achieve that? First up, he rejected the notion that Western democracy and values are universal. He opted for strong central rule from Moscow because traditionally the Russian people have preferred a strongman at the helm. Russians by nature are undisciplined and require a leader like Putin to steer the country. Without a powerful centre, Russia tends to descend into chaos and lawlessness.
This is precisely what Lee had done in Singapore. As the Singapore Prime Minister was fond of saying, “I do not believe you can impose on other countries standards which are alien and totally disconnected with their past.” In his view, “to ask China to become a democracy, when in its 5,000 years of recorded history it never counted heads” was completely unreasonable.
The problem with the West is that it treats democracy as religion – so sacred that it will bomb countries into the stone age in order to sow the seeds of democracy in those places. That is what George W. Bush claimed the Americans were doing in Iraq. The Americans and their NATO friends claimed they were introducing democracy in Libya. Both attempts were spectacular failures.
In a democratic form of government the party or candidate that gets the most votes is the winner. Such a system may seem fair but in reality can create unfortunate outcomes. For instance, a large number of candidates can divide votes so that a totally unpopular and unqualified candidate can squirm his way to victory. This has happened most starkly in India where the Congress party ruled India for over six decades despite not getting the majority of the votes. In the US too, Western-style democracy could not prevent the theft of the 2000 Presidential elections where Al Gore got more votes than George W. Bush and still lost.
Lee spoke against such imperfect election tools during an interview in 1999:
“My view is that people’s preferences matter, but I don’t define the people’s preferences as merely the views of existing majorities. ‘The people’, as I see it, includes future generations, and governments have a special responsibility to resist popular pressure for tax breaks and welfare measures that undermine the prospects of future generations. So perhaps we should define democracy as a government chosen by the people, including contemporary and future generations.”
In contrast to Lee’s strong sense of nationalism, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was completely delusional. Instead of raising living standards, Nehru spent his time and energy on the chimera of world peace. Today, he is described as the “breaker of modern India”. Unlike Lee, Nehru lapped up what his former colonial masters dished out to him. He imposed Western democracy on a poor and divided country, causing chaos that slowed economic growth and caused numerous caste and religious conflicts.
A leader who protects his country’s interests is not necessarily a tyrant. Gen Augusto Pinochet, a Western stooge who killed thousands of Chileans, was a tyrant. But Lee and Putin come under the category of nation builders. Indeed, because of the dramatic economic growth of Russia, China, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries, authoritarian prosperity rather than democracy is now a viable governing option for developing countries. It is yet another example of the rejection of Western ideas by the emerging world.
Around 2,300 years ago, Chanakya, the master of statecraft and the mentor of the Mauryan Empire wrote in the Arthashastra: “The foremost duty of a ruler is to keep his people happy and content. The people are his biggest asset as well as the source of peril. They will not support a weak administration.”
It’s ironic that Lee, a man of Chinese ethnicity, internalised Chanakyan strategy, but Hindus only make internet memes on it.
States like Kerala are not lost in a day; it can take decades of rampant Muslim population growth to reduce the local Hindus to electoral insignificance. Hindu are a minority in nine of India’s 28 states. By 2047, growing Muslim and Christian numbers may well create multiple Keralas across India. The sooner Hindus reject electoral politics and opt for indefinite Central Rule, the better it would be for their long-term survival. It would also allow our leaders to concentrate on nation building and pursue India’s destiny as a great power – without being distracted by the endless rollercoaster of state and general elections.
Featured image sourced from internet.