After a two colorless and ineffectual prime ministers, the rise of Atal Behari Bajpai in 1998 had been a breath of fresh air. He is articulate, forceful and not an effete socialist of the congress ilk. He made a fundamental break from the past when he led India onto the world stage with a nuclear bang. His reaching out to Pakistan with Lahore bus diplomacy and later his leadership during Kargil war made every Indian proud. Though he belongs to the Sangh Parivar and is a leader of BJP which espouses Hindutva as its core philosphy, his leadership by and large has been positive and uplifting. This was so in spite of the occasional mischief by Parivar minions against minorities. Even on the economic front his leadership, though not spectacular, had been good enough to keep country moving forward. Telecom liberalization and accelerated privatization of the public sector units are likely to provide a major boost to the economy soon.
It is under this backdrop, comments made by him in Goa at the party enclave are unfortunate, to say the least. Coming on the heel of riots in Gujarat where over a thousand Muslims have been killed, and over a hundred thousand have been rendered homeless in a retributive vigilante justice, they have sounded a discordant note that is totally out of tune with the need of the time. Also, casting a slur on the whole people because of the acts of a few is very unbecoming for the prime minister of the great nation. It is discouraging to see this happen at this time when Indian democracy is finally beginning to blossom and focus on economic growth. India is finally getting the recognition as a pluralistic democracy that has achieved maturity and confidence and is on its way to achieving the prosperity for its masses within a generation or two. Faltering leadership at this time by the prime minister can only hurt and is likely to take focus away from the economic imperatives. That may prove to be disastrous for the nation and may set us back several years.
India needs to fixate on China. Starting at roughly same place in mid seventies, China has raced ahead. Chinese per capita income is double that of India already. China, moreover, is outgrowing India at about 3% per capita per year. At that rate, an average Chinese will be producing four times as much as an average Indian. That spells disaster for India, as China is not likely to be friendly power. China has already used Pakistan as a low cost way to distract India. Now is not the time for unproductive misadventures. If India is to catch up with China, or at least not fall too far behind, it needs to boost its growth rate to 10%. What is needed is, a leader who provides an even sharper focus on economy and pushes for faster liberalization and not allow unnecessary and unproductive adventures.
Prime minister will do well to remember that partition did not produce a Muslim nation and a Hindu nation. India chose to be a secular democracy. India is too diverse to be any thing else. After 44 years of meandering, India finally set sail in the right direction in 1991. Economic liberalization and emergence of free electronic media in India has invigorated the Indian democracy. Frequent change of power through electoral process in 90’s has shown how deep-rooted democracy has become. Now is not the time to look back and undo the gains in the name of imagined past glories or settle scores for past slights.
Spontaneous rise of a world class IT industry in India has given a great boost to the self-confidence of Indians. The earlier sense of hopelessness has given way to new hope; we can compete with the best and the brightest in the world in a sunrise industries. But it is not enough, we need to get going and build a world class manufacturing industry in India. We need to set a goal of producing 10 million new jobs a year. A lot needs to be done to build the infrastructure. Power sector needs to be reformed. Free markets need to be introduced in agriculture. We need to eliminate illiteracy; we need to build hundred more IIT’s.
We need a steadier hand at the wheel, now is not the time for faltering. Is prime minister up to the challenge? I had assumed he was until recently.
With PM Manmohan Singh at Montek Ahluwalia’s home in the spring of 2000. He was the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha at the time. I was on my high horse at the time championing the telecom reform. Manmohan Singh was dead set against privatization of the industry at the time. I was surprised, given his liberalizer creds.
I later came to realize that he was not a liberalizer at all. He talked about inclusive growth as the PM and pushed NREGA as his main agenda. During his 10 years no liberalization happened, at least I cant recall any. And growth came crashing down. He preferred no growth to the non-inclusive growth. During Bajpai’s regime there was a liberalization galore: starting with telecom, airlines, financial sector, automobile sector, golden quadrilateral highway building program. I am sure my memory is not as good as it used to be so there must be more that I am missing.
Thomas Babington Macaulay must be turning in his grave wondering what had he wrought.
After East India Company had conquered India and was in full control of India san Punjab in 1830s, he set out to educate a class of Indians who will be intermediary between the British and the Indian masses and will help them rule. They will be fluent in English and accept British as a superior race but will be seen by masses as part of them.
British never had the numbers needed to rule directly. At the height of British Raj, there were fewer that 100,000 English men, women and children in India. There were less than 10,000 of them in the army of almost 200,000.
Macaulay’s children were quick studies. They were not happy being clerks. They went on to become engineers, doctors and scientists. Within 50 years, they had started Indian National Congress as a national movement.
Macualay’s children have turned out to be very aspirational. They out-argued British out of India, gave India constitution and built a well functioning democracy.
As they moved on to the world stage they constitute 10% of all the business and science/engineering professors in US and almost 14% doctors. They are emerging as CEOs in top corporations. One of them may even become a VP of US.
I know the Saffron crowd detests Macaulay’s children but they are just being ungrateful.
Today is India’s 73rd independence day. I will be 75 in 2 weeks. So my life spans independent India’s life.
India is unbelievingly diverse. As a matter of fact it is an amalgmation of amost 30 sub-nationalities. It has 30 major languages. It is roughly 80% Hindu, 15% Muslim and remaining being Sikhs, Christians and other sundry religions. Neither Hindu nor Muslim polulation is homogeneous.
It has several complex layers of histories. Most recent being the British rule for almost 200 years. It was preceded by Muslim rule for almost 800 years. Northwest India was ruled by Sikhs for almost 100 years while central India was ruled by Marathas for almost 100 years.
It has developed a unique syncretic culture which is a mixture of all these components. An India without British and Muslim influence would look like Nepal; and one without British and Hindu influence would look like Afghanistan. British provided a pan-India standardization of sort with English language and British common law. I have travelled widely in India and have felt at home almost everywhere, even where I did not understand local language or was not able to read any signs.
Britain had been a rapacious imperial power and had left India bone poor at the time of indepenedence, with its share of the global GDP less 1%, thought it had almost 16% of world’s population. Literacy rate was about 10%.
Inspite of all that India chose to be a democracy with universal sufferage. Almost nobody gave it a chance to stay free and democratic. It was called a functioning anarchy by US Ambassador Kenneth Galbraith.
India has surprized everybody by becoming a cohesive, well-functioning nation with a unique and vibrant culture. It has brought literacy rate to well over 80% and its share of the world GDP is 2.5% now. It is well on its way to become a power to reckon with.
In every respect India is a noble experiment. It has striven to process its diversity as positively as can be imagined. It has stumbled a couple of times but has always gotten back on its feet. Other multinational countries like Yogoslavia and Soviet Union were not able to integrate their diveristy politically and fell apart.