Comparative Democratisation

The Trajectory of Pakistan and India's Divergent Democracies

India and Pakistan are two neighboring countries with a shared colonial past and similar inherited state structures, however, the political progression in each country differs drastically. Maya Tudor’s book titled The Promise of Power explains this divergence through the development of dominant political parties before partition of the subcontinent and how these were institutionalized. The independence movements of both these countries depended on the interests of the prominent social classes of the time, which were pro-democratic in the case of India and anti-democratic for Pakistan. In the region which is now India, an urban, educated middle class began to grow in the 19th century which lobbied for state power and a more representative political process, leading to the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. On the other hand, in the region which is now Pakistan, the landed aristocracy formed the Muslim League in 1906 to lobby for separate electorates, meaning that as a minority Muslims would select their representatives separately, in an attempt to retain their stronghold and hence going against a main tenet of representative democracy. Tudor posits that these class interests determined how strong or weak these political parties were, as well as the type of nationalist ideology they supported. Congress was able to come into the category of a strong political party because the class interests it represented included mass mobilization so that it could claim to be an “egalitarian” national movement. In the 1920s and 30s, it formed stronger ties with the rural and commercial middle classes by promising favorable changes in land and tax policies. Tudor puts forth the thesis that the Muslim League was not able to match the strength of the Congress, as it could not garner the support of the Muslim-majority provinces through its ideology of shared Muslim values. This was evidenced through its weak performance in the 1937 elections, after which it changed its strategy to form coalitions with powerful groups in these provinces, most prominently the Unionist Party of the landed nobility of Punjab and the Krishak Praja Party of the Bengali peasants- the problem with this approach was that these groups had competing interests and the union could not become sustainable in the long run.

The question which Tudor raises is how this difference in the class interests and strength of political parties during colonial rule affected the democratic structures of each country following independence. Both countries had to face similar issues when it came to establishing a newly independent state, in terms of defense, developing a constitution, overcoming a low rate of economic development, and integrating a large refugee community. However, the method through which the arising issues were resolved in each country differed drastically, due to the organizational structure that the dominant political parties had institutionalized before partition. In India’s case, the ideology which had been propagated by the Congress of a unified movement based on democratic principles was carried forward and it delivered on certain promises like allowing universal adult franchise. In Pakistan, however, the Muslim League lacked a unifying factor and prominent social groups exited after partition to form “coalitions of convenience”, leading to political instability which made it easier for the military establishment to intervene and the eventual military coup of 1958. Indeed, through the trajectory of Pakistan’s political development, the hegemony of the civil and military bureaucracy and the country’s susceptibility to authoritarianism is evident. Tudor hence makes a conclusive argument that the divergence in political processes is explained not by Pakistan’s low level of economic development and extreme inequality, as those parameters are comparable with India, rather it is the structure and strength of pre-partition political organizations which has determined the manifestation of the democratic regimes we see today.


Fatima Azmat

Research Associate at Pakistan At Hundred, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)