Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Off-track Journey of the Indian Republic

Saddled with the colonial exploitative system of governance, against which the freedom struggle was waged, the republic of India embarked on its journey of rebuilding a battered nation with glorious past. The Constitution which guided and regulated this journey, however, suffered from inner contradictions to start with. While the people of India ‘adopted, enacted and gave to themselves a Constitution' in pursuance of their solemn resolve to constitute India into a ‘sovereign socialist secular democratic republic’, it adopted a system of governance which was designed and used notoriously to exploit a colony to serve the interests of a ‘colonial empire'. With such an instrument, the 'solemn resolve' of the people can hardly be ever achieved. After all, an instrument must be designed and tailored to achieve the purpose it is intended for. It is due to this fundamental intrinsic contradiction that the basic constitutional principles of ‘sovereignty of people', ‘socialistic pattern of society’, ‘secular polity’, ‘democratic governance' and a 'republic character of the nation' have not been carried out in practice, as has been seen in the sixty years of journey of the Indian republic and as have been dealt with and discussed in the previous blog posts titled ‘India's Illusion of Democracy – I and II’ (May 8 and June 8, 2009), ‘Reality of India's Sovereignty’ (July 9, 2009), 'Secularism in the Indian Republic’ ( Aug 9, 2009), ‘What Happened to India's Socialism?’ (Sept. 9, 2009), and ' Is India a True or Ideal Republic?’ (Oct 11, 2009). Apart from these basic declarations of the Constitution and aspirations of the people remaining utterly unfulfilled and even negated in some cases such as in achieving a socialistic pattern of society, the Indian republic has been faced with increasing proportions of various critical problems such as corruption in public life ( see blog post ‘Culture of Corruption in Public Life in Contemporary India’ - Nov. 9, 2009), poverty and economic disparity (see blog post ‘Emergence, Prevalence and Perpetuation of Poverty in India’ – Jan. 9, 2010) and insurgency and other disruptive activities (see blog post ‘Insurgency and Other Disruptive Forces Crippling India’ - Dec. 22, 2009). Overriding all these problems starkly facing the nation, what is really worrisome is the steep decline of political morality in post independence India. Politics has become despicably power-centric. No principle is too sacrosanct to be sacrificed and no alliance is too detestable to be entered into in no-hold barred pursuit of power by the political parties. All kinds of immorality and even criminality have gained respectable or at least acceptable entry into the precincts of modern politics in India. While the British played religious cards in their divide-and-rule policy to retain their colonial hold over the country, the modern day political practitioners have no compunction in using any kind of social, economic, communal or territorial divide to exploit that division to serve their political interests. For them, the people are nothing but vote banks, just like the people are nothing but consumers for contemporary market operators. Both these operators, political as well as market, adopt any stratagem to lure their respective constituencies into serving their ends. While castes, communities or regions may be losing their significance in modern age dominated by science, technology, democracy and market forces, these divides are kept alive in order to exploit them for power-centric politics. Thus, all these problems generated and exacerbated in post- independence India have not only been sapping the vitality of the nation but have also endangered the unity and integrity of the Indian republic.

It is high time to pause and ponder whither India is going and, more importantly, whether the Indian republic is on the right track at all. As all the problems indicated above have been getting worse with time, it is easy to conclude that the republic has not been on the right track and hence it would be too naïve to hope that the things will improve and it would be all right with time. A wrong track can never lead to the right destination. The moot point is when and where did India embark on this wrong track. The journey of free India began on 15 Aug. 1947 and that of the republic of India on 26 Jan. 1950. While the track on which free India, in which power was transferred from London to Delhi, began its journey was set by the terms of transfer of power specified by the British Parliament in its Independence of India Act 1947, that of the republic of India was set by the provisions of the Constitution of India adopted in the name of the people of India by the Constituent Assembly on Nov. 26, 1949. As the Constitution of India adopted the same system of governance as was specified by the British Parliament as terms of transfer of power, i.e. the Govt. of India Act 1935, there was hardly any change of track for the journey of the republic of India from not only that of free India but also from that of colonial India since 1935. Of course, there were a few ceremonial changes brought about by the Constitution, like India being declared as a “sovereign, socialist secular democratic republic” and a British–pattern parliamentary democracy based on universal adult suffrage was set up. Due to adoption of the colonial system of governance, which is grossly incompatible with the aspirations of the people, declarations of the Constitution itself, however, have remained largely ornamental, creating illusions with no substance, as indicated and discussed earlier. And very often, illusions are more pernicious than express denial. One may wonder how the colonial system of governance, against which our very freedom struggle was waged under the inspiring leadership and guidance of Mahatma Gandhi, intruded into the Constitution of the republic of India. This has been discussed in the previous blog post titled, “Analysis of Politico-Economic Situation of India - How the Indian Republic went Off-Track”. It will be found that freedom brought about by sacrifices of millions of people inspired by the beacon call of Gandhi based on his authentic vision of free India was hijacked by the vested interest groups of Indians and vestiges of the colonial empire who were beneficiaries of the colonial system of governance. This hijacking was adroitly accomplished by inoculating the otherwise modern sounding constitution with the virus of colonial system of governance.

Thus it is clear that unless the Indian republic changes its track of journey, its process of degeneration will not come to an end and the myriad problems afflicting it will never be resolved. After an experience of sixty years of the republic’s journey, it will be simply living in a fool’s paradise to expect it otherwise. Even any mid-course correction on the existing track will not do. What the Indian republic needs is the change of its track of journey by ridding our Constitution of this virus and replacing it with really democratic governance where sovereignty of the nation will in reality lie with the people. Brought to health and vigor by this change of track, its journey will gain a positive momentum which will ensure redeeming its pledge of its long cherished ‘tryst with destiny’ for a nation having an uninterrupted thousands of years of culture, resources, and genius.

Today India has completed 63 years of its existence as a ‘free nation’. The enthusiasm and exuberance witnessed this day in 1947 were inspired by hopes and aspirations of the long suppressed and suffering masses of India. These hopes and aspirations were kept alive by the declarations and speeches made from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi and the rostrums in the state capitals. One can, however, clearly discern that they have been getting dimmed over the years, culminating into disillusionments and frustrations today. Enthusiasm and exuberance on these occasions have given way to indifference and even antipathy, turning these solemn public occasions into mere state rituals. Over the years, India has degenerated unabatedly, manifesting in myriad problems afflicting its body politic which have been defying all our efforts to tackle them.

Let us resolve today to rid India of the debilitating virus of the colonial system of governance, to bring health and vigour to a nation which is the inheritor of an excellent culture and reclaim the exuberance of real freedom befitting this day. What is the right track for such a free India, how to mount it and what will be a realistic vision of the journey on it will be dealt with in a follow up new Blog series.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Analysis of Politico-Economic Situation of India – How the Indian Republic Went Off-track

In the previous post on this blog dated 15 March 2010, it was pointed out that decline in political morality, corruption in public life, impoverishment and economic disparity as well as social unrest and insurgency have been increasing in the republic of India since day one irrespective of various political parties having been in power or various leaders heading governments. In the flush of freedom and fires of its freedom fighter leaders, India's decadence was far from apparent in the initial years of the journey of the republic of India. It became progressively more discernible until it is loud and clear now. It was also indicated in the previous post that the worsening of the situation with an increasingly faster pace is primarily and dominantly attributable to the Indian Constitution which adopted essentially the same system of governance as given in Govt. of India Act 1935, which was designed and used to exploit the colony of India; which was perceived by Mahatma Gandhi to be the main culprit for destitution and degradation of India; and for the abolition of which the Congress, the vanguard political party fighting for India's freedom, had consistently campaigned. As this amounts to a negation of India's freedom struggle, an anti-thesis of the precepts and preachings of Gandhi - the architect of this freedom, and a betrayal of the masses of India who suffered and sacrificed in the struggle for freedom at the inspiring call of their leader, it is worth examining how and why it happened.

After the Indian territories in possession of the East India Company were brought under direct control of the British Government in 1858 as a sequel to what was described as the Indian Mutiny by the British historians and as the first war of independence by the Indians, Acts were passed by the British Parliament called Government of India Acts from time to time ostensibly to provide 'good governance', which is an euphemism for efficient and orderly exploitation of the resources of the colony under the Crown. As all the affairs of British India were to be carried out under various provisions of the Govt. of India Act in force at that time, these Acts may be called as ‘constitutions of colonial India'. Changes and modifications were made in these Acts from time to time in response to emerging situations keeping the primary purpose of governance in tact, and were replaced by new Acts incorporating these changes and modifications. The Government of India 1935 was the latest which was to be replaced by a constitution to be framed by the Constituent Assembly in free India. This Constituent Assembly was set up as per the British Cabinet Mission Plan which visited India a little more than a year before India's independence as a prelude to, and in preparation of, transfer of power. As per this plan, the Constituent Assembly consisted of 229 members indirectly elected by the members of the legislative assemblies of the provinces of British India who were themselves elected in a limited franchise in the election in which only 28% of the population had voted, and 70 members nominated by the rulers of the princely states of India. The total number of members of the Constituent Assembly was fixed on the basis of population (roughly one per million). While the seats to be elected by the provincial assemblies were divided among the principal communities, classified for the purpose as Sikhs, Muslims and General (all except Sikhs and Muslims), no criteria or conditions were enforceable regarding members to be selected by the rulers to represent the population living in their princely states.

A Constituent Assembly so constituted was in contrast to the one elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage which was all along advocated by the Congress. Gandhi had written in 1939 that only such a “Constituent Assembly can produce a Constitution indigenous to the country and truly and fully representing the will of the people”. This Constituent Assembly no doubt comprised many outstanding leaders and personalities of that time. There were, however, large number of members who came from more or less privileged sections of the Indian society and there were many who had special interests to guard, had vested interests in the existing dispensation and were fearful of any fundamental break with the past. Members who really represented the toiling masses of India living in the villages and their aspirations as well as their dreams of their vastly improved status and conditions as free citizens were few and far between. In particular, grass roots leaders of the masses, whose views were moulded, formed and fashioned by the preachings and ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and were inspired by them during the non-violent freedom struggle were missing in this Assembly. Gandhi himself was conspicuous by his almost total non-involvement in this most important and crucial exercise of constitution making for an incipient nation making a transition from a colony to a free nation. In the initial periods of this exercise, while Gandhi seems like a lonely man trying to bring peace and sanity among the people driven by communal frenzy and to provide succor to the wounded persons and bereaved families in distant places in the communally charged nation, the constitution makers seem to have forgotten about him and his teachings in their deliberations. While Nehru did mention about him in his remarks in the inaugural meeting of the Constituent Assembly on 9 December 1946 in these words," but I have no doubt that his spirit hovers over this place and blesses our undertaking”, Gandhi’s guidance does not seem to have been sought while he was still around. Even this possibility ceased to exist with his assassination on 30 January 1948. As indicated earlier, members having grounding in and commitment for Gandhian thoughts were at best in silent minority in the Assembly. Consequently while the Constitution which emerged at the end of the day had all the trappings of a modern constitution ‘for a democratic sovereign republic', the system of governance which is the intsrumentality and driving force to make it a reality remained the same ‘business as usual’. In that sense, the Constitution of India proved to be just another modified Govt. of India Act of the colonial era. Freedom for which the freedom struggle was waged under the inspiring leadership of Gandhi; and the freedom of Rabindra Nath Tagore’s imagination, " Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high …, into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake” did not dawn on India either on Independence Day, 15 August 1947 or on Republic Day, 26 January 1950. The Indian Republic arose but the ‘Village Republics' in terms of which Gandhi saw free India did not see the light of the day. And thus, the Indian Republic started on its off-track journey with all this baggage of the colonial past rather than on the vigor and momentum of its own genius and indigenous values.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Analysis of Politico-Economic Situation of India - Where Did It Go Offtrack

In the previous post on this blog, a synoptic view of the politico-economic situation of contemporary India was presented. The prevailing situation in respect of morality in politics as practiced in India, corruption in public life, social unrest and insurgency in the country and poverty and economic disparity was discussed and was shown that, taking the situation prevailing in India at the time of its independence in 1947 as a reference point, these problems have progressively gotten worse over the six decades since then. There is also a general perception that the rate of decline in the situation in all these aspects has been rather on the increase over the period in spite of efforts having been made to arrest the decline. If this is so and there is no real ground to suppose otherwise, all concerned with and for India should really be worried about its future. There is lurking danger that many persons may be beguiled into complacency or even optimism based on the statistics of its economic growth, of its increased job opportunities in certain sectors of economy, or of increasing penetration of modern technology of mobiles and internet. But the stark facts of the Indian situation cannot, and must not, be glossed over by this flickering tokenism. If even these tokens are considered in perspective, they will reveal rather disturbing situation below their thin veneer. High rate of economic growth must be considered vis-a-vis increasing impoverishment in the country. According to one estimate, 77% of people of India live on an income of Rs. 20.00($0.5) a day. The so called economic reforms comprising liberalization, privatization and globalization have opened the vast Indian market to multinational companies, which resulted in creation of jobs and led to introduction of electronic and other goods manufactured by these companies in this ready-made market. These manifestations of ‘ positive changes’ in India are really the results of growth of related science and technology outside India as well as of ‘ liberalized , privatized and globalized economy’. These are indicative of neither development of science, technology and industry in India nor of corresponding or consequential changes in life and living of people .While India is the fourth largest user of internet i.e., consumers of related technology and industry in the world , this use is confined to only 7% of its people as compared to the next higher users Japan (75%) , U.S.A (74%) , and China (27%) . These positive changes are rather characteristic features of neo-colonialism, i.e., supplier of raw materials and resources including human resources and consumer of finished goods. The colonial British government too had introduced railways in India as far back as in 1857 and it did create jobs in India, in implementation as well as for its operation and maintenance. It, however, was meant to serve, and did serve, the ultimate purpose of economic exploitation of a colony.

The systematic decline since independence in the above mentioned four politico-economic aspects which broadly encompass the entire Indian situation is, however, too apparent to be denied or ignored. When India had been struggling under the inspiring leadership of Mahatma Gandhi for its freedom from exploitation and degradation that its people had been suffering from under the colonial dispensation , the freedom fighters would have hardly envisaged that the free India would evolve like the way it has done. And since the decline in the situation of free India has been evolutionary, it is obvious that free India has not been on the right tracks from day one. As the rate of decline has been increasing over the years, one may conclude that free India had positioned itself on rather a downward slope where descent naturally goes on with acceleration.

The moot point is to deliberate and determine where India went wrong right in the beginning of its journey as a free nation. If this is not done thoughtfully ,it is quite likely that we may misdiagnose the various ills that afflict the nation as it moved along , prescribe wrong remedies, get frustrated when the affliction does not go away or become more complex and serious and then declare in desperation that ‘India is not fit for democracy ’ , ‘politicians are to blame for the nation’s plight’, ‘corruption is too deep rooted and pervasive to be eliminated’, ‘administration is unresponsive and inefficient’, or similar such sweeping statements which lead nowhere.

In order to discover and determine where and how India went off-track since it became free, one must step back a little and look broadly at its struggle for freedom. It is widely agreed that Mahatma Gandhi gave a new direction, imparted a great momentum and introduced a novel weapon of non-violent non- cooperation in the freedom struggle. Moved by the plight of the people under the colonial rule, he drew the oppressed masses to this struggle and made it a real mass movement, which earlier was confined only to the intelligentsia. His guiding spirit and common refrain in the freedom movement was that he was fighting against the unjust and immoral system of governance through which India was systematically exploited and degraded and not necessarily against the British people who were merely operating it. This system was defined and elaborated in the Government of India Acts passed by the British Parliament. These Acts were amended from time to time to accommodate some of the demands of the freedom fighters under the overall objective of economic exploitation of India with consequent deprivation and degradation of its people. Under the Government of India Act 1935, a provision was made for governments to be formed in the provinces of British India by popularly elected representatives. However, the provincial governments so formed found various provisions in this Act abhorrent and constraining under which they were hardly able to act in order to satisfy the legitimate aspirations of the people and consequently they resigned in frustration after only a year or so. Henceforward, abolition of this Act itself became one of the important objectives of their independence struggle. When India was granted independence through the Indian Independence Act 1947, two provisions in this Act may be pointed out; one that until India framed its own constitution the Govt. of India Act 1935 would remain in force, and secondly the rights and privileges of members of the Indian Civil Service, who were under the control of British Secretary of State for India, would continue unchanged. The Constitution of India framed by the Constituent Assembly whose members were elected not directly by the people based on adult suffrage but indirectly by the members or the Legislative Assemblies of the provinces of British India as well as were nominated as representatives of the native Indian states, adopted the same system of governance as was operative in the 1935 Act and against which the freedom struggle was waged. The draft Constitution was criticized on two main counts in the Constituent Assembly. One that it was hardly indigenous to India having a rich heritage of culture and civilization and secondly, while it rejected the British rule, it adopted the institutions developed for and under this rule. These criticisms were recognized by Dr. Rajendra Prasad in his concluding speech but were glossed over in the hope that the country would throw up men of character, vision, integrity and national commitment , who would be able to make the best even of a defective Constitution. And the Constitution was thus passed by consensus on 26 November 1949 in the Constituent Assembly when the people of India were said to have “adopted, enacted and given to themselves” a Constitution. Unfortunately for India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad’s hope which seemed understandably justified in the political milieu of that time proved to be utterly naïve in contemporary India. It must also be recognized that Mahatma Gandhi, the architect of India’s freedom, was conspicuous by his total non-involvement in the constitution making process even while he was alive. The Constitution of India, which became operative with effect from 26 January 1950 known as Republic Day of India almost two years after Gandhi’s death, not only doesn’t bear any real imprint of Gandhi’s thoughts (not speaking of Gandhian thoughts) about free India but in vital aspects is rather an anti-thesis of his entire motivation and rationale of waging and guiding a novel struggle for freedom , which has inspired a large part of the world.

Is this then the point of off-track journey of the Republic of India? This will be examined and analyzed in some detail in the further posts on this Blog.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Synoptic Politico-Economic View of Contemporary India

While the glory that was ancient India, relative prosperity of medieval India and the impoverishment as well as degradation of colonial India are well documented by historians, the notion of the condition of post-independence, contemporary and evolving India is, at best, mixed as well as confusing and, at worst, downright depressing. While on the one hand, there is an image and perception of contemporary India being the largest functioning democracy and a modern, secular nation emerging as an economic power, there is a veritable picture of India being characterized by strident and widespread poverty and whose socio-political fabric is riven by casteism, communalism and insurgency, on the other. While India won its independence from a well-entrenched powerful imperial regime through a non-violent struggle informed by pursuit of politics of high morality, which called for sufferings and sacrifices on the part of its leaders, in post-independence India politics is practiced in increasingly blatant pursuit of power for self-aggrandizement, public life is reeking of corruption and neo-imperialism is unobtrusively creeping in. The salient features of the picture of independent India which has emerged in the last six decades have been discussed in the previous nine posts on this blog titled “Understanding Contemporary India and its Problems”. A synoptic view of this picture is as follows.

In the first two posts titled “India’s Illusion of Democracy”, it has been shown that in the democracy that India has adopted for its governance, the people have hardly any voice in how the governments are constituted at the centre or in the states, or in how the affairs that affect their day to day lives and living are managed at the local levels. In spite of the din, bustle and heat in stark evidence at the time of elections, democracy in India is too indirect, distant and convoluted for the people to make any impact in normal circumstances on how they are to be governed, i.e., how their concerns are addressed and their aspirations met. For this very reason, the basic constitutional stipulation that sovereignty of the nation lies with its people has been rendered insubstantial. This is clearly discernible in the interactions the ‘sovereign people’ have with the ‘public servants’, i.e., the government officials at all hierarchical levels, as discussed in the third blog post titled “Reality of India’s Sovereignty”. In the fourth blog post titled “Secularism in the India Republic”, the real character of India’s secularism, as proclaimed in the Constitution, has been discussed. While in colonial India, the secular government of British India played the religious card as part of their ‘divide and rule’ strategy to keep themselves in power, the communal divides are kept alive as vote banks by the political parties in their bid to capture or sustain power in the Indian republic. Another constitutional principle enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution of India, socialism has been given a formal burial in the name of economic reforms. In the case of India, embracing of the so called economic reforms, i.e., liberalization, privatization and globalization, followed from the government’s colossal failure in meeting its social responsibilities due to its institutional weaknesses, infirmities and aberrations, as discussed in the fifth blog post titled “What Happened to India’s Socialism?” As far as India being declared a republic in the constitution is concerned, one conjures up an image of the republic of India having a governance “of the people, by the people and for the people”. As explained in the blog post titled “Is India a True or Ideal Republic”, this image is not real at all. India is a republic only by its text-book definition of the headship of the state of India not being ancestral as in a monarchy. Ancestry in the Indian polity, however, is far from being uncommon.

The view of India as indicated above points out the basic institutional infirmities, the stark realities as against the illusions nurtured by the Indian republic. These infirmities, however, are very significant and fundamental for the health of the republic and for understanding the problems afflicting the nation. It is like a sick person having the illusion of being healthy will not be motivated to seek diagnosis for the problems he may be suffering from. He will run after symptomatic, rather than systemic, treatments for his problems, only to be frustrated at the end as these undiagnosed or misdiagnosed problems defy those superficial treatments. Similar situation has been happening with the Indian republic. When India became independent on 15 August 1947 and a republic on 26 January 1950, it got the illusion of being a healthy nation while its body politic inherited essentially the same germinal system of governance which had been corroding its vitals for the last century and a half of its colonial existence. It did not undergo the needed catharsis. Consequently, the problems afflicting the nation not only defied the conventional solutions applied but got more pervasive and complex with time. Three such problems have been dealt with in the previous posts on this blog. One is the problem of corruption in public life which has been systematically getting more serious, pervasive and corrosive over the years and decades. Secondly, the problem of insurgency and other disruptive forces crippling India has been increasing in extent and destructiveness over time. Last but not the least, the problem of pervasive poverty that emerged in the colonial period and prevailed in the post-independence period in spite of valiant efforts made for development, has now been perpetuated in the republic India. These problems, which characterize contemporary India, have been dealt with in the previous November, December and January posts. It must also be understood that the problems afflicting the nation are not only confined to these three. There are many others which are related, systemic and quite serious such as cross-border terrorism. Unless the basic illness afflicting the body politic of India is diagnosed appropriately and the treatment prescribed and acted upon accordingly, the prognosis will never be satisfactory and effective. This will be the subject matter of the next post.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Emergence, Prevalence and Perpetuation of Poverty in India

One of the attributes, good as well as bad, by which India is commonly characterized is its poverty. There are, however, significant divergences in the estimates done by various agencies of the magnitude of this poverty. According to its own criterion used for the purpose, Planning Commission of the Government of India estimates that 27.5% of the population was living below the poverty line in 2004-05. While this estimate is contested by several states in India itself, according to the 2005 World Bank estimate, 42% of India live below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day, which works out to be Rs. 21.6 a day in terms of purchasing power parity. Still another agency set up by the Government of India, National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) in its 2007 Report asserts that 77% of Indians, i.e. 836 million people live on less than Rs.20 a day. Apart from these divergent estimates, poverty in India is reflected by several well recognized indexes and parameters. India has the highest rate of malnutrition among children in the world under the age of 3; India ranks 143 and 134 in the comity of 190 nations of the world in infant mortality rate (IMR) and human development index (HDI), respectively. India has also one the highest incidences of human trafficking, including trafficking in women and children. In spite of government regulations, child labour in India is rampant. Increasing criminality in life and living and growing insurgency unsettling various parts of India are largely caused and fed by poverty. The subhuman conditions in which the poor people live and survive in India have been recently depicted dramatically in the internationally acclaimed 2008 British film Slumdog Millionaire, which should shame India of Gandhi who was appalled and moved by the poverty and degradation of people brought about by the system of exploitative governance of the British colonial rule in India and it was these conditions which had inspired him to call for freedom from that system though a nonviolent struggle.
In order to understand the serious and complex problem of poverty in India, it will be helpful to consider it both in its historical as well as its comprehensive socio-political-economic perspectives. While the former will show that poverty is not at all intrinsic to India, the latter would indicate the framework in which the solution to the vexed problem lies. The Indus Valley Civilization which existed in India from 2800 BC to 1800 BC was a very prosperous period marked by trade activity and urban development. The Maurya Empire (321 BC to 185 BC), under which most of the Indian subcontinent was unified under one rule, was known for flourishing economic activities. The famous politico-economic treatise Arthashastra was written by Chanakya, the Prime Minister to the first Maurya Emperor Chandragupta under the pseudonym Kautilya. The Gupta period (320 AD to 550 AD) was the so called Golden Age of India marked by not only economic prosperity but also by singular achievements in art, science, literature, astronomy, mathematics etc. In fact, India is estimated to have had the largest economy of the ancient and medieval world between the first and 15th centuries AD under various rulers. Under the Mughal rule in the 16th century up to the period of the rule of the Marathas in central India in the first half of the 18th century, the Indian economy, i.e., its gross domestic product was either the largest or the second largest after China, controlling from 1/4th to 1/3rd of the world economy. The economic scenario, however, changed dramatically and drastically with the coming of the British colonial rule in India which was aimed primarily at exploitation of its resources for the benefit of Britain. India’s share in the world economy fell from about 24% at the beginning of the colonial rule to about 4% at the end, brought out systematically through a governance and economic institutional instrument specially designed for the purpose. India experienced several devastating famines in the period, killing an estimated aggregate of 30 million people. By the end of the colonial rule, India inherited an economy that was one of the poorest in the world and totally stagnant.
Free and republic India no doubt made valiant efforts to reverse the inherited economic trend, but using the same institutional instrument of governance, under the visionary leadership of Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. In spite of having made considerable strides in infrastructural development, particularly in the first two decades after independence, no appreciable dent on the problem of poverty could be made. In the mixed economy model followed by India to bring about a socialistic pattern of society, with considerable state controls and regulations of economic activities, the rate of economic growth hovered around 3.5% in this period accompanied by increasing corruption. With the state having the prime responsibility of alleviating poverty but being unable to accelerate economic growth, the government depended on public distribution systems and price controls of essential commodities to provide succor to the poor resulting in black marketing, bureaucratic red tapism and growing corruption.
With the policy of economic liberalization, privatization and globalization courted by India since the early nineties, bidding socialism enshrined in the Constitution a formal good-bye and the vast Indian market opened to multi-national companies, Indian economy did register an appreciable growth rate of around 8%. While this has appreciably increased the size of the middle class and has led to acute concentrations of wealth in a limited number of hands, it has depressed the poor even more, both in numbers as well as in intensity. According to a recent report by an expert group, the poverty level in India has risen from an estimated 27.5% in 2004-05 to 37.2% in 2009 even according to the Planning Commission’s criterion. Thus while the problem of poverty remains essentially untouched, its sting has become sharpened in the midst of visibly widened economic disparity. Many schemes launched by the government targeted at benefiting the poor directly are only palliative measures like pain killers aimed at making the sting bearable, on the one hand, and at scoring political mileage, on the other. While India’s poverty is becoming intractable, India’s poor are becoming an increasingly attractive vote bank in India’s power-centric politics. The much acclaimed National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme is illustrative in this regard. The scheme apparently aims both at creating employment as well as contributing to development at one go. In effect, however, due to the inappropriate delivery mechanism in place, while the benefits reach the target only minimally, the net of corruption has become wider to include even the village functionaries. The political advantage accruing to the party in power at the Centre is distinct. Using India’s poor as a vote bank, while widely practiced by all political parties without exception, is at times carried to ludicrous extents. Fully air-conditioned long distance trains named as Garib Rath (Poor Man’s Train) at reduced fares were launched some years ago, flaunting this to be done with the poor in mind. While even those reduced fares are way beyond the affording capacity of the India’s poor, these trains really benefit only the middle class. A premier political party once fought and won a national election on the specious slogan of ‘Garibi Hatao’ (Remove Poverty). Thus, as the poor constitute a sizeable vote bank attractive to political parties, India’s poverty stands perpetuated in the present day polity.
While the new economic regime professes to benefit the poor by the process of trickling down of prosperity from the top to the bottom, it has certain disastrous fall outs. One of them is the growing nexus between the national and multi-national businesses, on the one hand, and politicians, on the other. Several high level and high magnitude corruption and scandals have been increasingly coming to light in recent years.
It is high time that we understand and appreciate that India’s poverty is rather systemic and is not amenable to any political gimmicks or economic stratagem. Its solution lies at systemic level only. More light will be thrown on this aspect in another post under this Blog.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Insurgency and Other Disruptive Forces Crippling India

Apart from the problems of precipitous decline in political morality, rampant corruption, growing impoverishment and stark economic disparities, other serious problems, which are distinct but related to or caused by these problems, plaguing India are insurgency and other disruptive movements raging in, and outraging various parts of, India. These movements appear in diverse forms which may be categorized broadly as separatist including secessionist movements inspired by cultural, religious, linguistic and ethnic identities or movements caused by socio-economic disparities and marginalization. Very often these movements are violent, being directed against established authorities of government. Sometimes, they are directed against certain groups of people who, being outside the identities characterizing the local population, are perceived to be either exploiters or undue beneficiaries at their cost. Depending upon the nature and strategy of perpetrating the violence, the movements may be termed as militant, extremist or insurgent. With the advent and currency of suicide bombing, these movements, particularly those associated with religious fundamentalism, even deploy terrorism involving wanton killings in order to make their point.
Except for religion-based movements which originated in pre-independence India due to the British rulers playing the religious card in an attempt to preserve and perpetuate their colonial rule and promoting the preposterous principle of religion as the rationale for nationhood, all other movements are post-independence phenomena. Even if the seeds of these problems existed then, they remained dormant and subjugated to the British rule. They blossomed and bloomed in the post-independence Indian republic, bringing the Indian nationhood in question and to ransom. The salient such movements and consequent disruptions in various parts of India are indicated below.
India’s independence accompanied by its partition into two nation-states based on the two-nation theory, which was unacceptable to India, set the stage for future separatist movements in free India. One example is the emergence of many self-styled organizations in Kashmir demanding autonomy, self-determination, independence, or even accession to Pakistan, often using violence, mostly aided and abetted by cross-border instigations and occasionally accompanied by terrorist activities. For the last at least two decades, Kashmir has been an insecure and disturbed part of India, resulting in several hundred thousands of casualties involving civilians, militants and security personnel in insurgency and counter-insurgency operations, and in near collapse of the thriving tourist and related trades. Another example of unrest and violent movement emanating from the acceptance of religion as a basis of nationhood is the Khalistan movement aimed at creating a separate Sikh nation, which rocked the Punjab region by violence, militancy and terrorism for almost two decades in the seventies and eighties. It was preceded by a movement for creation of a Sikh majority state, which was done in 1966 through an Act of the Parliament. The high points of the Khalistan movement were Operation Blue Star of the Indian Army in order to quell the armed secessionist movement, assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the subsequent outbreak of anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and the mid-air blowing up of the plane of an Air India Flight. The movement, in which the Sikh Diaspora have played an active role, is now at least dormant largely because of other overwhelming developments in the country.
Another part of India which has been one of South Asia’s hottest trouble spots since the sixties is its seven north-eastern states. As many as 30 armed insurgent organizations such as ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom), NDFB (National Democratic Front of Bodoland), PLA (People’s Liberation Army) of Manipur, NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) and NLFT (National Liberation Front of Tripura) have been operating in the region, fighting the Indian state with demands ranging from right to self-determination and autonomy to secession. As this region having an area of 255,000 sq. km. (8% of India’s geographical area) has 4500 km long highly porous borders with four countries, China, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar, this insurgency has been rendered complex and intractable due to its trans-border ramifications and operations. It takes several diabolical forms such as extortion, kidnapping, wanton killing, particularly of people having migrated from other parts of India and settled here, as well as confrontation with the police and the army. Even though some of these organizations have been banned because of their patently anti-national activities and agenda, insurgent activities have been going on, overtly or covertly, for the last four decades or so in this region.
Apart from these major insurgencies, various other events and activities such as narrow regionalism in the name of ‘sons of the soil’, demands for bifurcation of states with the professed objective of more balanced development and various water disputes are actually manifestations of negation of integrity and unity of India. Moreover, due to these forces of separatism, India has increasingly become a soft target of pan-Islamic terrorism.
The above-mentioned insurgencies are abetted by, and ultimately aimed at, separatism and are based essentially on religion or ethnicity. In the last four decades, however, altogether another type of insurgency has gripped parts of India and is growing. Originating in an obscure West Bengal village called Naxalbari, marked by strident poverty, as a left-wing extremist uprising against the establishment, this movement now afflicts almost half of the 28 states of India, concentrated mostly in tribal and mine rich parts of eastern and central India. This insurgency has been expanding both in area and population being affected as well as in level of violence associated with it. Today, the Naxalities or Maoists as these insurgents are called control about 92,000 sq. km. of India, where only the writs of their parallel government run. Their cadres consisting of both men and women are mostly recruited from their rural strongholds and are given professional training in armed insurgency. Their primary targets are police, government property and installations, highways, railways and the activities symbolizing present day governance such as elections and even developmental works.
Thus, we see that basically two types of insurgency afflict contemporary India, one based on fractured identities of religion, ethnicity, region and language as against a national identity, and the other based on increasing impoverishment and widening socio-economic disparity. At the root of both these types of insurgencies lies a sense of non-participation and alienation from the prevailing system of governance. While the first category of insurgents reacts to this sense by seeking a separate institution of governance in which they matter, the second category expresses their wrath at the failed system of governance which has not been able to deliver the goods over the decades. Whatever, these insurgencies cost a tremendous amount of national energy and resources. A nation saddled with such disruptive and dissipative forces can hardly hope to get out of the woods.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Culture of Corruption in Public Life in Contemporary India

In the previous posts on this Blog, it has been discussed how democracy has been an illusion, both at the top as well as at the grass roots of governance in India, how secularism has been negated in the practice of politics for pursuit of power, how sovereignty of people of India is far from a reality, how socialism has been formally forsaken by India and how India is far from being a true or ideal republic. Thus, the declaration made in the Constitution in its Preamble of India being a “Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic” remains a pious wish rather than a reality of life and living in contemporary India. In fact, India has diverged more and more from the path envisioned in the Constitution over almost six decades of its republican journey. Alongwith this divergence in basic constitutional values, other concomitant values have also progressively deteriorated in India. Among these, the most pervasive and intense is the cankerous growth of corruption in the Indian republic, so much so that it has evolved as a culture of its public life. Growth of this culture in public life is quite at variance with that in personal and social life in contemporary India, or what may be called the core culture of India evolved over centuries and millenniums of its national life.
Obviously then the cause of corruption and its growth is inherent in the operative part of our Constitution, i.e. the system of governance adopted. As this system remained essentially the same as was used for colonial administration of British India, the corruption that prevailed in that administration in a systematic and established manner, particularly at lower levels, continued unabated in free India. With the Constitution, which retained the same system of governance, coming into force on 26 January 1950, corruption became more pervasive and it spread to higher levels at accelerated pace. The Mundhra scandal, which involved the then Finance Minister was brought to notice on the floor of the parliament in the fifties just serves as an example of corruption at the highest levels even in the initial years of Indian republic. In those years, however, the political morality was still at high level. The case was promptly and transparently investigated by a judge of impeccable reputation and upon establishment of the charge, guilty officials were punished and the Finance Minister had to resign. In later years and decades, cases of corruptions at high levels, scams and scandals came to light with increasing frequency, each dwarfing the previous ones in magnitude, pervasiness and turpitude of political morality. The latest major scandal which came to light 10 days ago relates to a scandal involving embezzlement of public funds, illegal laundering of black money as well as depositing and investing in foreign countries to the true of more than 50 billion rupees. The king pin of this scandal had been a minister and then Chief Minister for only a few years of a newly created mineral-rich poor state. The story of his rise to being a minister or the Chief Minister in spite of being an independent member of the State Legislature makes an interesting reading in democratic functioning in contemporary India. It demonstrates how all tenets of right political behaviour and ethics are blatantly thrown to the winds in order to capture and retain power, directly or by proxy, and how contemptible and obnoxious maneuvers are done by political parties to have a pliable government of choice and convenience.
While talking of major scams and scandals involving political leaders in power, one must not forget that corruption is not confined only to the political levels. Far from it. Corruption is rampant in various measures at all levels of governance in India, from political to bureaucratic down to the lowest ones.
There is one qualitative difference between the scandals and corruption in the earlier years after independence when the first generation post-independence political leaders were still there at the helm of affairs, and now. Then, while the system of governance was prone to and promotive of corruption, people entered the profession of politics with a sense of service and the system still operated under certain norms and canons set by the British administration. Now, the morality of the political profession has tremendously fallen and the whole system of governance has commensurately degenerated. Then, people from the grass roots took to politics inspired by a sense of service to the nation, and political wrong doers were a rather scarce commodity. Now, 56% of the MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha belong to upper less than 0.1% of the Indian people and about 30% of them have criminal records. Increase in the extent and magnitude of corruption and fall of the political morality and criminalization of politics in India have gone hand in hand. This progression, however, has been happening not with constant speed but rather with acceleration.
The inference is inescapable and obvious. This Indian phenomenon is not specific to political parties or people as politicians per se. It is rather systemic and the system is obviously the system of colonial governance that was chosen and adopted to govern a free nation aspiring to become a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic.