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India at 65: A nation in turmoil

 | August 17, 2012

At 65, India may be a young democracy (not a young country), but there is, as yet, little sign of political maturity or acumen.

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India entered its 66th year into independence on Wednesday. And – as is the practice year after year – the country’s prime minister stood on the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi to talk to his fellowmen.

As has been the norm – year after year – this time too, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised the nation his government’s resolve to address problems.

He said his government would work hard to shield India’s economy from the adverse effects of global meltdown/slowdown.

Last year, the country’s GDP was 6.5%. This year “we hope to do a little better”, he said.

Also, “Brothers and sisters, we must make every effort to solve the problems inside our country so that our economic growth and creation of employment opportunities are again speeded up,” he averred.

“We must control inflation,” he added. And then, he went on with many more assurances.

Sadly, all these sounded like empty rhetoric. As they have always. Year after year.

Worse, while the prime minister was busy making his promises from the high security Red Fort, thousands of people from the north-eastern states of India living in the southern city of Bangalore were rushing to get into trains leaving for Assam.

This is one of the states in the north-east. There was a “stampede-like situation in the railway station”, and the Indian Railways had to run two special trains to meet the unprecedented rush.

And this exodus was provoked by a rumour that north-easterners would be attacked in Bangalore by political extremists.

For a long time, north-easterners have been the butt of jokes – because of their Mongoloid features – and have faced severe racial discrimination.

65 and immature

At 65, India may be a young democracy (not a young country), but there is, as yet, little sign of political maturity or acumen. Worse, there is very little political will to reform the society or the economy. Both are dangerously adrift.

Goons molest women in full public view. The men and women gathered around jeer at her, and cheer the villains, while television cameras capture the “spectacle” hoping to up its viewership rating and, well, garner more advertisements – and more money. But of course.

Thugs break into a private party and slap young girls, because they are with boys. Or, radical political activists beat up and paw girls, because they are seen drinking in a pub. This is against Indian ethos and culture, the men turn into self-styled moral keepers.

In Assam, there is a virtual civil war between tribal Bodos and Muslims. Tens of people have been killed, and thousands forced to run away from their homes. The administration is playing the fiddle.

In several states, Maoism and Naxalism have been causing deaths and destruction. A virtual social earthquake may be seen in those regions where innocent people are dying.

As one writer rued: “Things appear to be in a state of turmoil, and, indeed, falling apart, in every direction”. Economy, certainly.

“Until about a couple of years ago, India’s credentials to emerge as an economic power on the world stage, on par with the US and China, and pushing Japan behind, were accepted without question. Not any more”.

Rating agencies have been steadily downgrading India’s standing.

About 60% of the Indians live in want and misery. They have an apology for shelter, an apology for food. They have no clean drinking water, no basic medical facility. Their children have to drop out of school, because there is no money for higher education. The children are forced to work punishing hours in ill-lit and dangerous industries – despite a ban on child labour.

While these keep unfolding on the great Indian stage, politicians merrily loot and plunder, amassing unimaginable wealth. They live, oblivious of the rage and rancour their lifestyles produce among the poor. But the politicians do not care; they are arrogant enough to believe that they cannot be vanquished.

However, will there be an Indian Spring like the Arab Spring? There will not be.

For, graft in India benefits many. At the lowest level, the parking lot attendant appointed by civic bodies makes his illegal money, small though, by not issuing receipts. The traffic cop gets his monthly “bonus” from errant drivers, who are happy to pay a fraction of the fine as bribe. Ministers get their kickbacks in several ways. I can go on endlessly to illustrate how killing corruption could kill a parallel source of income to many that may be far higher than what is earned legitimately.

Besides, India is so divided on the lines of caste, religion and economic status that it is highly impossible to bring the people together for a mass movement. This may be one reason why campaigns by men like Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev do not seem to be picking steam.

Sadly, India appears to be headed the wrong way.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected] He is an FMT columnist.


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