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Mainstream, Vol. XLVIII, No 34, August 14, 2010

The Stark Reality


Sunday 22 August 2010, by SC

We are on the threshold of yet another Independence Day—our sixtyfourth.
In the last 63 years since August 15, 1947 the country has registered considerable progress in different spheres ranging from science and technology including nuclear power, and heavy industry to Information Technology, an area where our achievements are unhesitatingly recognised by the most developed nations of the world. We have also emerged as a major power in today’s global scenario by dint of our advancement in specific fields. And these strides we have taken by standing on our own feet strictly adhering to the concept of self-reliance and without bartering away our sovereignty in any way for short-term gains.

Yet despite these undeniable successes, the fact remains that as a natural result of the economic reforms we have undertaken since 1991 a big section of the middle classes have benefited from the liberalised environment prevailing at present while the condition of the bulk of our population in the lower rungs of society has not improved in the least. In fact poverty, destitution, malnutrition and undernourishment over large territories is something that cannot be concealed by any means. Rather in the current globalised atmosphere the disparities between the haves and have-nots are constantly on the rise—the existence of two Indias is no longer a figment of one’s fertile imagination.

The deteriorating conditions in the countryside are also evident from the growing number of farmers’ suicides which continue unabated notwithstanding the government’s belated extension of some material assistance to the affected persons. Lately the actual state of affairs among the majority of our people was revealed by the report of the Commission on the Condition of the Unorganised Sector Workers headed by the distinguished economist-administrator, Dr Arjun Sengupta: 77 per cent of our population constitute the “poor and vulnerable group” surviving on Rs 20.30 per capita—in this group fall 79 per cent of the unorganised workers, 88 per cent of the SC/STs, 80 per cent of the OBCs and 87 per cent of Muslims.

Of course some steps have been taken to tackle rural poverty as well as the joblessness intrinsically associated with it. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), that has come into force after its passage by Parliament, has the potential of supplementing the income of the beneficiaries, create durable assets and bring about long-term positive transformation of rural India; it has subsequently be renamed after Mahatma Gandhi. Nevertheless, its limitations at the implementation stage are increasingly coming out in the open. If experts are to be believed the same fate awaits the proposed Bill to guarantee the right to food. Hence a real dent into poverty, malnutrition and undernourishment remains as yet a distant possibility.

There is no gainsaying that the country is currently in the grip of a severe crisis on three fronts—(i) exorbitant price rise of food products, also manifest in runaway inflation, fuelled by the petroleum price hike, causing an unbearable burden on the aam aadmi; (ii) the ongoing armed struggle in the tribal heartland of Central India where the tribals under the influence and leadership of the CPI (Maoist) are stoutly resisting the takeover of their land by the governments to hand it over to the corporates to guarantee “development” in which the original settlers, the adivasis, would have little or no stake while being dispossessed of their livelihood; and this resistance is being sought to be broken by joint operations (like Operation Green Hunt); (iii) the persistently deteriorating situation in the Kashmir Valley where there is a veritable popular upsurge for azadi enjoying a groundswell of support from all sections of the public—this movement is gaining in strength, intensity and magnitude with each passing day—thanks to the follies of the State administration coupled with the reckless firing by the J&K Police and the CRPF on demonstrators (who include womenfolk in large numbers) resulting in the death of as many as 45 people (a majority of them young men and teenagers) in the past eight weeks.

The situation in the North-East is no better as the developments in Manipur clearly indicate.

In regional and international affairs too our leaders have failed to display any sense of direction. The GoI is hamstrung by the US Administration’s somersault on Pakistan in the context of the Afghan developments in particular and that is because New Delhi reposed so much faith in Washington after Moscow lost out in the superpower race following the USSR’s disappearance. The Union Government’s moves towards China and Pakistan highlight the complete absence of any long-term policy-perspective. In this situation it is not at all surprising that our government would have no qualms in doing business with the military rulers of Burma after rolling out the red carpet for that state’s military chief representing the most ruthless regime in the world while totally ignoring that valiant crusader for democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi. And it tries to justify this indefensible volte-face by repeatedly employing the much-abused word—pragmatism—in a futile attempt to hide its opportunist proclivities.

Meanwhile rapidly growing communalism, casteism, regionalism, corruption and criminalisation of the society are eating into the vitals of our nationhood thus impairing its core values. These are best illustrated by the Amit Shah case in Gujarat as a direct fallout of the Sohrabuddin encounter drama, the so-called “honour” killings based on the medieval diktas of the Khap Panchayats, the incessant assaults on ‘outsiders’ in Mumbai by the MNS and Shiv Sena, the latest exposures of fraud and forgery relating to the Commonwealth Games, and the increasing incidents of crime at all levels especially in the Capital city. These are constantly pulling us back even as allround poverty, deprivation and destitution afflicting the bulk of our breathren in the rural areas mock at all the tall claims of our elite segments on India achieving the great power status.

All these constitute an unmistakable recipe for disaster in the form of national disintegration. That is the stark reality staring us in the face today. Our successes in some areas of activity and the positive role of our civil society and some political figures on certain issues affecting the public at large cannot certainly overshadow that reality as we celebrate the sixtythird anniversary of our independence in five days’ time

August 10 S.C.

Freedom implies not only emancipation from political bondage but also equal distribution of wealth, abolition of caste barriers and social inequities, and destruction of communalism and religious intolerance.

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