Wednesday, August 15, 2007

India at Sixty

There is understandable pride in India about her 60th birthday. The mood is upbeat because of uplifting economy, overall relative social peace, containment of security issues and India’s growing international clout.

If one has to be very explicit, the achievements of this nation are quite impressive and those can be listed as follows.

1. Except for 18 months when Indira Gandhi usurped fundamental rights during the Emergency Rule; the polity has been fundamentally Democratic through thick and thin. The electoral mechanism gave political power at the federal and state levels to various political formations from Left to Right in the ideological spectrum. In fact ‘stint in power’ by most of the political formations has been a singularly impressive achievement. It fundamentally helped to bring some of kind of basic understanding among political forces that elections can make you the ruler as well as make you sit in the opposition. As a result, the bitterness which results when only one political party rules for a prolonged period of time; is avoided.

2. To a large extent territorial integrity of the nation has been maintained. Considering the challenges of absorbing literally hundreds of titular kingdoms and sovereign principalities in early days; the integration of all these political sub parts and pre-modern stately components into the modern day federal state has laid down the solid foundations for India to build upon. The good thing is India has quite successfully enjoyed the benefits of these solid political foundations. Further, the way challenges posed by Punjab Terrorism were eventually dealt with; it is a glittering example of the might and power of Indian state.

3. One of the saddest parts in the entire history of the sub-continent has been the social chaos and the genocide which took place at the time of Partition in 1947. No doubt that was politically colossal failure of the British Empire, M. K. Gandhi, Congress Party and Muslim League leadership. However the nation, over the years, has ‘healed’ that deep seated wound in a fair manner; if not perfectly. There were subsequent occasions when the social fabric again came under the intense pressure along Hindu – Muslim lines. But apart from those sad episodes, Indian society is evolving towards non-violent coexistence of Hindu – Muslim religious divide.

4. The crowning strategic achievement of this nation has been how India contributed to the independence of Bangladesh. Not only India happened to be on the right side of the history in those times, she also achieved strategic equilibrium in her favor.

5. Another strategic fulfillment has been overall independence in pursuing nuclear weapons by not signing NPT. Western non-proliferation hawks would always frown upon India’s this policy. But the path has been in India’s proper interest. The recent conclusion of Dr. Singh – Pres. Bush accord of nuclear co-operation is also the right logical termination point of India’s historical policy in this matter.

6. Over the period of 6 decades, the problem of stark starvation, wide spread diseases and recurrent epidemics have been tackled at least up to a tolerable level. Considering the vast population of the nation, this is indeed an achievement to be proud of; especially when one compares the abysmally low level from where the nation started in 1947.

7. In recent years, economic advances have been impressive. Vibrant economy, along with the remarkable entrepreneurial spirit, has become the core engine of social transformation. Industrial and technological advances are giving the nation a chance to compete with other industrial societies on equal footing. In recent years, India is one of the rare countries which have ensured that she is on the ‘winning’ side of Globalization.

8. Finally, though not very consistently; Indian society has retained the necessary intellectual vigor and has demonstrated willingness to create and sustain autonomous ‘cultural space’ when the temptation to follow paradigms of other countries have been great. Bollywood and Cricket have been two prime examples where indigenous efforts to carve out cultural discourse are exemplary. Literary tradition is not totally lost too. Same for many other cultural traditions of India, those are retained in some form or the other.

Where independent India has failed to address some of the challenges are; those are as follows.

1. Pervasive influence of caste system. Electoral politics have complicated the ‘affirmative action policy’, originally formulated as a solution for this caste system. Caste based vote banks have taken life in themselves and the vicious grip of those vote banks on Indian elections does show any sign of weakening.

2. Some lingering and some new challenges to the territorial integrity are still open – Kashmir and the unrest in North East.

3. Maoist insurgency and other violent challenges to the State are still not fully resolved. In fact, in absence of resolute dealing with these divisive forces; dramatics cracks in the foundations of Indian state still may appear.

4. Along with these internal challenges to the stability; relations with neighboring South Asia are still far from harmonious and cohesive. Pakistan’s pursuit of militant policy is sure one factor which constrains India in developing more peaceful South Asia. But considering the political and economical weight of India in this region, India’s leadership role is still lacking and policy conduct is still narrow minded. Lot more imaginative and generous approaches are needed to run the foreign policy gamut with Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. There are no such signs at present.

5. Absence of uniform Land Reforms across the entire nation, lack of transparency in formulation and execution of land use policies and endemic corruption in real estate dealings; all these vices have resulted in deeply entrenched system which does not cater to ‘haves not’. Logjams in Judicial system do not provide any justice to poor. (Criminal Justice System is on little better footing due to Media pressure.) In fact, entire contemporary electoral politics – especially at city and state level - is in effect revolving around the corrupt means which are made available to politicians and rich to grab more wealth by wrong ways. With quite a limited availability of land in the first pace and continued population pressure; it is of paramount importance that land and real estate dealings are free of corruption so that it becomes an equitable system for common people. Instead of that, real estate dealings are becoming a prominent source by which rich – poor gap is sustained and increased.

6. As Indian economy grows and her population grows; infrastructure needs are vastly increasing. Water, road and electricity are needed in gigantic scale. Despite all the impressive economic growth numbers in recent years, lack of these infrastructure resources is proving to be a bottleneck of further economic prosperity. The way ‘regulation raj’ works in India; there does not seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel in this matter.

7. No doubt, India is enjoying the demographic sweet spot where are % of young people is very high. However, in years to come; this demographic picture will not remain that favorable; at which point India would wish she had planner for those inevitable increases in older population. There is no long term vision, no long term state sponsored mechanisms which provide uniform health services to the larger population, to older people. Even of for the current young population, negligence in providing top notch education results in criminal wastage of India’s talent.

8. Finally, cultural and social strains (assault on family structure, addiction problems and overall basic law and order issues) resulting from rapid economic activities and Globalization are not fully understood; nor there are any mechanisms in place to contain these social strains.

Umesh Patil
Cupertino, CA 95014
August 15, 2007.

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