Ever since the Westphalian Settlement (from circa 1645), most West European States evolved towards some form of national identity, as opposed to one derived from kingship. However the nature of governance did not change much. Spain and Portugal continued to be kingdoms, bent on exploiting the New World and Asia. The Netherlands became a State under a King. France continued to be under the rule of the Sun King (Louis IV) and his successors.

Great Britain experienced the moment of the Magna Carta in 1215. But it would be a huge stretch to say that this parchment immediately conferred full citizenship rights on all men in England. The English Crown continued to be the object of war between families and dynasties, domestic and foreign. Nothing appreciable happened to the ordinary man after the Magna Carta.

English Civil Liberties are a study in evolution marked by the extension of property rights and voting rights, the huge decline in the labour pool after the Black Death hit which changed the relationship between landlord and tenant of this on the expectations of the ruled. I am summarizing freely and much is lost in the telling.  It is also fair to say the first blows against absolute kingship were not struck by ordinary men but by men of property.
The American War of Independence, aided in no small measure by the fact that British blood shed during the Seven Year War removed the French threat to the colonies, was a seminal event. The events of the Revolution, the ideas transplanted from the Colonies via French soldiers who fought under Lafayette in aid of the Colonists, helped fuel the anger of French citizenry against a bad economy and an out of touch monarchy into assaulting the Bastille and launching the French Revolution. The new Republic was founded on the principles of liberte, egalite and fraternite. Separation between the Church and State was one of the founding principles. But look what happened next.

We know that the revolutionary fervour very quickly transformed into the murderous vengeance of Robespierre and his mobs, a zeitgeist so well captured by Dickens in “A Tale of Two Cities”. With a decade a Corsican general called Napoleon had captured the seat of power, crowned himself Emperor, and proceeded to give a fright to the whole of Europe.

The subsequent history of France through several monarchies, two Republics and a short period of Prussian rule through the 19th Century, is very well known. A modern France emerged by the dawn of the First World War (right after Emile Zola had forced France to confront its anti-Semitic soul in l’affaire Dreyfus), just in time to be caught in two World Wars.

Compare the above with the potted histories of the US, the USSR and India. The ideas these nations were founded on are post-Westphalian in the sense that strong religious or racial identities are not the substratum on which these nations were founded – though to be fair, the US was predominantly white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, the USSR mostly Russian and India mostly Hindu. But their founding documents make no reference to majoritarianism but stress equality in all things, in the eyes of a man-made instrument called the law, something “we give unto ourselves”.

In India in particular, the absence of majoritarianism in the Constitution, and the conduct of our Founding Fathers like Mahatma Gandhi in ensuring this, is today the subject of vicious trolling by the Twitterati. Our own Prime Minister authorizes his 2IC to call the Mahatma “just a clever Bania” and exalts the role of strong men (like Patel). That they do so in total ignorance of the fact that Sardar Patel was a Gandhian in every since would make one laugh were it not so sad.

If ideas and ideals are fiction around which human beings first organised themselves, then the ideal that individuals can ally themselves to treat each other fairly and not deny opportunity on account a condition they inherit (like race/religion/economic status) is a very powerful one.

India chose to adopt this path in 1950 and it is something that should inspire all of us and make us proud.

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