Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Canada and India-Destiny of their peoples.

“we do not have the right to make Canada an exclusively French country any more than the Anglo-Canadians have the right to make it an English country.”-Henri Bourassa

An India that denies itself to some Indians would no longer be the India Mahatma Gandhi fought to free.1

 Canada and India have both albeit separately faced similar challenges and reacted in a common manner. In the political sphere Pluralism and democracy have been confronted with challenges in India and Canada not least sucessionism and terrorism, but remain important foundations on which the two countries depend. In the economic sphere both countries have had their government controlled social programs and continue to have them till this day even as they struggle with deregulation and privatisation.

The Political Sphere

We begin with a quote from Sunil Khilnanis “The Idea of India” where he sees in India’s democratic experience evidence of something that James Madison and his Federalist colleagues well understood more than two hundred years ago. “Large republics with diverse and conflicting interests can be a better home for liberty, a safer haven against tyranny, than homogenous and exclusive ones. Within them, factions and differences can check one another, moderating ideological fervour and softening power.” This statement could hold as true of Canada as of India..

Common features between India and Canada are many but what stands out are the adherence to Secularism in India’s case and Pluralism in Canadas case. In the case of India its emergence as a secular state despite the native religiosity of its people is significant. Indeed India stands apart from its immediate neighbours Bangladesh and Pakistan specially in having forsaken an ethnic religion as the basis of its national development. With its large size India presents a natural case as a country which should be given its due in world affairs but our case is that its very much for the features that accompany India’s large size that it should be given importance specifically its adherence by and large to secularism and its independent chartering out of its economic path. Despite ambivalence over its federal structure and a strong centre India continues to have ideologically contrasting parties at the helm in many cases at the centre and the states. Despite prophets of doom warning against disintegration regional parties continue to bloom.. It is the democratic structure of India’s nationalist movement which has bequeathed to us an egalitarian structure of governance, in these days of abuse of the nationalist movement and its icons specially in Gujarat (except Sardar Patel) it would serve us well to remember a quote from a popular book on modern Indian history. “A nationalist movement has to be disciplined and organizationally strong and united; yet it cannot afford to be monolithic or authoritarian”2
We have looked at the common features of India and Canada in this light through icons of the respective countries- Nehru and Trudeau

 Trudeau ‘represented a legitimate strand of Quebec thought or opinion, often overlooked both inside the province and in the rest of Canada.’ 3   That opinion was of providing the rights of French-Canadian people within Canada. Trudeau’s credo was to strengthen individual rights over groups. His approach ‘urged French speaking Quebeckers to seek their future in a larger Canada than a narrower Quebec; it stressed safeguards for individual rights rather than the collective responsibilities of a beleaguered French-Canadian people.’4

This was similar to Henri Bourassa who represented a strand of Quebec thought which was unique in Canada in the late nineteenth century another thought or opinion-Indian nationalism was inaugurated in the same time period. This phrase Indian nationalism is somewhat misleading; “Infact a sense of region and nation emerged together through parallel self definitions-and this point is essential to any understanding of the distinctive layered character of Indianness”5

The commonness in Bourassa’s thesis of a federal security to French Canadians and Jinnah’s initial project to protect the interests of  the muslim minority in provinces is noticeable.

This need for a federal balance in population is reflected in Bourassa’s thinking as well when he claims “we do not have the right to make Canada an exclusively French country any more than the Anglo-Canadians have the right to make it an English country.”

But indeed Bourassa had strong roots, he had a conviction that  the church and the French culture were coexistential. In this respect he was close to Maulana Azad who had deep roots in Islamic tradition and simultaneously in Indian tradition. Bourassa had deep roots in the church and in French Language and culture but even so had an unshakeable belief in Canadian unity.

With regard to federal –provincial relations and constitutional reform too Trudeau’s steps mirrored his credo of individual rights over groups. However his governments overall record was mixed with regard to this ‘bold in approach, but often enfeebled and infirm in withstanding the provinces political demands.’6 This credo was however put to test in the crisis of Autumn 1970. Trudeau was definitely not one ‘to put Quebec in its place’ unlike what some commentators noted, instead his efforts was always for cultural and social accommodation following his credo.

 Notwithstanding his approach, or perhaps, because of it, during the crisis of October 1970 Trudeau while initially making some concessions dealt with terror with a heavy hand. In this he showed that whereas he was all for individual freedom the legitimacy and the authority of the State was to be upheld. As Trudeau explained ‘Freedom and personal security are safeguarded by laws; those laws must be respected in order to be effective.’

He emphasized ‘This government is not acting out of fear. It is acting to prevent fear from is acting to make clear to kidnappers and revolutionaries and assassins that in this country laws are made and changed by the elected representatives of all Canadians-not by a handful of self selected dictators.’

Trudeau it was claimed was acting during this crisis to discredit the PQ, but this is clearly contradicted by his statements and that of his Ministers at this time. Thus Trudeau’s record as a democrat is enhanced not weakened by the events of October 1970.

The Economic Sphere

As Welfare measures continue to be taken up for their citizens by both Canada and India  these two large countries have charted their own course of Economic reform independently to a large extent of outside influences. The nationalist movement bequeathed an India that was to chart out its own course after independence-The Indian economy, even while being  an integral part of the world  economy, was to be based on self-reliance, free of subordination to the metropolitan interests or domination by foreign capital7
However as Francine Frankel brings out in her book “ India’s Political Economy 1947-2004” growth and democratic social transformation were two separate but related goals of economic planning-“In the early years of Independence, two contradictory tendencies were already well advanced inside the Congress party-socialist principles and liberal economic policies.

. As Shashi Tharoor writes in his book “India:from midnight to the millennium”-“India is the most important country for the future of the world …for Indians stand at the intersection of four of the most important debates facing the world at the end of the twentieth century:
  • The bread-versus-freedom debate.
  • The centralization-versus-federalism debate
  • The pluralism-versus-fundamentalism debate.
  • The “Coca-colonization” debate or globalization versus self reliance.”

However in order to get a true flavour of these debates they need to be studied in their historical context and by looking at Nehru’s role in setting up the context against or for which most Indians position themselves making Nehru vilified but never possible to ignore, we may also look at the lessons for India from Canada, particularly the Trudeau years with regard to these issues.

As Trudeau himself writes in the introduction to the book “Towards a just society” edited jointly with Thomas Axworthy-
The ideas that animated our efforts from 1968 to 1984 are every bit as compelling today as they were during our years of power.
  • We fought for a Canada where individual rights including linguistic rights, would be accepted across the land.
  • We fought for a strong federal government capable of initiating programs that would equalize opportunities for Canadians wherever they happened to live.
  • We fought for an independent Canadian economy and foreign policy so that we would have the ability to create and maintain a distinctive way of life in our part of North America.
  • We fought for a fairer, more humane Canada, in which the power of government was a necessary instrument in the quest for a more just society.

  1. Shashi Tharoor , India-from midnight to millennium, Penguin Books India 2000, Millenium Edition.
  2. Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, India after Independence 1947-2000, Penguin, Fourth Impression , 2002.
  3. Robert Bothwell, Ian Drummond and John English, 2001, Canada after 1945., Toronto, University of Toronto Press, Revised Edition.
  4. Ibid.,
  5. Sunil Khilnani,The Idea of India, Penguin, 2003
  6.  Op.cit.,Bothwell,
  7. Op.cit., Khilnani..

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