Whither India ? - Dr Sandeep Pandey

Whither India ?

Dr Sandeep Pandey

The mainstream freedom movement of this country definitely had a vision for an egalitarian society. A society in which each family would be able to earn their livelihood with dignity and accord the same respect to every other member of the society that they would expect for themselves. People would be able to live in an atmosphere free from fear. There would be mutual respect for diversity of ideas. India would lead the world towards disarmament and peace and would help establish a just and humane global order.

The development policies adopted by the Nehru's government, completely ignoring the principles of Hind Swaraj put forward by Mahatma Gandhi, later further aggravated by the economic policies of liberalization, privatization and globalization have resulted in dual development stream in this country. A small minority of the society which possesses a purchasing power can afford the latest fruit of modern technological development available in the global market. The industrialists are allowed unhindered to produce material items for the consumption of this class and this class is allowed to consume things unbounded. Just like the American society nobody cares a damn about global warming or any such thing coming in their way of a global lifestyle. On the other hand for the vast majority of poor, devoid of the magical purchasing power - which doesn't accrue from one's capability alone - the country's parliament has passed a National Rural Employment Guarantee Act which bars machines from being used in work offered to them for the fear of causing a threat to the employment of the poor. In spite of Prime Minister's advice in a CII meeting the CEOs resist the idea of placing a ceiling on their salaries whereas the poor earns a maximum wage of what is described as minimum daily wage. So, obviously there are two sets of policies. One which allows unlimited growth and unbridled indulgence. The other which tends to restrict.

This is not just limited to the field of economy. It extends to all other areas of human life. The elite of the country resist the idea of common school system ever since the Kothari Commission gave a recommendation in its favour in the mid '60s. Even the child of a government school teacher goes to a nearby private school. Same is the case with health care system, access to electricity, potable water, transportation, communication, etc. We have a system offering better services to the rich and another for the rest where people are asked to make do with subhuman conditions. A good example would be people who can pay a higher amount can travel in reserved coaches of the railways and those who cannot afford it are relegated to animal like travel in the general unreserved coaches.

As if things were not bad enough. The shining India now aspires to be a military power, in the august company of the country which is the single biggest threat to the sovereignty of various nations around the world. More people have probably died in India pre-maturely because of disease, poverty and debt related suicides than would die because of dropping of a nuclear weapon by an enemy country. Through a stupid deal on nuclear energy, which has been rejected as an option for producing electricity by most of the developed nations, we're entering into a strategic tie-up with the US which will make it more difficult for us to resist exploitation by their MNCs of our natural resources and the market, will create more enemies for us in our neighbourhood and unnecessarily involve us in wars which the US will fight in this region and elsewhere. Already, our Prime Minister appears to be committed to fulfilling promises made to the US President at the cost of ignoring the priorities of people of this country. This is a serious departure from our policy of non-alignment and self-reliance. From being a leader is pursuing the agenda of global peace until as late as 1995 in the International Court of Justice, we've now slipped down to being a military ally of the US in making.

It is not a coincidence that the terrorist incidents in this country have seen a rise since we decided unilaterally to join the US 's war against terror in 2001. After the demolition of Babri Masjid, the first major terrorist incident which marked the arrival of right wing politics India, there was a lull until the mysterious attack on India parliament just before the passage of POTA Act. Since then there have been a series of incidents which have engulfed this country in an unknown fear. As we raise more brute power to crush the problem of terrorism, or for that matter naxalism, the cycles of violence continue to grow. The government policy of acting with vengeance, instead of trying to solve the problems politically through dialogue, ends up in targeting innocent individuals like Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani and Binayak Sen. Our response to a Irom Sharmila who has been fasting for eight years now to demand repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act is to charge her with attempt to suicide and jail her in the hospital ward in Imphal. The Indian state doesn't know how to deal with its people except for a small elite segment loyal to it for its own vested interest. Farmers and labourers fighting to save their lands from corporate take over, for example in the name of SEZs, are labeled as naxalites.

It is quite clear that majority of India doesn't know what it means to be 'independent.' It lives as a second rate citizen of this country, denied the fruits of modern development or of the basic human rights, working hard day and night to make two ends meet. The police, military, nuclear weapons, intelligence agencies, laws of the land and increasingly the development juggernaut do not instill a sense of security in her, rather they appear as ominous threat to their very existence.

Dr Sandeep Pandey

(Author has won the 2002 Ramon Magsaysay Award in the Emergent Leadership category for work towards empowering the poorest of the poor and lending the underprivileged in India a voice- from education to grassroots democracy to peace to promoting local ownership of resources)