India – the biggest democracy in the world – is going through a lot of changes and turmoil, both from within and due to forces outside. As a country, it is unparalleled in its diversity – cultural, religious, social, and economical as well as political. The way India has evolved since departure of colonial British in 1947 is not at all inspiring. Despite the celebration of August 15 as Independence Day and January 26 as Republic Day for past six decades, it does not appear that India has really shaken off its colonial past. Contrary to the expectation that Indians would rule themselves with their own thinking it turned out that Nehru and his colleagues largely followed the demeanor of the White British and failed to look at larger issues faced by the newly truncated free state.
Today, India is globally recognized for three things: high poverty, high population, and high corruption. India is home to about one-third of world’s extreme poor, is set to become the most populous country by around 2028 beating China, and is counted among the most corrupt countries in the world where opening and doing business is a mountainous task. Doing business honestly in India is as tough as winning an Olympic medal, may be even harder!
In confusion people generally ask: Is India a Poor Nation or Emerging Superpower. “Both” is perhaps the correct answer.
THE LEGACY OF PARTITION
Partition of India was designed by the British to carve out a new nation in order to satisfy the personal ambitions of a few Muslim leaders led by Jinnah – the idea of two nation theory was already floated several years before 1947 and it was nothing but appeasement of Islamic fundamentalism. The colonial looters would have been happier creating more fragments but could not find other sectarian leaders outside the Muslim community. For example, their missionaries have not converted sizeable number of people into Christianity so they could not create another State for them. It certainly was a cunning and destructive decision meant to sow the seeds of long term future confrontation on the Indian sub-Continent after the British departed. It reflected the typical conniving mindset of the British (Western) thinking: I rule, else I destroy. Partition fuelled the communal disharmony between Hindus and Muslims leading to massive blood bath and mass migration of Hindus and Muslims from both sides.
In the truncated “Secular” India, activities of radical Islamic elements, who could not go to Pakistan during partition but remained in India as Pakistan sympathizer, remained an ever lurking threat to communal harmony. It also often triggered fundamentalism on the other side. The bitter memories of bloodbath following the partition served to sustain mutual mistrust in both communities. Their provocative or belligerent activities were generally ignored by the ruling Congress Party until forced to act – it was seen as unfair appeasement by the majority silent Hindus.
“Communal” Politics of “Secular” Politicians
In the later years, this appeasement transformed into minority ‘vote bank’ politics and distortions crept in the secularism as practiced – the phenomenon is still going on. After 65 years, today “secularism” only stands for communal politics to corner Muslim or Christian vote banks. Of the two, the 1% Christian community is more peaceful and more humane. But being larger in numbers, the 14% Muslim “vote bank” is more lucrative. It has and is still harming India in two ways: One, it is hurting the cause of national integration; and two, it has actually harmed India’s Muslim community more than anyone else.
Indian Muslim community historically excelled in a variety of skills and cultural activities, but groomed as ‘vote bank’ for decades they increasingly sank into poverty and hopelessness. If the government allotted funds for numerous schemes, they were generally siphoned off by the corrupt power brokers of the community. Then the ‘Secularists’ also started demanding “reservation” for Muslims in government jobs alongside dalits and other backward communities. Thus, Muslims were pushed into the politics of reservation also. A decade into 21st century, this community presents a scene of self perpetuated misery and directionless-ness. [read more on pseudo-secularism later]
Anyway, thanks to the amalgamating influence of accommodative, peace-loving and often unassertive 80% Hindus, Muslims in India enjoy a rare degree of social and political freedom.
Today India has as many Muslims as Pakistan – around 176-180 million – yet forming only about 14% of the Indian population. After Indonesia, Pakistan and India have the next largest Muslim populations in the world, followed closely by Bangladesh (150 million). In terms of numbers, other major countries are Egypt (80 million), Nigeria (80 million), Iran (75 million), and Turkey (74 million). Of the total global population of 1.6 billion, around 80% Muslims live in countries where they are in majority. About 1 billion or 62% live in Asia pacific region, followed by about 320 million (21%) in the Middle East – North Africa and 245 million (Sub Saharan Africa); Europe has only 40 and Americas have just 5 million Muslims.
The “Pak Headache” of India
Partition of British India was not just a communal birth of Pakistan; it was birth of a migraine that would hurt India for decades. Just weeks after its birth, it invaded Kashmir that forced Kashmir’s ruler to seek India’s help and signed the treaty of accession. The first Indo-Pak war ended with two-third territory of Kashmir under Indian control and the rest with Pak – this line of control (LOC) still holds. The 1965 war did not change much. But the 1971 defeat transmuted its “hate India” policy to “bleed India” philosophy.
If the religious fundamentalism created Pakistan in the name of Islam, it failed to keep the country intact beyond 1971 – when a dispute over results of a general election precipitated a civil war in the East Pakistan that sent lakhs of refugees into India. Pak army’s atrocities ended after intervention by Indian military. Only two weeks of battle forced surrender of 93,000 Pakistani troops and birth of a new nation – Bangladesh. Pakistan suddenly lost half of its territory! It is the most shameful military defeat of any army after the WW-2!
Nonetheless, the 1971 humiliation gave birth to its “bleed India” doctrine and Kashmir became the sole focus of its foreign policy. The actual “bleed India” operation started in 1989 after Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan.
Radicalization of Pakistan
Islam arrived in India through Muslim invaders and also with Sufi saints who started arriving in the 14th century mainly to avoid their persecution in the Arab lands. Over the centuries, the amalgamation with indigenous philosophies created an Islam in India that has significant flavor of Sufism – the most humane form of Islam – which accepts peaceful coexistence of people, going beyond confines of faith and beliefs. It is strictly non-political.
In the 1980s, Pak military dictator General Jia Ul Haq decided to change the “color” of Islam. In his desire to stand out loudly as a Islamic State and get accepted by the rich Gulf nations, he opted for Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism, which is utterly authoritarian. But that’s what a military general would choose. Russian occupation of Afghanistan offered the opportunity to try religious fanaticism against the communists. Thus, the US-Pak joint experiment began with setting up training camps to produce Islamic fighters who would wage Jehad against the Soviet army. The idea was to constantly hurt and “bleed” the Russians and make their lives “hell” in Afghanistan. In other words, make Afghanistan their Vietnam!
Thus, Al Qaeda, Taliban and other Jehadi groups were born. Russians left in 1989. The US and Pak felt elated at their brilliant success against the communists. Pakistan started diverting the “out of job” Jehadis to Kashmir to “hurt and bleed India”. Cross border infiltration kept the Kashmir Valley “boiling” for almost the whole 1990s.
Impact of the 9/11 Attack
Pak honeymoon with Islamic extremism was badly jolted by the 9/11 attack in the US. During the last 10 years, Jehadi factories have been churning out terrorists as a matter of routine. Now the US wanted Pak to shut them. Arrival of US troops in Afghanistan searching for Osama Bin Laden made life difficult for the Pak government. It was forced to act against its own creations.
All through the American war-on-terror since 2001 Pakistan played a double game because the Americans needed a local ally. It extracted aid from the Americans to fight terrorists but used it for its proxy war against India. Within a decade of NATO’s war on terror Pakistan established itself as world’s biggest terrorist breeding center and lost all its international credibility when Americans killed Osama on its own territory without its knowledge! Even today, the perpetrators of 1993 Mumbai serial blasts and 2008 26/11 Mumbai attacks have safe sanctuary in Pakistan, while it rightly claims to be the biggest victim of terror groups it has nurtured.
It is a shame that even after the US led trillion dollar ‘war-on-terror’ for 13 years terrorism is still thriving. The Al Qaeda has only lost competition to the ISIS which emerged in 2014 and setting milestones in barbarism in the ruins of Iraq and Syria. Today, America and its allies are hated more than before 9/11. Blinded by their military might they even now fail to see the dangers of promoting hate and their policies towards the Muslim world still remains highly divisive and exploitative. Conduct of the Western nations is the proof that developing economy and technology does not develop people – they still have fascination for violence and wars like the terrorists who come from societies considered barely ‘developed’ on their parameters.
After the December 2014 Taliban attack on school children in Peshawar which killed over 140 children of Pak army men, it was expected that Pakistan will now eliminate all terror groups from its soil and it did intensify its operations against the Taliban camps and the government lifted ban on death sentences and started hanging convicted terrorists in Pakistani jails. But the momentum appears to have decayed and the distinction between good and bad terrorists continues.
Beyond terrorism, Pakistan’s nuclear arms are a major concern for the global community which is apprehensive about the nukes falling in the hands of the terrorists. Pakistan is perfect example of what happens when a State is run on the silly principle: “We exist to hurt others; not to make ourselves better.”
You may like to explore: What makes Pakistan, Pakistan!
The reason for this short historical perspective is that it helps to understand the current social and political structure and problems created them.
THE UNFINISHED AGENDA OF NATIONAL INTEGRATION
THE KASHMIR ISSUE
When the British left after 190 years of plunder of the country, India was a conglomeration of about 561 tiny princely estates rule by Rajas, Nizams and Nawabs. Their prime task was to collect taxes from the public and pay to the colonial rulers. They had the option of joining either side or stay sovereign. Home Minister, Sardar Patel used his political skills to merge them into Indian union. Hyderbad was to last to get absorbed in the 1950s. It is a matter of pride for all Indians that the NDA government is building a world class monument to honor the “Real Sardar” of India by collecting small pieces of iron from across the country.
Kashmir was also one such Princely State ruled by Raja Hari Singh who wanted to stay sovereign and did not join either side. Pakistan was hoping that it would come its way but hari Singh did not make any move. In frustration and impatience, Pak troops invaded Kashmir and soon reached near Srinagar. Seeing no option, Hari Singh requested help from New Delhi. Military help was agreed on the condition that Kashmir would accede to India. Hari Singh signed the Accession Treat and Indian troops were dispatched immediately. Invaders were driven away and on cease fire, India was in control of two-third Kashmir and the rest was under Pak control. Nehru decided to approach the UN to complain about Pak aggression. This made Kashmir an international issue.
You may explore details on Kashmir issue and how Pakistan has been trying hard to Islamize the issue on these pages:
The arrival of BJP government at the Center after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, PM Modi’s special interest in Kashmir, and the formation of PDP-BJP government in J&K ushers hope for a better future of Kashmiri people. Economic development and job creation will automatically take heat off the Pak’s meddling in the Valley. Let’s hope that J&K will be better integrated into mainstream India.
THE NORTH EASTERN STATES
Yet another major unfinished business of national integration relates to the diversities – cultural, linguistic, and traditional – which are integral parts of Indian social fabric. In diversity India is more colorful than any other country or even continent. But it is ironical that a typical north Indian knows very little about the realities of south and vice-versa, and most Indian know precious little about the north eastern states, their people, culture and tradition. It is a shame that even in the capital Delhi there are ignorant people who consider their brothers and sisters from the North east as foreigners. This is frightening. Economic activities have significantly bridged the north-south gap but the north-east must be integrated with all the care and dignity. Perhaps the best way to do it is to hold regular cultural festivals across India so that people of one state know about others.
The ways to go about assimilating them into national mainstream are improving connectivity of the north eastern region by developing better infrastructure all the way up to Arunachal Pradesh and organize cultural festivals of the north eastern states in rest of the country at regular intervals.
Arrival of BJP’s Modi government at the Center is seen as a healthy sign to assimilate the NE into national mainstream. A special help-line has been set up for people from the north east and other steps are expected.
You may like to explore: Birth and Spirit of the Sixth Schedule
NAXAL VIOLENCE – THE BIGGEST INTERNAL SECURITY THREAT
Indian government is solely responsible if the left wing extremists (Naxal movement) are now recognized as the biggest internal security risk for the country (as described by former Dr Manmohan Singh). Foolishly the tribal regions, usually far and remote, were left ignored and these areas never felt the presence of protective governance machinery since 1947. Why?
The British left these areas isolated by labeling them “excluded” from governance (for their own convenience). The “brown English rulers after” 1947 never bothered to take care of their fellow countrymen living is isolated conditions in remote hills and forests, leaving them to the mercy of forest officials who acted as if they were still employed by the agents of the British East India Company. The vacuum was filled by left-wing extremists – they exploited the isolation and exploitation of the tribals by state officials and money lenders to strengthen their cadre. Their aim is to destroy the Indian State and replace it with a communist state following the Maoist ideology. Through all these decades the Indian government kept pretending that it was mere law-and-order problem.
The “Red Corridor” and Maoist Violence
Over the years, they carved out a vast territory covering 92,000 sq km area, called “Red Corridor” by the media. It has grown dramatically in last two decades along the East coast right from Nepal to Tamil Nadu. In the early 1990s the number of districts affected by varying degrees of Maoist violence stood at just 15 in four states. This rose to 55 districts in nine states by the end of 2003 and to 156 districts in 13 states in 2004.
Maoists are currently believed to be operating in around 200 districts (of a total of 604 districts in the country) in 17 states. The worst affected states are Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Orissa. The poverty and backwardness of people in these forest covered areas has provided a fertile ground for the growth of Naxals/Maoists who have been gaining strength at every neglect of these people on the part of the governments.
Download the full report on Naxal/Maoist Violence: NAXAL_Report
Why the Tribal and Naxal Issue become Important NOW?
The reason Indian government was forced to pay attention to Naxal Violence is the corporate interest in the natural resources, mineral mines, and water reservoirs located in these areas for ”developmental” activities under the economic reforms started in 1991. Over 75 percent natural resources, mineral mines, water reservoirs are located in the remote areas populated by the poorest of poor – Adivasis (tribals). After neglecting these areas for decades and allowing them to become the den of Naxal violence, the State and Central governments suddenly became interested in them in the post-reform era.
However, rather than appreciating the eco-friendly lifestyle of the tribals and rewarding them for preserving the natural wealth, our rulers are throwing them out so that the rich and greedy corporations can setup industries and grow the GDP of the country.
[No one wants to think about the scenario, after say 20-30 years, when all the resources have been consumed by the corporates and their bottom-lines fattened? Yes, they will sell-off their businesses leaving behind the trail of ecological mess in the areas which have been kept lush green and preserved by the illiterate tribals since ages. Isn’t it pathetic?]
Deploying security forces ostensibly in the name of fighting Naxals is the usual trick employed by the governments. The real reason is to secure the resources for the corporate houses and help evicting the local tribals. But if the government is sincere about tribal welfare, it should strengthen implementation of the PESA Act of 1996 [Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996]. The Act extends the Panchayat Raj system to the Fifth Schedule areas and allows the tribal communities grass-root democracy by activating the Gram Sabhas (village assemblies). The Act empowers the Gram Sabhas to take authority over local natural resources also.
If the Act is honestly implemented, it will also render the Maoists baseless by allowing the rule of the law that protects the tribals. Once the tribal people get connected to the Panchayat system, they will have platforms to raise their issues and develop themselves. Unfortunately, so far the implementation of the PESA Act has been pathetic because no one (state government, forest officials, or politicians) wants to allow the poor tribals to rule themselves through their Gram Sabhas. They are more comfortable nurturing the interests of rich corporate houses. As the Union government is moving ahead with corporatization and adopting the US style corporate-led economy, the PESA, forest laws and the rule of Garm Sabhas and Panchayats will only remain paper laws for appeasement.
You may like to read:
PSEUDO-SECULARISM AND ‘VOTE BANK’ POLITICS
Former PM Dr Manmohan Singh had declared that “The left wing naxal violence is the biggest internal security threat for India.” Naxal influence has grown in the past decades and they have created a ‘red corridor’ – vast tracks of land in the tribal belts of the country where they wield considerable influence. However, the naxal/Maoist ideology is well known and can be dealt with politically and militarily.
However, there is another challenge that is far more deceptive and disruptive as well. It is an invisible threat to National cohesion. It is the distorted communal politics of minority “vote bank” politics. This highly poisonous decisive practice is generally called “pseudo-secularism.” It can’t be fought with military might. The practitioners of such substandard politics need to be exposed and boycotted.
The roots of this “communal virus” can be traced to Indira era when it became a standard political tool to win elections. It involves posing as champions of minority interests, win their votes and, of course, forget them afterwards. This practice gave rise to a breed of leaders who started roaming around as the only caretakers of ‘secularism’ – a concept enshrined in the Constitution.
In a multi-religious society like India, secularism is a vital concept and all should have the freedom to practice what they believe peacefully, without threat or discrimination. It is also a reaffirmation of the all-encompassing and assimilating mindset that comes from the ancient culture of this land. It always prescribed the ethos of “unity in diversity” and dates back to the era much before the Christ.
Respect for Humanity is a Culture of Indian People
In fact, even without the written provision in the Constitution, India would have naturally remained a secular State because that is the nature of its people. The majority Hindus are inherently secular and highly accommodative; there is nothing in their spirituality based belief system that encourages looking down upon or discrimination against outsiders or strangers. They don’t read “holy books” that divides humanity into believers and non-believers, and demand that non-believers should be “converted.”
Other allied ideologies which evolved on the Indian soils like Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism also share the same attributes. They all promote life of high morality, respect for all saintly people and individual spiritual upliftment. The beauty of this philosophical amalgamation is seen in the almost universal respect for ‘sufism’, for example. Sirdi Saibaba is another exemplary saint who is held with respect by all communities, or go to Ajmer Shareef.
Religious Discrimination is a Foreign Concept
The idea of discriminating people on what they believe and changing the religious label of other people is a foreign concept. It came to India with the arrival of the two newest religions – Islam (1200 year old) and Christianity (2000 year old) – over the centuries. Unlike Indian born ideologies that focus on individual’s spiritual evolution, these two faiths are ‘social’; they divide people clearly into believers and non-believers and actively encourage “conversions” creating an adversarial atmosphere. Naturally, with an adversarial attitude you can’t coexist peacefully with others who don’t share your belief. This is the root of all communalism in India.
In fact, majority Hindus have no problem with people worshipping Jesus or Mohammad and following the wonderful ideals they taught. They respect religious freedom and it automatically exists in Hindu society; they trouble starts when the so-called “followers” and “believers” go “marketing” for “conversions” and demand doing so as matter of “Right.”
Secularism in the Constitution
The doctrine of religious freedom is enshrined in the UN charter under the declaration of Universal Human Rights and also in article 25 of the Indian constitution. Both these declarations state that the right to “change” one’s religion is a universal human right. The Indian constitution goes further by including the right to “propagate” one’s religion as a fundamental “right.”
So problem starts with the “right to propagate”. Whenever any Christian missionary enters a poor community or approaches tribal people with the pretext of ‘serving’ or ‘helping’ people get suspicious because they know the motive: “Conversion.” Such people are on marketing trip and have to show the performance, ie, “targets of conversions”, generally tied to size of funding. Of course, they come brainwashed into believing that they alone are superior and privileged; rest are all lowly creatures in human shape. It is not their fault; “the book” and the “book keepers” tell them to do think and act that way. In the middle east, people are brainwashed into believing that blowing the suicide jacket is the sure way to reach paradise instantly. Again in the name of faith – it can be twisted to serve any ulterior motive when there are gullible people.
Clearly, religious freedom, as currently defined, is problematic for Indian society. Certainly, the word “propagate” is ruining the harmonious fabric of Indian society. It should be defined as a private practice for personal upliftment like indigenous Indian religions. All so-called “faiths” should promote social harmony, feelings of brotherhood and unite societies; not sow the seeds of mistrust and fragmentation.
“Vote Bank” Politics
Congress party is clearly the inventor of the minority “vote bank” politics. This is an integral part of its practice of “secularism” which takes different forms. The first step is to create fear of Hindus among minority groups. Then the communal gimmick can take several forms. In the most innocent form it assumes “ignore Hindu” (or “take Hindus for granted”) type of mindset; the other extreme is the “accuse Hindu” campaign depending upon the situation. No wonder, as part of the game plan the Congress started the tradition of proudly calling Hindu Organizations and anyone who speaks for Hindus ‘communal.’ Mostly recently, the notable example is the endless communal campaign against Modi. The “Hindu phobia” must be sustained on continuous basis for the “vote bank” politics to work.
Outside Congress, this “political science of appeasement” is practiced by politicians like Mulayam Singh, Laloo Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee and host of others. Congress Prince Rahul looks odd when he also joins the chorus Since the 14% Muslims are the largest minority they are the prime target. In collusion with select self-serving Muslim community leaders these “vote bank” politicians have seriously harmed the cause of national integration and hampered the progress of the Muslim community while championing their interests.
Over the years, it became a fashion that if you want to show off as secular start accusing the RSS and other Hindu organizations of being communal.
However, the year 2014 gave a big blow to their communal “vote bank” game. The clear majority of the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections is the proof that people, including the Muslim community, are tired of this silly “vote bank” politics. It is wonderful that the Muslim community has now seen the real “communal” face of these self serving pseudo-secularists. It is a healthy sign for the Indian democracy that most of these distorted communal brains are sitting on the opposition benches in the parliament or thrown away. Widespread acceptance of Modi around the country by all communities and emergence of the BJP as the only truly secular party has left them confused and worried.
Another large vote-bank that has been always exploited is the Dalit community. Mayawati is perhaps the biggest practitioner of dalit vote bank politics. There are of course several communities that have been regularly exploited as vote bank; Jat “reservation” by putting them in the OBC category, and overturned by the Supreme Court, is a most recent standard example of divisive vote bank politics.
There is a need to discourage all manners of vote banks and vote bankers as well. This is also the ideal time for the BJP to shed its Hindu image and get established as the truly secular national party in India with countrywide reach. It is comical to think that someone can become secular merely by maligning Hindus in India! It is a distorted mindset. You may like to read:
POVERTY IN INDIA
India, the largest democracy of 1.25 billion people, is also the biggest center of poverty in the world – it is both widespread and intense. Today India has officially 363 million (or 29.5 percent) people under the poverty line, as against 407 million in 2004-05. This is latest claim of the Rangarajan Expert Group in June 2014. Until than it was 269 Million (22%) as per the earlier Tendulkar norms. In 2011, the poverty line was fixed at Rs 32 per day in urban areas and Rs 26 in the rural areas. It was reduced to rupees 26.80 and rupees 22.40 in March 2012. As a result, only 21.9% people are officially poor. A brilliant game of counting the poor! And a sick comedy as well. When the poverty estimate was severely criticized, the government appointed the Rangarajan committee to revise the poverty-line philosophy. It sure is a sick joke people of India are quite used to.
Good news is that the Planning Commission died in 2014 – Modi killed it!! He replaced it with the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI); its structure and role will be crystalized soon. Demise of outdated Planning Commission is a good news for all who want a real bottom-to-top flow of ideas. The Commission was rightly a gathering of ‘Bunch of Jokers’ in the eyes of late Rajiv Gandhi. Just two years ago it faced widespread criticism for it fanciful definition of poverty line. It was a club of well connected bureaucrats who lived in isolation and enjoyed lavishly on public money. In 2011-12, its staff of 1160, ate away Rs 84 lakhs in “Chai-Nashta”!! Its elite bosses wasted Rs 34 lakhs in renovation of 2 toilets in 2012!!!
The comprehensive Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) of UK based Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) gives a better insight into the extent and nature of poverty. The MPI puts Indian poverty at about 53% (650 million poor).
While no one believes the official poverty data of the Indian government, it is fair to say that about 400 – 650 million people are poor in India. While there can never be agreement on poverty numbers, compare these numbers with the European Union and US populations of 500 million and 310 million, respectively. These are huge numbers, by any standard.
India holds the distinction of having the most number of poor of the world – a super poor nation! Consequently, South Asia has become the world’s biggest center of extreme poverty. On the World Bank’s extreme poverty line of 1.25 dollars a day, there are roughly 500 million extreme poor in South Asia – most of it in India. The only other comparable pocket of poverty is the sub Saharan Africa, with 400 million people in extreme poverty.
HOW TO COUNT THE POOR
In 21st Century, poverty must be seen in the right perspective; not by some arbitrary income line fixed by so-called experts. Poverty must be looked, beyond income. Research of past few decades has firmly established that poverty cannot be properly understood in economic terms alone – divorced of social, cultural and political perspectives. People are social beings; processes and activities of the society affect their state of well-being. Studies of the problems of poor people and their communities have led to an understanding of poverty as a situation of several simultaneous deprivations, feeding one another. The new perspective sees poverty as a human condition that reflects failures in many aspects of human life – related to nourishment, employment, shelter, health, education, social and political participation, etc.
Therefore, the right way to view poverty is to see all its manifestations and its multidimensional nature. This makes the MPI very attractive and useful tool for policy planners. Several nations like Brazil and Mexico have adopted variations of the MPI technique for estimating poverty. The most interesting case is that of Bhutan which measures its progress by what it called gross national happiness index which is calculated by the same Alkire-Foster methodology that goes behind the MPI. Bhutan’s case will be commented upon later when we talk about sustainable development.
WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT?
WHAT IS WRONG WITH GDP?
The West and Western thinkers have traditionally seen “economic growth” as development. That’s the reason why everyone talks about GDP growth. But the truth is: the GDP is just an economic number – total market value of all goods and services produced during a specified time interval. It can’t distinguish economic activities which are beneficial to people, society and the environment. Highly expensive celebrity parties and expenditure on charitable work among the poor communities are treated the same way.
Further, consider these oddities of GDP: Polluting activities increase the GDP because of the expenses involved in the clean up. Crimes boost the GDP due to expenses on police, security, jails, are legal procedures. Wars and conflicts increase expenditure on weapons. None of these are healthy expenditure. Moreover, as people tend to become self-reliant, the GDP goes down. If a community decides to grow fruits and vegetables together and share or if community members decide to help each other at times of financial crisis, the GDP decreases.
Ironically, all wasteful or unnecessary or avoidable expenditures boost the GDP. It thus promotes consumption and consumerism. It doesn’t even consider people or focus on them. Yet, when people see it as the primary indicator of development and people’s well-being, reality gets blurred and the dialog go in the wrong directions. Today, countries are obsessed with expansion of GDP year-after-year… till eternity! It sound like insanity to me.
So, what is development?
Since 1990, the annual Human Development Reports (HDR) of the UNDP have been promoting the idea of human development (HD) which is a people focused comprehensive development model. Commonsense also demands that people and their well-being should be the focus of development, not economy.
The HD perspective put people at the center of development. The idea of human development revolves around the basic theme: “People are the real wealth of a nation.”Thus, the prime objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to live long, healthy and creative life. This was stated in the first HDR published in 1990. This is a remarkable paradigm shift in thinking about the poor; it sees poverty as lack of development.
Incidentally, the foundation of the HD perspective came from Amartya Sen’s capability theory of development. Sen argues that the purpose of development is to enrich human lives, not richness of economy which is only a part of it.
Bhutan is the only country in the world that does not use GDP as a measure of progress; instead it uses what it calls the gross national happiness (GNH). Way back in the 1970s its king declared that “Gross National Happiness (GNH) is more important than Gross National Product (GDP).” The GNH is holistic and gives importance to other dimensions of human life such as cultural, spiritual and social as well as health of the environment. Therefore, the state policies are not made only from the monetary or economic angle.
While rest of the world is still shying away from taking responsibility of the environment, despite increasing threats of climatic and ecological disasters, this tiny country of only 750,000 people is drawing global attention. While experts keep talking of environmental conservation and sustainable development and people agree with them, but this tiny kingdom is already doing it; it is doing so mandated by its Constitution!
Indian citizens need to question the wisdom of the “trickle down” economic model initiated by Manmohan Singh in the name of globalization, liberalization and economic reforms in 1991. It is ideal if the country has to be governed by the rich elites and powerful corporations. India needs a development system that attack poverty and is people and labor-oriented. The HD model is the right medicine for a poor country with large population base; Bhutan, whose major source of income is export of hydropower to India, also gives us the ideal recipe. Will the Indian government show courage and stop following the West?
FAULTY ECONOMIC REFORMS
MODERNIZATION OR MERE CORPORATIZATION?
Since 1991, the Indian government is occupied with economic liberalization, privatization and globalization, but in the process it has only deepened the divide between the rich (hence powerful) and the poor. By design, the process is geared towards industrialization and corporatization of India in line with how the Western nations developed, disregarding the ground realities of the country. Consequently, there has been 6-8 percent growth in GDP for over a decade and yet no meaningful impact on poverty.
For all practical purposes, the new economic policies remain directed to the 25 percent population living in the urban areas. Rest of the larger India is expected to benefit only from the “trickle-down” effect. Americans are particularly proud of this Reagan- Thatcher philosophy which wants to hand over everything to the rich elites and run the country. This is also driving rural to urban migration into cities that are already overcrowded. It is height of insanity to think that 125 crore Indian can be herded into towns where they will slave the corporate houses and drive Altos, eat pizzas and buy grocery from air-conditioned Malls like the Americans do.
In the reform era, natural resources, minerals, water and land are all being given to corporate houses at throw away prices so that they can setup industries and modern facilities that will generate employment for ordinary Indians and India will “develop.” This approach, though dictated by the IMF and the WB, is not suitable for a populous and poor country like India. First, this corporate led economic growth can not generate enough employment India needs – around 1 crore new jobs per year mostly for the unskilled or semi-skilled people. What’s the ground reality: Between 2005 and 2010, Indian economy only created around 30 lakh jobs!!
Second, promoting urbanization is absurd for a country where cities are already overcrowded. Modi’s idea of 100 smart cities is also flawed for the same reason. The core idea behind the current policies is to transfer people from the rural agriculture sector to urban industry and service sector to serve as cheap and exploitable labor force. Urbanization is OK for the West with its small population where mechanized farming need fewer people in agriculture to produce food grains; the majority survives by working in the industrial sector.
It is a shame that we are displacing innocent and naive tribals from their ancestral lands (where they also act as natural custodians of resources and live in dignity with limited means) and forcing them to migrate to cities to become manual labors for the industry (and lead an exploited life without sense of security or dignity) – all in the name of development.
How about displacing people from New Delhi and Mumbai and forcing them to repair the ecological mess of mining activities of Vedantas, Tatas, Essars, JPs, and Ruias and clean the pollution of mega thermal power plants? I think it is time that the “consumers must pay” rule should be changed to “consumers must clean”!!
WHAT WOULD BE RIGHT DEVELOPMENT PLAN FOR INDIA?
Ideally India should only focus on simplifying and reducing the government procedures that stifle business and enterprise, while not neglecting the farmers. India must go beyond the GDP growth and aim for real development. Here is a simple plan to development India:
Why population of India does not stop growing – is a question everyone wants to ask. It is growing not because people are having large families, but simply because there are too many people in the reproductive age group – population momentum. The sterilization camps are no more the right place to tackle the population issue; the family planning battle must be now fought on the social plane. The correct anti-dotes to population growth due to momentum are: late marriage, delayed pregnancies and spacing among children. An important factor contributing to population growth is unwanted pregnancies (accounting for one-fourth births), it requires making a variety of contraceptives easily available to people, particularly in rural areas.
There are many popular myths around population of India. At the core of it, lies the issue of women empowerment, which itself is powerful contraceptive.
Indian family planning officials will do themselves as well as the country favor, it they educate themselves on the issues of population momentum and also pay attention to what the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), Cairo, 1994 laid down on the population question. For an historical perspective, please read
The British way to control population of India?!: You may also like to know how the British “ignored” famines in the colonial India as a weapon (instrument) for population management. During the shameful British Raj 30 – 50 million Indians have been estimated to have died in famines in 200 years of colonial plunder.
The good news is the birthrates are falling all over the world, not only in India. The Malthusian fear of overpopulation has gone bust already and the global population should stabilize around 2100, in the range 11 – 13 billion. Currently, people are debating how to curtail global population from reaching 9 billion by 2050, as has been predicted by some experts.
Child marriages have played a big role in propagating poverty through population growth throughout the world. In India 47% girls are already married before the legal age of 18 and a significant proportion has already given births. Such early marriages sustain high poverty as well as high population and make a vicious cycle.
KERALA: POPULATION CONTROL THROUGH PEOPLE DEVELOPMENT
The tiny state, Kerala, is a unique example of the power of people development; the whole world acknowledges and admires the wonderful culture and society of Kerala. It is also unique in the respect for women; it has the best female/male ratio in the country – 1084 female for every 1000 male as per the 2011 census (highest in the Kunnur District 1136 and the lowest in Idukki district, 1006). Compare it with the national average of 940 females. The next best is way behind; it is Tamil Nadu, 996 female followed closely by Andhra Pradesh with 993 female per 1000 male. Interestingly, the economically prosperous Haryana has the lowest sex ratio, 879 females. What stops our foreign trained scholars of New Delhi to learn from Kerala? In fact, Kerala can teach a lot, both to India and China about how to look after its people and control the population.
Every patriotic Indian is feeling the pain looking at the way politician-corporate-bureaucrat nexus has taken control over policy making and distributing country’s resources among themselves. Recent 2G and Coal Scam are the most glaring example how country’s natural wealth can be looted. This loot was done in the business-as-usual fashion; therefore no one is ashamed of it. This is how the corporate world operates across nations – undermining laws of the land or even by creating laws that suit their business interests. India is among the worst governed countries in the world whose leaders rely on foreign dictates more than local sane voices. This slave mentality has not died even 65 years after the colonial British left India; on the contrary it has only strengthened. All ills of the nation can be traced only to one thing: Bad Governance.
In fact, lack of accountability at all levels is at the core of bad governance in India and every problem emerges from it – whether Naxal violence, corruption, poverty, or even population. On the Global Integrity Index that measures governance and anti-corruption of nations, India fairs badly. It also points to weak governance due to lack of accountability of politicians and bureaucrats.
The most important governance reforms relate to the electoral processes, police and judiciary, bureaucratic and judicial accountability, and also strengthening grass-root democracy by seriously implementing the PRI and PESA Acts and making caste-based reservations history.
Political reforms and transparency in political funding is at the root of all corruption and bad governance. It particularly creates corruption at the top of the State hierarchy. Simultaneously, two urgent reforms are Police and Judicial Reforms. The police force is still operating in the colonial mindset and sees itself as a protector of rulers from the citizens! Poor and ordinary citizens are particularly vulnerable when they have to deal with the police and seek justice. Indian courts are atrociously slow that makes a mockery of justice. Rich can exploit loopholes in the laws and procedural aspects and can get by with practically anything.
Download the Full Report: Corruption in India
MNREGA AND FOOD SECURITY
Passed in 2005, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is the Biggest Anti-poverty Program in the World! In spirit, the developmental projects under the NREGA (now renamed MGNREGA; MG for Mahatma Gandhi) are supposed to be designed, planned and implemented by the gram Panchayats. Thus, this unique Act has the potential to revitalize the PRIs, giving impetus to the grass-root democracy, and also create unskilled jobs in rural India. This scheme has become the darling of the rural poor who can LEGALLY claim up to 100 days of unskilled work at the prescribed minimum wages. However, The real Potential of MGNREGA is yet to be Realized. Unfortunately, many states have failed to appreciate the potentials of this program. If implemented in fairness and in coordination with broader plans, MGNREGA can become the catalyst for transformation of rural India.
Poverty cannot be eliminated from the country without looking after the small farmers. Fascinated by text book prescription of eliminating all subsidies by the Western lenders, the government is bent on eliminating all forms of subsidies given to the farmers. This is simply disastrous: Western nations indulge in all manners of protections for their farmers and subsidize basic food items to keep food prices low and affordable. Their farming sector is not a major livelihood provider unlike in India. Offering ever increasing minimum support price (MSP) to farmers is an inadequate and inefficient way to help the farmers or to keep the food prices in control. Indian farmers need Income support, not just MSP.
THE FOOD SECURITY BILL
The UPA ruling coalition at the Center passed the Food Security Bill weeks before the coming parliament elections in order to gather votes in 2014 general elections. It was among other Bills meant to promote the Royal Prince Rahul. It is simply a matter of Center imposing its arbitrary rules on the states who are the actual implementers. But for the immature thinking, the Center should have only encouraged the states to make their own rules based on local realities. The fact is: Bills alone don’t make any difference apart from adding to bureaucratic confusion unless implemented on the ground properly.
It also failed to appreciate that the country might be heading towards water scarcity. Water shortage scenario might also develop from another angle. Chinese water resources in its industrialized northern region are fast becoming polluted and there appear to be plans to divert waters from the Tibetan region. The mighty Brahmaputra seems to be on target of Chinese plans. If and when the Chinese go ahead with such projects, both India and Bangladesh have reasons to worry. The north-eastern Indian states as well as Bangladesh are heavily dependent on the Brahmaputra waters. Melting Himalayan glaciers, due to global warming, are cause of serious concern for the water security of Himalayan rivers that nourish northern and north eastern plains.
SARVA SHIKSHA ABHIYAN AND THE RTE ACT, 2009
(Download the full report: Right To Education Act, 2009)
The right to education Act was put into force in 2010. It gave legal right of education to all kids in the age group of 6 – 14. The vehicle for implementation of the RTE is the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). Since 2010 necessary changes have been made in the rule of the SSA to conform to the RTE requirements.
It is certainly a massive undertaking to cover children even in the remote habitations. But it must be acknowledged that a lot of children began to see schools, they would have never dreamed off otherwise. No doubt, shortage of teachers and quality of education is poor but shall we not celebrate over 96% average enrollment across the country. If the government keeps its promise and raise expenditure on education to the tune of 5-6% of GDP, it will have a long term impact on the future generations.
No doubt, critics will keep asking the question: Does Right to Education mean Right to Schooling Only?
However, in stead of cynicism it might be helpful if we also look at the positive side of elementary education in India. And keep improving the delivery.
THE REAL SIGNIFICANCE OF 2014 LOKSABHA POLLS!
By all means the year 2014 will be remembered for changing the political discourse in the history of free India. It would be known for the charisma of Modi and strategy of Amit Shah. Both proved that they know India and aspirations of its people better than anyone else. First it was the thumping victory of the BJP in the 2014 Loksabha polls with a clear majority (282/543) that made Modi PM. It was a double victory for the country: One, removal of the most incompetent and corrupt government since independence. The 10 years of Manhoman (remote controlled by his party boss and her son) at the helm has left practically every Indian feeling badly helpless and powerless. Two, a clear majority to a single party BJP, ending the governance paralysis of coalition governments of past 2 decades.
The others biggest losers are the political power brokers (coming again from the pseudo-secular brigade and vote-bank politicians) such as Mulayam Singh, Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar and their likes. With just handful of MPs they had been dictating the fate and functioning of coalition governments for over 2 decades and the common man and his interest has almost cease to matter, except for the words of party manifestoes.
The Modi hurricane did not finish with the Lok Sabha poll. It continued in the assembly polls too. Modi showed his charisma in the assembly elections in 4 state: first in Maharashtra and Haryana and then in Jharkhand and J&K. If Modi has become the guarantee for election victory, the BJP President Amit Shah has emerged as the strategist par excellence. Many call him the modern-day Chanakya of India. Like Modi, Shah is also a man dedicated to the cause of nation building and a remarkable political strategist. No wonder, both workaholics form a great team.
Modi has already proved that he stands much above all in the political landscape of the country. His cleanliness drive and Adarsh Gram scheme along with other initiatives like creating the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) in place of the outdated and useless Planning Commission suggest that he is a man full of creative ideas. His almost mythical performance in the US and Australia makes Indians proud that they have a world class leader. ‘Strong arm’ leaders like Mulayam and Laloo are highly worried and insecure men today and working on a ‘grand coalition’ of former Janata Parivar to counter Modi.
With fully dedicated, honest, hard-working, rational and clear-headed Modi firmly at the driving wheel, now is the best time to catapult India to new heights, given the superb brain power it has. It is the best time for all communities to shun their parochial ‘vote bank’ leaders and create a new national main-stream totally free of “appeasement” and “vote-bank” politicians; their companions in the media must also now be sent in permanent retirement!!
Let’s all celebrate and hope for freedom from poverty, illusions and ignorance gathered in six decades by the self-serving dynastic rule by a single family. The “privy” of this family should end now forever so that real democracy begins to germinate.