Some unasked and unanswered questions!
India should get prepared for new roles in this century!
Our democracy is well-established and well-recognised. But there are concerns. The quality of our polity, the quality of our leaders and the performance of the various agencies under the Constitution need to be assessed and evaluated. New parameters in the quality of governance are called for.
India’s past is long and sometimes not very pleasant. So, we have to quickly learn to fit into the league of advanced countries. In managing our affairs, both domestic and foreign, in our own unique ways. Not look to the UK or USA for guidance. So, India has to maintain its friendly relations and talk things out and solve some of the outstanding problems. With China, Pakistan and other neighbours.
The 58th Independence day came and gone. There have been the usual speeches by the President and the Prime Minister. There have been media commentaries and they have all given us, I hope, some perspectives on India’s current status and future prospects. Inside the country and also on the international scene. Inside the country there is much to celebrate and much to do introspection. What we have achieved and where we are still to do much?
Yes, we have become a mature democracy, the largest democracy in the world in terms of population, in terms of economic development and also in terms of our current status as a software super power. This only is creating much awareness about India’s potential in the USA, as the outsourcing business had created ripples in the US Presidential elections and also created much impact on China which is now seeing India as a competitor.
In internal sphere India have overcome four wars, overcome the still-to-be fully managed terrorism, to be contained the still a threat of sorts in the religious fundamentalism, language riots and as one news magazine wrote “some of the world’s stupidest politicians! Readers can pick and choose their own favourities among these stupidest politicians!
The poor still a large segment and they feel lost. In the maze of unmoving big bureaucratic machine. There is over-centralisation in the parties as well in the government. The states, some of them at any rate, have become so lagging in development. Corruption, tainted ministers in the Cabinet and really not fully understanding the complexities and the priorities in economic reforms are putting the common man still in bondage. There is the divide between the upper and lower classes. The widening gulf could cause many instabilities and destabilisation in the polity. Are our current crop of leaders in their chairs politically credible and morally strong men? An uncomfortable question, no doubt!
India now has the youngest population, those under 35 years.
There are two issues of some current priorities that engage the attention of the nation : our coming of age as a recognised nuclear power by the USA and following this recognition by other major world powers. The second is the Nanavati Commission’s exposure of the high and mighty in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.
Our nuclear power status entails much responsibility for India to play a more added responsibility in international affairs. There is no simple diplomatic talk in this new recognition. India has the great burden of living up to its past traditions of peace and pursuit of a peaceful world in the post-colonial, post-Non-Alignment, the post-Communist and in the post-Iraqi war phase of the world. The new American friendship under George Bush calls for extreme caution and India cant be any less unconcerned about the developments in the international scenario. Either by design or by accident that India under Singh now finds itself in a more elevated pitch in international affairs. We have to become more pro-active and pro-principles-based international player. This is going to give India an enormous opportunity and also an enormous strain as we move forward to engage more ambitious and more problematic players on the international arena.
I am no expert in international affairs. But I have my own definite views. On who are our reliable friends and who are our doubtful friends and who are, certainly, suspects who might not advance peace in the world as India sees it. So, there is much to debate internally, at many levels of Indian public opinion, in the university campuses and also outside in the independent public forums.
It is here I like to make the point that as on date we in India, inside India are rather blissfully unaware or rather complacent on many sensitive and tricky issues that concern our progress as an independent power in our region and also in the world.
The China question
China is seen by the world from different perspectives. It is seen as an enigma, as an odd man out and as a threat also! Unfortunately there are not enough indications that we in India are discussing China more today than what India did when Nehru was very much around. I have a personal angle, as I was very much a student in those days in Santiniketan where the Cheena Bhavan under the late Prof.Tan Yun Shan was the scene of much of the China debate, when Chou Enlai came and also after the 1962 developments I was watching Nehru’s visits there and his lamentations.
Now, of course China had changed a lot. But the uneasiness about China’s current intentions and future intentions are not known. USA is now friendly towards China as all countries are! Yet there are undercurrents of tensions and mutual discomforts between US and China. In economic and trade relations. The globalised world is after all not fully global or fully free market driven as we believe. China’s financial muscle, its intention to enter the US market, bid freely for takeovers or investments or list companies and do IPOs etc. are severely restricted by ‘unofficial’ policies. Even inside India this fear persists today!
The Chinese defence minister recently said that China would use nuclear weapons if US interferes with China’s Taiwan issue! So, China is seen as a problem by many, by Japan and even India, though we don’t say openly. China exports missile technology to Pakistan. Pakistan is engaged in nuclear proliferation by illegally giving out nuclear secrets. Certainly such topics are not discussed inside India. There is no informed opinion even among our senior political leaders. Let alone among the informed public opinion making media or the elite class. This is a lacuna and I very much want our universities at least to study more of China, study the Chinese language more widely and travel in China, let students and delegations go to China and let there be more exchanges. Now, Indian businessmen set up shops in China and this we must welcome. But businessmen at any time are no substitute for experts in diverse fields.
Unfortunately, again, our present existing China experts are not enough. Diplomats, in my opinion, are no reliable experts, they don’t contribute to educated an informed public opinion on matters like China. India is also a friend of Japan and South Korea and China has its own equations with these countries. So, we need experts, academic and media experts, more studies on these countries in our universities.
South East Asian leaders themselves are not very comfortable with China for various reasons, Singapore in particular more so ,hence Singapore’s free trade agreement with India! Japan has its own perspectives. This generation of Indians, Indian students and university scholars must become experts on these countries.
Our relations with America are critical for us and also for a more peaceful world. The last century wars were caused by empires and the emergence of bad men: Hitler, Stalin and Mao. These three had massacred millions of innocent people. This century witnesses terrorism. Though we have had two wars already there was no world scale war for over 60 years now! But now more countries posses nuclear weapons and also we have now some unstable countries and unpredictable men in a few countries.
So, India and the world can look to America as the largest economic and military power. Though unipolar, it is better than a bipolar world. Better we manage the multi-polar world by a mix of diplomacy, trade and strengthening the UN and other international agencies.
India has very big opportunity to demonstrate our peace-credibility and India has to have more better quality politicians. Now, the coalition partners, some of them are plainly “stupidest politicians”. They are driven by utter selfishness, they entertain vague, irresponsible separatist
In double speak ,others plain caste advocates and our Leftists are no help. So, we have to critically assess our leaders’ performances.
At the moment what we have are bureaucrats. No leaders. So, we stick to standard priorities. Seeking UN Security Council seat etc. India can do without such narrow agenda. India must articulate world fears and aspirations. India must be respected in the forums of the world. India must matter in many spheres. Be it our democratic experience or judicial issues or combating terrorism or engaging the Third World countries, the Middle East where we have had long standing friendly relations. I would say in one word: India should become independent of the UK syndrome or the US narrow focus. India must look far and wide and emerge as the model responsible state in international arena. That should be our highest priority.
In the domestic politics too there are some persisting aberrations, aberrations that could cause damage to our assumed mature democratic credentials. The Nanavati Commission and its aftermath of getting one minister dropped from the Cabinet is no sign of our polity’s maturity. In an open democracy, the guilty must be punished and there must be reconciliation and a real and genuine-heart-felt apology from the really guilty. The establishment of guilty must be through due process of law. So too with other mass riot cases, in Ayodhya, J&K and Gujarat. This due process of law must be established in the cases of collective violence and must be enforced and upheld as established convention of our democratic process.
There are many positive developments and we have to recognise and highlight in all forums. Our judiciary, the Supreme Court is really ,if we can say so, international class! Yes, the Western judiciary, the UK and US judiciary we have admired for long, rightly so and yet today the Indian judiciary seem to beat the UK and US judiciary in its sheer catholicism, cosmopolitanism and its sheer open-mindedness to render justice to reach the widest principles of justice. To touch “unto the last”. But this awareness must be inculcated widely in our education system.
Also lately, thanks to the current Speaker of the Lok Sabha, there is some retracing the old Parliamentary principles of conduct on the part of the Honourable Members of Parliament. Our MPs as a class had lately let us down on many fronts. So, I welcome the current Speaker’s many initiatives. Individuals always matter. So, some of our eminent jurists like Fali S.Nariman had been giving their timely advice and guidance. Our media is maturing though we are yet to give rise to star media heroes, who would stand up to power misusers however high and mighty they may be. Yet we are to produce a class of such star media exposures, though we are making much progress on this front.
Some of our NGOs are doing great service, in rural development, environment and gender justice and such areas of high sensitivity and responsibility. Yes, there is much social injustice and much inequity and much corruption in high places and these need to be tackled.
We might have had political freedoms for the past many decades but in a philosophical sense, Indians, that is average Indian, is not a free person. He is still basically a much-conditioned unfree person. The burdens of the past hang on us, the burdens of the present immoral acts of the leaders and the system weighs heavily on the minds of the average citizen.
Of course, these are all some high moral questions and we just have to remind ourselves we have a long way to go.