Thursday, December 22, 2011

A new window opens for India

For my Engineering degree, I studied in one of the famous Indian institutes of learning. Since our institute had a sort of Pan India nature, I had classmates from all over India. A similar situation prevailed for most of the courses taught in our institute. Some of the special courses, like Aeronautical Engineering, even had foreign students on their rolls. I distinctly remember having met a number of students from Egypt, during my college years. These Egyptians were a friendly lot. They studied hard and were most cordial when talking to other Indians and never confined or restricted themselves to the company of their own countrymen. Those were the days of great bonhomie between India and Egypt, with Indian Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and President Abdul Nasser of Egypt, forming some sort of coalition of Non-Aligned nations. Indian Government and Government of President Abdul Nasser, collaborated on many joint projects. This might have been the main reason for presence of the Egyptians in our institute. However, those days of friendship were soon lost as Nehru and Nasser passed away. Egypt moved towards Soviet block first and later moved on and became friendly with Americans. The special relationship between India and Egypt evaporated and only formal relations remained.
During course of last month, when situation in Egypt was headline stuff all over the world, I remembered often, those simple Egyptians who studied with me. As things finally turned out, Egyptians won their battle for democracy and ordinary Egyptians like my college friends, must have heaved a sigh of relief. Regretfully, the problem is not as yet over. Even though ordinary Egyptians like you and me are eagerly looking ahead for a democratic republic of Egypt. In reality, they have just won only a battle, they might still loose the war, if they are not vigilant. To become a true democracy, Egypt must hold a free and fair election to select new leaders, who can rule the country for a fixed period only. The power of selecting these leaders now and also in future, must lie firmly and precisely in the hands of the Egyptian masses.
What is true for today’s Egypt, may be true for tomorrow’s Bahrain, Yemen or Libya. Ordinary people from middle east, are just awakening to the idea of democracy. They may not be exactly aware about the pitfalls and the disadvantages of going democracy way. Many westerners, even today, compare China and India and come to the conclusion that India at best is a poor cousin to the Chinese. Achieving a goal or an aim is important for sure, but how that goal is achieved is also equally important. As an example, I can give you the example of an atomic power station proposed on western sea board of India. The experts have selected a site for this project, which may be excellent from technical point of view. However local people are not happy about the project. In China, local people would have been just transshipped to some remote locality by the police and forgotten. In India, the Government will have to convince the people about the project and local people would have to accept that the project is for their own good and good of the country, before the project can really go ahead. This is the power of democracy. I think that with all its disadvantages, it is still the best choice for any country. I am really happy that Egyptians have decided to choose democracy.
One of the claimants for power in Egypt, is an outlawed political organization founded in 1928, called Muslim brotherhood. Successive Egyptian governments since 1954, have considered this organization as a fundamentalist set up, trying to over throw the Government. Yet in 2005 parliamentary elections, Muslim brotherhood won 20% of the seats. Since they were not allowed to contest on brotherhood platform, they contested as independents and won. Whatever may be the nature of this organization, the fact remains that they have a huge stake in the future of Egypt.
Future of Egypt as a democracy, now hinges upon the next presidential election or to be precise, the way this election would be conducted. The election would have to be absolutely free and fair. For a country stuck in quagmire of autocracy for decades, this election would otherwise turn out to be just a rigmarole exercise and a farce. Muslim brotherhood, even with it’s suspect history and hierarchy, seems to be acutely aware of this catch 22 situation and has taken a very bold and unusual step. They have approached the Indian Government, to conduct the polls in their country, when it is ready to go to polls.
During the reign of deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood was banned in Egypt. In the post-Mubarak scenario of today, there are fears raised by many stake holders that considering the Islamist history and its role in the creation of Islamist movements, Muslim Brotherhood may yet seek to turn Egypt into an Islamic power. Few weeks back, this possibility of India helping out with Egypt elections, was also raised by US secretary of state in her meeting with foreign minister of India. What was the official reaction of the Government of India to that request is not known. There is however a difference. U.S. Might be friendly towards India and also Egypt. But it is still a foreign power and India, undertaking any such endeavour, on behest of a foreign power, may send wrong signals to the Egyptian masses and political parties. However, with the request coming from Muslim brotherhood now, which is an integral part of the politics in Egypt, the situation changes completely. India also can look upon this request as a unique opportunity to recast and refashion it’s relations with Egypt, which have been in doldrums during the Mubarak years.

India, after all, has a top grade election mechanism, run independently by it’s Election commission. It has therefore a huge credibility in conducting some of the world’s largest elections, absolutely freely and fairly. I think that this capability is opening a new vista for projecting India’s soft power , so far dominated by Bollywood, Curries, Music, textiles and Information Technology, and may find this pioneering enterprise to be a totally new and unexplored prospect. However, this is not the first time for India, to help in conducting free and fair elections in a foreign country. In July 1993, India helped Cambodia in conducting a free and fair election under auspices of United Nations Transitional Authority for Cambodia (UNTAC). While talking to ordinary Cambodian people, I have heard praise for India for this effort. I therefore see no reason for the Government of India not conceding to the request from Muslim Brotherhood to help in conducting free and fair elections in Egypt.
If Government of India accepts the challenge and helps in conducting a free and fair election in Egypt, I can imagine many gains for India in the middle east countries and also the world. After all how many countries in the world have capability and mechanism to carry out such an extensive exercise? Not many, I believe. It would enhance India’s soft power to a great extent. If a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines can win world wide contracts for material handling at the airports of the world, India’s election commission can certainly take up this job of conducting free and fair elections with ease, anywhere in the world. If this really happens, brand India would no longer be restricted to Bollywood, Indian curries, fashions and TV serials. Brand India would also mean democracy.
1st March 2011

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