In his book, The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, American political psychologist Drew Westen argues that feelings trump cold analysis in the making of political choices. What, then, was the dominant sentiment that resulted in the massive mandate for Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party in India’s latest general election?
As an India-friendly Pakistani currently living in exile in the US, I observed the Indian election through the media as well as the eyes of many Indian friends. That, admittedly, does not qualify me as an authority on Indian politics. But as Benazir Bhutto used to say “There is a bit of India in every Pakistani and there is an element of Pakistan in every Indian.”
Pakistan’s democrats admire Indian democracy and have always done so, even at the risk of being accused of being pro-Indian by the country’s military-dominated establishment. Linked by a shared civilisation and having been one country until 1947, the political sentiments on both sides of the border have remarkable similarities.
Indians have adhered to democracy consistently while the democratic aspirations of Pakistanis have been devoured by an overwhelming military-intelligence complex. But, like India, Pakistan’s democratic process (whenever it is allowed to operate) is influenced by familiar feelings about caste, religion, feudal loyalty and ethnic identity.
In the first few elections after Independence, Indian politics was dominated by the sentiment of gratitude towards those who led the country to freedom from the British. The foremost sentiment in Pakistan, of trying to forge a new nation and to justify the two-nation theory, ended in the military’s dominance. The task of defining Pakistani nationhood could not be left by the military to feudal politicians prone to cutting deals among themselves.
The death of Jawaharlal Nehru resulted in contention for leadership among many equals within the Indian National Congress. Indira Gandhi could claim Nehru’s legacy through the bloodline, making it easy for the people to transfer their emotional loyalty from Nehru, the freedom fighter, to Indira, the freedom fighter’s daughter. Her tragic assassination triggered the emotion of respect for sacrifice, which continued after the assassination of her son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi. In Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) went through similar transitions after the judicial execution of the elder Bhutto and the terrorist assassination of his daughter, Benazir.
Family legacies had worked to build democracies in countries as far apart as Greece and