Although the Indian democracy has many-a time passed through rough weather, it is still in a nascent stage of nationhood if we compare it with other democratic countries. We as a nation celebrated the 64th Independence Day, but have a long way to go to achieve the dream of those who sacrificed their lives to make India independent.
The annual ritual of Independence Day should probably be the day when we do some serious mental churning about what ails the health of our nation. In fact there are problems galore, but it is the typical ‘Indian quietism’ that needs attention the first and foremost.
The silence of our top leaders over rampant corruption in the ongoing preparation for the Commonwealth Games is the most glaring example of it. While everybody is shocked to see dirty linen being washed before the world, the government is unabashedly silent and appears to be trying hard to shield those caught in the corruption storm. The biggest sporting event ever (from Oct 3 to 14) is an opportunity to turn Delhi and India into a global sporting destination, but we are apprehensive of it becoming a ‘fortnight of shame’.
Since the Aam Aadmi slogan was woven into the Congress’ electoral success in 2004, the politics of poor remains the defining agenda of the UPA government, but we have failed to see any initiatives having a visible impact on the life of the poor. Price rise has hit them hard and basic requirements of education, health and even potable water, even in the national capital, have become a distant dream for the common man.
The UPA-I had a characteristic tilt towards the welfare of common man; perhaps it was indispensable due to the Left partners in the government but now, with a better score in Parliament, the ruling party seems to be least bothered and the coalition partners are occupied in serving their own agendas. The Prime Minister is hardly seen to be taking any concrete steps on issues and when he speaks he resorts to rhetoric, which he avoided in UPA-I, when he had shown guts to withstand the Left pressure on the India-US Civil Nuclear Deal.
The UPA-II came to power on the so called success of NREGA and Sarva Siksha Abhiyan but the reality has been expressed in the recent NC Saxena Committee report, which pegged 50% of India’s population as below poverty line. The government has decided now to launch a survey of 260 villages for defining ‘poor’. After sixty years, the Supreme Court had to finally intervene and awaken the Central government to ensure free distribution of food grains to hungry poor rather than letting it rot in the FCI godowns.
It really sounded quite spectacular when UPA-I announced a massive Rs 70,000 crore debt relief package which would benefit about three crore small & marginal farmers and about a crore of other farmers. However, the rural scenario is unchanged. One 50-year-old farmer, Khokhan Mandal, has to commit suicide in Chhattisgarh after incessant rains devastate his standing paddy crop last week. Mandal, a resident of village Panawar in Bastar region`s Kanker district, had incurred a debt of Rs.100,000. The heavy rain submerged dozens of villages in Bastar and he had no other choice than putting an end to his life.
We have several achievements to laud but poverty is still the most dreaded problem after sixty years. A young woman of Jungali Bigha in Gaya district killed herself after administering poison to her three children this week and we feel the government-sponsored schemes are doing miracles in the rural hinterland!
The political leadership is least affected by such developments as they portray different shades of Indian democracy. A secular face of the nation, Mulayam Singh Yadav submits apology to Muslims for joining hands with Kalyan Singh, just to woo 20% minority vote bank in Uttar Pradesh for 2012 assembly polls, while the reality is that he failed to do anything concrete for Muslims whenever he came to power. Let Muslims give a serious thought to their state of being. The community has been seriously criticised in one of the southern states, Kerala, by Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan on another issue.
“They want to turn Kerala into a Muslim-majority state in 20 years. They are using money and other inducements to convert people to Islam. They even marry women from outside their community in order to increase the Muslim population,” he said. It was surprising to hear this from a Communist leader, but the reality is that the most egalitarian state of our nation has presented the most intolerable example: the chopping of the hand of a college professor while returning from Church last month not only stunned the state but also blew the lid off the reality of growing Islamic extremism in Kerala. The expression needs a caution for the sake of the unity of the nation.
Indian democracy has different hues, but the typical ‘quietism’ of its political leadership has added more colour to it. Political leaders appear to wait for the problem to attain the shape of the mythical Sursa of Ramayana and the examples can be seen in the movements of Khalistan, Kashmir and the secessionist attempts in the North East getting bigger in recent months. The most recent example was the economic blockade of Manipur by the All Naga Students Association of Manipur (ANSAM), which started against the holding of ADCs polls in hilly areas of the state. It later merged with the NSCN (IM) cause and the state was cut off from the mainland for over two months, only because of the apathetic attitude of the Centre as well as the state governments. The blockade is back once again after a brief lull.
The petty political interests have seeped so deep into our political psyche that the long term agenda for the nation appears a distant dream. One more example can be put forth here. The Governor of Assam, Lt Gen (Retd) S K Sinha, in 1998 wrote a letter to the then President of India, drawing his attention towards large scale illegal immigration from Bangladesh altering the demographic complexion of the state. He very clearly stated that it is affecting the demography of not only Assam but also of all north eastern states, posing a grave threat to national security. More than a decade has passed, and the Centre is yet to pay serious attention to it and rather has willfully ignored the issue just to serve its political agenda.
The Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee too has adopted this approach albeit with a difference. She, with a pro-poor image, fights for peasants in Nandigram and does not shy away from hobnobbing with ultra leftists of Lalgarh and terms the killing of Maoist leader Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad as “incorrect”. She did it just to settle political scores with the Left Front in West Bengal, forgetting that it were the same Maoists, who were behind several train mishaps and blockades in which hundreds of innocent lives were lost.
As a nation we appear to be one, but the prevalence of social rigidity is a big roadblock. The pain once found an expression in the statement of Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, who said, "Caste system is the greatest tragedy to befall human race, especially in a country like India, which has a rich cultural heritage." Although we have a woman President, a woman Speaker and Sonia Gandhi, who symbolises the power centre, the nation is still wrestling with the idea of a caste-based census and reservation for women even after sixty years of nationhood.
With us, some 60 nations are conducting census in 2010 for collection of data for “component of good governance, transparency and accountability”, but our dilemma on caste-based census shows us in poor light before the world.
We need to grow at 9-plus per cent on a sustained basis if we want to lift the masses out of poverty. If we look at our power scenario, almost every state has massive gaps between demand and supply, while road-connectivity is so poor that the delays have been estimated to cost the economy nearly 1% of its GDP.
Health has been the most neglected area of our governance. If we look at emergency services, one million lives are lost a year as the demand for outstrips supply and 30% of emergency patients die before they reach hospital; 80% of accident victims do not get medical care within the so-called Golden Hour; 50 minutes are wasted in Indian hospitals on an average in comparison to 20-30 in the developed world.
The rosy picture of development perhaps can be seen in the data of Planning Commission but the reality is that during monsoons, 28 out of the 38 districts in Bihar have been declared drought-hit and 12 out of 24 districts in Jharkhand have also been declared as drought-affected. Parties in and out of power in both these states have tightened their belts to milk the situation to their advantage before elections are announced.
The Civil Services Survey 2010 showed that about 33% of respondents considered quitting the services at some point in time or the other just "because of better opportunities outside the government and disappointment about lack of recognition". This is the state of affairs of a service which once used to be called the “Steel Frame” in the British regime and had controlled the undivided India with less than 500 officers!
This Independence Day, let us shift our attention towards an India where one can see immense opportunity in every sphere, if we go for course correction. For meeting the demand of talent that we are short on, the struggle to recruit employable people has intensified in different sectors. Ironically, for a country which has about four crore people registered at its employment exchanges, virtually all sectors are struggling to meet growing talent requirements. This problem, as per one prediction, will only get worse with the growth of economy, especially when more than 75% of the new job opportunities being created are ‘skill-based’. A recent ASSOCHAM study puts forth that Indian economy will create 87.37 million jobs by 2015 but only 25% of graduates would have the necessary skills for immediate employment.
The future scenario, if we look at these reports, is not very encouraging. The World Economic Forum’s report on talent migration says that India will face huge skill gaps in some job categories over the next 20 years due to low employability and this would put brakes on economic growth. The government needs to make school and university curriculums more relevant to avoid India’s boom from going bust.
In an increasingly coarse world, we are expected to carve a different identity with a legacy of a 7000-year-old civilization. Despite rampant incivility, we still can replicate good examples from the past. When the Congress ministers decided to join the government after sweeping the elections in 1937, they set an example in simple living by reducing their own salaries drastically from Rs 2000 to Rs 500 per month. However, they too were affected by the greed of power and Gandhiji had to caution them in ‘Harijan’ on August 1937: “These offices have to be held lightly, not tightly. They are or should be crowns of thorns, never of renown. Offices have been taken in order to see if they enable us to quicken the pace at which we are moving towards our goal.”
That period also witnessed the emergence of serious weaknesses in the Congress party, as there was a scramble for jobs and positions for personal advantage. Opportunists, self-seekers and careerists, drawn by the lure of associating with a party in power, began to enter the ranks at various levels. Gandhiji, lashing out against the misuse of office and creeping corruption in Congress ranks, told the Gandhi Seva Sangh workers in May 1939: “I would go the lengths of giving the whole Congress organization a decent burial, rather than put up with the corruption that is rampant.”
The leadership today perhaps needs to reckon and take guidance in the cautioning of Gandhiji who, for our democracy, is still the best guide in the era of Right to Information and the Right to Education. If we look for an optimistic picture, a beginning in the right direction has undoubtedly been made, but the effort needs en masse attention.
Let us hope that all is not lost and make a determined effort to fulfill the dream of our founding fathers.