A vision for India, yes!
What divides India? What unites India?
I wrote a letter to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. Rather a long letter. A letter in her capacity as the President of the Indian National Congress. The party is 121 years old and when I read a book, the past one hundred and more years came before me! What a period it was! And so I was a bit overwhelmed by the thought of how the Congress came to be founded and how it evolved and where we are today! It is a long history.
What divides the country today? Oh, too many things! Every state has a grievance against its neighbor. Cauvery water dispute, Mullaperiyar dam, Maharashtra, Goa, AP has inter-state river water disputes. So too the Northern states.
Of course countries are divided against water disputes, border and language disputes. But then Indian states also have the very same disputes. Assam and the North East have their own quota of disputes, based on language, race and separate identities.
Is India more united than what was then in 1885 when the Indian National Congress was founded? Can’t say! Yes, in so many ways India today is a more united and a stronger and a more integrated society and polity.
But from other points of view, from a geo-strategic and international perspective, considering so many other global issues, India needs a more well-articulated, overarching vision to guide us towards a more stable world, a stable society and a stable democracy and a more competitive and more survival ensuring vision.
What I wrote to Sonia Gandhi? Partly political and partly ideological and non-partisan issues.
What I tried to convey is that India didn’t discover its destiny suddenly in 1885. Looked at historically, it was after 1857 revolt against the British rule, by the feudal rajas and the Hindu-Muslim rulers and communities, the British were shaken. So, they became more ruthless and they imposed new laws that saw Indians denied of the few privileges they were traditionally enjoying under the Mughal-cum-East Indian Company rule.
Suddenly, the realization came to some well-meaning Englishmen, like A.O.Hume, an I.C.S.man and other Indians, like those who like Pherozeha Mehta and W.C.Banerjee, who got the opportunity to go to India for their Barrister education, thanks to some Parsi philanthropist, one Sir Jeejebhai, the England-returned Indians realized that the Indians were denied a share in the jobs under the British rule. So, it was to plead for a share in British dispensation, so the Congress pleaded for fair treatment of Indians.
This, gradually, led to 1905,then swadeshi, then swaraj, under Tilak, then non-co-operation under Gandhi, from his South African experience, then later 1926 Lahore Congress demanding full independence(poorna swaraj) and 1942,ultimately 1947. Under Nehru India truly found a new vision, no doubt. After Nehru Indira Gandhi, with her own brand of radicalism, poverty alleviation, then under Rajiv Gandhi, the next generation, opening up the economy, ultimately under Narasimha Rao, the 1991, liberalisation of the economy.
I have written to Mrs. Gandhi to say that Dr.Singh & co’s theme song, as it were, of 8%-9% growth, is no vision at all!
First, these people are not serious leaders. They have no commitment to the ideology, whatever it is. In fact, there is no core belief system that binds the countrymen at large. The oldest party of the country itself is so acutely divided into so many factions and groups; there are vested interests within the vested interests inside the Congress party itself! That is the tragedy. The present coalition government at the Centre is itself so much of a patchwork, so much of a compromise; one doesn’t know what is holding them up, except the power brokers had had a field day. See the uneven distribution of very many important portfolios, among the more unqualified allies and their front men, some of them plainly unfit to hold Cabinet posts.
So, too the other bodies, Rajya Sabha is another victim. Kuldip Nayar, the veteran journalist, a prominent Rajya Sabha member is waging a lonely battle against the weighty 7 member bench of the apex court against its judgment about the character of the Rajya Sabha. So, in every time-honored institution, be it anti-corruption agencies or in OBC quotas or even the running of the education department, we see narrow considerations, playing minority, caste and other such divisive politics.
So, we come back to the old question: is India more divided a society today that it was yesterday? Or, is India a more united society than it was yesterday? Lord Bhikhu Parekh, the UK-based NRI intellectual, political philosopher and academic points out that India doesn’t have a vision today. A well-articulated vision that binds by certain fundamental values like principles like individual liberty, social justice and, equal opportunity and fraternity. A new identity for India in a globalize world, an identity in a highly divisive and a new mindset of the next generation that is driven by, so to say, by a migrant mindset! Yes, the best talents still aspire to leave the country, the best talents still seem to be the NRI talent, in foreign campuses and outside, these academics, engineers, doctors and the more highly motivated who make their millions and billions choose to live abroad and don’t want to live here or “dirty” their hands by participating in the country’s too many problems.
Lord Parekh says, perceptively,” Unlike most western societies in which middle classes played a socially and culturally revolutionary role; ours remain intellectually superficial, culturally dilettante, and politically apathetic to the plight of the underprivileged among them. Recent survey suggests that the reading habits of most of the Indians remain disappointingly shallow. Few read serious literature even in their own language or patronize the arts, and many of them find even newspaper editorials and the declining group of serious columnists intellectually challenging”.
I myself these days read few columnists, Kuldip Nayar and Tavleen Singh are the two who write something original, otherwise, I see my own old friends still writing the same old themes all their lives.
I am equally disappointed that my own Oxbridge fraternity, who gather around the Oxford-Cambridge Society in Delhi and in other cities, they all seem to have not integrated themselves with the vibrant new India. They prefer to sit cozily in World Bank offices or some obscure government depts. in Delhi and, what it seems to be a deplorable life in genteel poverty! Or, men like K.Natwar Singh.who want to have either the best government jobs, or get soil their hands in some deals for their sons and daughters or get angry with the political establishment for not saving them! As if, they, these so-called old fashioned, so-called well-bred Oxbridge men and women (Mani Shankar Aiyer included) don’t seem to be bold enough to get into the think of the battle, so to say and venture into entrepreneurial activity. They of course are not of the mettle which goes into build an Infosys or Wipro or create new innovative India-transforming works either.
What is the contribution of the new generation Oxbridge men and women, except one or two bright stars like Bharka Datta and Rajeev Sardesai, who, we salute them, went into the wider world and fight their own battle. To start media ventures like what Sardesai and even his own mentor, Prannoy Rai is a real challenge and it is these new generation men and women who give us some positive hope.
The point is that we need a new generation and a new vision. This generation must look beyond their immediate security. I read much this time about men like Gokhale, V.S.Srinivasa Sastri and others who in an earlier generation willingly gave their jobs to serve their country. They were driven by a sense of patriotism and an idealism that is sadly missing today.
Every generation has its idealists. Where are the idealists today? Every generation searches for a vision of its own. They fight battles; they sacrifice, all willingly for a bigger cause. Likewise, we need this generation, this generation of idealists and visionaries to emerge from the shadows, as it were, and give the country a new identity, a new courage and a new direction. History will only remember such persons; history is such a severe judge after all!