Indian Republic Post Emergency Part One
January 28, 2010 1 Comment
India celebrated it’s 60th year of being a republic yesterday, though I tend to look upon it more as 33rd year of Republic post Emergency. The Emergency was nothing short of a rebirth of the nation.
I am not qualified to discuss anything prior to the 80s given the fact that I wasn’t at my observant best for some part of the period while for most of the period, I wasn’t simply there. 🙂
Through this note, I want to look back at all those events (and event makers !) that have turned a fledgling nation into a potential superpower that it seeks to be. It will include of course the hits as well as the misses.
Politics – Hits
a) Emergence of a national level alternative to sycophantic Congress : Even if it is the extreme right-wing. The brute majority enjoyed by Congress in the aftermath of Indira’s assassination is now comfortably part of folklore.
b) Art of Coalition management : Post emergency, India has finally reconciled to the fact that Governments can only survive on “mutual understanding” among political parties and based on a “common agenda”. Even with the flip side of political opportunism (like Karunanidhis) or blatant horse-trading, the coalition model has come to stay. P V Narasimha Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh have demonstrated amply on how to do the balancing act. Coalition politics with it’s inbuilt “check and balance” system is perhaps the perfect anti-dote to the brute authoritarian regime
c) RTI, Finest piece of Legislation : Finally the babudom gave way to transparency. Even if we have a long way to go in achieving complete transparency, atleast, we have made a beginning.
Politics – Misses
a) Assassinations : The assassination of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi robbed India of political leadership that was widely respected the world over. Indira is reviled for Emergency while Rajiv was learning from his mistakes. But for his untimely death in 1991, Rajiv would have emerged as a fine prime minister largely because he had understood his faux pas. I am also of the considerate view that Rajiv given his international statesmanship would have handled our western border monster, Pakistan much better ; much decisively.
b) Bofors Scandal : If there is one area where India boasts of a healthy CAGR, it is in corruption. Not only the size of the scams but the manner of the scams has left us bewildered. From fanciful shares to the humble fodder ; from cycles to coffins ; from a few thousands (bangaru laxman) to 60,000 crores (a.raasa) we have seen it all. Bofors in this context is a watershed event in the corrupt annals of our country. India is often accused of not providing a level-playing field to it’s citizens ; if there’s one aspect of Indian political system which doesn’t have a “first among equal” it is in corruption. Everyone is incorrigibly and unequivocally corrupt.
c) Shah Bano : Ram Janma Bhoomi : Fuzzy Secularism : The 3 mainstream political groups in India are aligned so comically that to an external observer all of them can appear at once communal and secular. While congress is the leader of orchestrated obscurantism, the BJP is unabashedly pro-Hindu. The supposedly atheist Left will take on the BJP while turning a blind eye to the irregularities of Durga Puja and of course would not dare say anything against non-Hindu fundamentals. Secularism is the most abused plank for those in the electoral fray in the last 2 decades.
Society – Hits
a) Indian Union : Somehow we are still together : The odds against India staying together are very high ; Afterall we are a country where everyone, every community, every region, every state feels victimized. Newer grouses and deprivations are found every day in a country where the State is viewed as the foremost enemy of the society, despite which we have still managed to stay as a country, nothing short of a miracle.
b) India = US = Middle class : The emergence of a 200 Mn strong ‘New Middle class’ almost the size of the US population has completely turned the tables on the political scene. Ruling an impoverished, ill-informed India, the political masters held sway ; the middle class changed it all. The political parties could no longer afford to ignore the voice of the people. Though the new middle class increased the alienation of those in abject penury, I would still reckon this to be a “Hit” only because, the political class, finally understood the language of accountability.
c) Social Taboos made way : Much needs to be done in the social sphere but that should not prevent us from acknowledging the fact that as a society we have moved ahead. Despite Rizwan and honor killings, the ossified Indian society has loosened it’s vice grip on the several parameters of social exclusion.
Society – Misses
a) Babri Masjid : Gujarat : Soft under belly of Hindu-Muslim Unity exposed : The riots following the Babri Masjid demolition and then the shameful Godhra pogrom reflected the soft under belly of unity between India’s largest communities. The relationship between both the communities at times has been one of unease with neither of them trusting the other completely. The leaders of the communities, sadly have also been a let down.
b) Reservations : Neo-group : The architect of Indian Constitution, Dr Ambedkar, felt that Reservations are necessary to bring social equality. He foresaw that over a decade level-playing field should be created. But alas, his dream remains unfulfilled even as of today. All that Reservations have achieved is to create a clamor for backwardness and leading the country into a downward spiral of mediocrity. The policy makers have remained mute spectators because in this game of Reservations, it is political wisdom to play the victim. Reservations have created a neo-group of backwards who usurp all the benefits leaving the real poor where they were before Reservations.
c) Rise of Regional Parochialism: The alternative to Congress, apart from a national level right-wing also came from regional parties. While this meant more choices for the people, unfortunately, the side-effect of this meant that “regional biases” got firmed up. Marathi manoos and Tamil parochialism are stark reminders of the regional bias that has engulfed our society in the last 2 decades. The imbalanced growth also doesn’t help matters. Union Ministers, mostly from TN regional parties were so incorrigibly biased towards their State that their allegiance to the nation was almost in doubt. And ofcourse Raj Thackeray who is a law unto himself in Maharashtra.
Economy – Hits
a) 1991 : Secular rate to Gallop : Two silent, low-key men architected India’s remarkable growth story of the last 2 decades – P V Narasimha Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh. From an import substituting protectionist licence raj regime, Dr Manmohan Singh revitalized the Indian economy to the position where it is today. Manmohan knew Economics while PVN knew how not to interfere. The script they wrote together is the “Sholay of Indian Economy”.
b) IT : Wealth Distribution : India was known to the Western world as a land of snake charmers, tigers, elephants and Indians as people who worshipped monkeys. The great “Indian rope trick” was a reference to the mystique that surrounded India. Anything “Made in India” was an euphemism for poor often shoddy quality ; And then came Information Technology which changed India and how. Even with the ramshackled education system we had, somehow, we Indians learned to speak English, a little better than other South Asian countries and China. And with that English we combined IT knowledge. A deluge of low key opportunities came in the form of Y2K and the wheels of the IT industry was set in motion. Infosys happened ; TCS moved in and Wipro diversified into IT and the rest as they say is history. Apart from filling the coffers of RBI with foreign exchange, IT also proved to be a wealth creator of immense proportion.
c) Infrastructure : Finally the sleeping monolith, Indian Government woke up. Having tasted growth rates far in excess of the “Secular Hindu rate of growth” the Government suddenly realized that lack of infrastructure was chaining the economic elephant. Projects started getting clearance much faster and with much less “speed money”. Every city in India is today a city under “perpetual construction”. Most of the infrastructure that we are creating today must have been in place atleast a decade ago, but what the heck, as they say “better late than never”.
Economy – Misses
a) Manufacture : Losing to the Dragon : While we have every right to feel proud about our growth story and the Services sector, we have sadly lost out to China which is firmly in place as the “Manufacturer for Mankind”. From Soaps to Submarines, from Toys to Televisions, from Milk biscuits to Missiles, the world looks to China. Alas, we have lost out. The loss is more worrying because we have a huge unskilled labour which cannot be engaged in Services sector.
b) Balancing Development : Somewhere in this hectic pace of growth, India has forgotten the importance of balancing development. Ecological impact of development is unheeded and the Govt is sadly siding up with MNCs to rob poor tribals of their only wealth – their forests. It has fuelled extreme reactions in the form of Maoism which is threatening life and livelihood of atleast 4 states of India.
c) ‘Dil Maange More’: Consumerism : The increase in the disposable incomes of people has resulted in Indians becoming a lot more consumerist than their forefathers. India’s growth, expert economist note, is consumption lead. While it has it’s own benefits in terms of insulating from global recessions, it does not behoove well for a nation whose economic strength traditionally has been savings led. Mindless consumerism has also further alienated the poor from the national mainstream. 20% of India is shining while 80% is whining and the Government is, as usual, snoring.