The re-election of President Barack Obama was widely described as a bitterly fought battle of lowlights. The American rightwing voters for Mitt Romney have described the elections of the United States of America as fraudulent and are now waiting to fight the next battle to push the US over the ‘fiscal cliff’. Obama will hope to seek the middle path of co-operation with the Senate Republicans. Thus civility and social cohesion may, hopefully, prevail. China has just nominated a new president and general secretary, prime minister and the group of seven, to replace its top leadership, which was nominated in 2002. Succession plans for 2022 are already being put in place for the grooming and the gradual narrowing of numbers for the choice of the sixth generation of leaders over the next 10 years. The media’s forecast of gloom, doom and collapse of the Chinese pattern of political succession continues in spite of the fact that they have always been wrong-footed for the last 50 years.
In comparison, what India has been going through, in recent times, can only be described as a political process descending into disorder and darkness with eyes open. This article attempts to focus on some of the fatal flaws which are taking root in the very heart of our nation state. If anyone is to be blamed for the state of affairs, it is all of us Indians who are collectively guilty for the state of our country, or massively indifferent.
I am, by inclination, an optimist. However, that trait does not blind me to the realities of situations that sometimes fill me with a sense of remorse for the times we live in. The political leadership in the world’s largest democracy is faced with a succession of hurdles put up by politically frustrated groups, by the indiscipline amongst partners, or by bureaucratic passivity, all visible through the disruptive environment in Parliament as well as out in the streets.
Opposing all attempts to introduce a number of beneficial economic reforms has reached a new high in political intolerance in India. Furthermore, as India’s economy and wealth have grown, so has the size and spread of rent-seeking — to unheard-of levels — that is now stoking widespread public anger and anguish. Judicial activism has broken out in response to malfeasance in governance. Such a state of political disarray has encouraged the emergence of various hues of self-appointed non-state actors, who are aggressively challenging constitutional institutions, processes and primacy. Rising violence against women and growing regional intolerance are alarming. Lawlessness in a law-abiding society is usually the precursor to an erosion of traditional institutions and values. In India, there are signs that the frequent early warnings of the widespread danger of a breakdown in law and order have now become real, and frequent instances of police indiscipline reinforce this trend. The rapid proliferation of the media has generated abnormal predatory behaviour. Nightly debates by a panel of speakers usually end up as shouting bouts. It would almost seem that debating has moved away from the floor of Parliament to the television studios.
Above all, some in the corporate sector, especially those who have probably benefited the most, both during the restrictive years as well as in the reformed economic environment since Independence, and especially in the last 20 years, have become some of the most vocal critics of the India story. They continue to benefit by aggressively cornering natural resources and other growth opportunities, while actively promoting rent-seeking and uncompetitive practices.
India is in a phase of darkness which does not bode well, either for the country or for our people.
The visible consumption and ostentatious lifestyles of a growing number of Indians, especially in cities, give a false impression of progress and development and are a source of disillusionment for the poor and dispossessed. India has more people existing under the poverty line compared to the whole of Africa. The upwardly mobile and the pseudo-Westernized generation is giving off the danger signal that they represent the new barbarians at the heart of India’s darkness.
The disarray in India poses other dangers beyond what is already visible. There is emerging in India a new generation of regional political forces and satraps who have been emboldened enough to start challenging the constitutional sanctity of India’s federal polity. This is probably the biggest and most dangerous emerging problem for India and its future as a democracy. In order to deal with this danger and nip it in the bud, it is imperative to ensure the responsible, cohesive and determined functioning of the national political process by the government as well as by those who occupy the Opposition space in Parliament. An amorphous central polity emboldens regional satraps to flex their muscles. On the other hand, in order to view these developments more positively, leaders have to recognize the natural evolution of democratic institutions and regional aspirations in order to deal with these as opportunities, rather than as threats, and wisely adjust relationships and power sharing as a natural progression rather than as succumbing to threats and blackmail.
Be that as it may, India’s future need not remain engulfed in gloom and darkness. There are some faint but encouraging signs that political leaders of different hues, both at the Centre as well as in states, have begun to reassert their roles as the constitutionally elected guardians for the benefit and welfare of our people ahead of their personal political preoccupations. There is also a gradual realization that elected governments or political parties in the Opposition cannot be all things to everyone at all times and that they have greater responsibilities and accountability to the nation as a whole. The more positive development is that a section of India’s emerging generation is showing vigorous signs of self-confidence, empowerment and self-reliance, which are indeed hugely refreshing. This is the generation which constitutes the foundation of India’s demographic advantage. Furthermore, the resolve to decisively deal with egregious incidents of corruption is growing rapidly. An example of one bright silver lining is the spread of Aadhar, which will enable a direct cash transfer by the state to those intended to receive these. Disbursal of subsidies is a principal source of rent-seeking. However, fighting poverty, while keeping subsidies within sustainable limits, remains a major challenge.
Reinforcing the primacy of the Indian Constitution and of the sanctity of the judiciary and the legislature has been rejuvenated. With the passage of time, one may expect more responsible sections of non-state actors and media to gain legitimacy. Some emerging leaders in the corporate sector recognize that without playing their effective role in wealth creation in a socially responsible manner, their institutions’ future is unsustainable. Above all, a sense of empowerment is being expressed more widely by the youth in urban and rural India, which bodes well for the future.
While all these emerging trends may be well and good, India has unfortunately already lost invaluable time and opportunities to create conditions which would help aggressively drive its inherent strength — its people — to greater heights of productivity, prosperity and well-being. The question whether India has lost is being raised more frequently than ever before. It is up to us to prove that this is indeed not the case.
The challenges facing India in the future are even greater. One of the really big challenges is that of global warming and extremes of erratic weather. India’s dependence on seasonal rains for producing food is likely to be more frequently and severely affected by the vagaries of floods and droughts. The opposition to genetically modified agriculture represents the stark reality of our ignorance of scientific advances and unfounded fear of the unknown.
The larger issues of universal healthcare, literacy and education will take much longer to deal with effectively. But we will not even begin to make a dent in these issues unless India begins to urgently put its political house in order and emerges from the darkness of mindless political quarrels and the lack of discussion of real issues in Parliament that seem to have engulfed the nation.
One cannot live without pursuit of action, and it is the pursuit of positive objectives that sustains the hope and aspirations of a people. Let not our generation be recorded in history as the one which, by its inactivity and internecine quarrels, destroyed the opportunities of the future generations of Indians.