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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 35, August 15, 2009 (Independence Day Special)

Our Pledge Today


Wednesday 19 August 2009, by SC

Fifteenth August will once again be celebrated throughout the country as Independence Day in five days’ time.

After 62 years as we approach our sixtythird Independence Day the face of the country has undoubtedly changed for the better in different fields of activity. The national advancement in science and technology, nuclear power included, IT etc. does not bear repetition. The emergence of India as a major power is recognised even by the most developed states acr5oss the globe. What is most noteworthy is that these strides have been taken as a self-reliant independent nation without bartering away either our sovereignty or our freedom, and simultaneously preserving the democratic structure of governance we voluntarily opted for at the dawn of independence.

Nonetheless, despite all our achievements, the irrefutable truth is that the fruits of our successes have yet to be enjoyed by the entire populace. India can claim to have some of the world’s richest billionaires but it is in this country that one also comes across some of the poorest of the poor occupying the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder. As was pointed out in these columns in this journal’s Independence Day Special three years ago,
…our overall development is far from satisfactory. Poverty, destitution, malnutrition continue to stalk the countryside. In the globalised environment we live in, the disparities between the haves and have-nots instead of getting reduced are constantly on the rise. In the current scenario this has resulted in the existence of two Indias—epitomised by the Colaba skyscrapers and the Dharavi slums in Mumbai.

The situation on this front has not recorded any perceptible improvement in these three years.

The drought conditions prevailing in the country at present would definitely worsen the already difficult conditions in which the hapless poor in the country are eking out their existence (epitomised as these are by the farmers’ suicides which show no signs of abating). In fact the actual state of affairs among the majority of our populace was recently brought out by the findings of the Commission on the Condition of the Unorganised Sector Workers; according to these findings, 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 SC/STs, 80 per cent of OBCs and 84 per cent of Muslims.

The government at the Centre has lately taken some major steps to tackle rural poverty that is intertwined with joblessness. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) passed by Parliament is being implemented in several States with some degree of seriousness. The Congress’ success at the hustings this year is being attributed in some measure to the NREGA’s effective execution in States like Andhra Pradesh. However, as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has explained, even if the NREGA has increased the income levels of some and thus provided some level of security while tackling the problem of undernourishment to some extent, the latter (that is, the problem of undernourishment), being “very widespread and a real blot on India’s record”, cannot be removed just on the strength of the NREGA. This is where discussion on the right to food assumes importance. Hopefully the government would take some steps in this direction as it has already proposed to take although what is being contemplated is far less than whatever is necessary in the circumstances.

At the moment we are facing a major crisis in central India. Large tracts of territory have come under the control of Maoists in this region. It is the indigenous people inhabiting this region who comprise the backbone of the Maoist movement. The growth of this movement of indigenous populace has become possible due to the unending deprivation of the region’s inhabitants stemming from the callousness and inhumanity of the powers that be. Now that these tribals have raised their banner of revolt and organised an arnned uprising, the authorities, instead of opening talks with them to redress their grievances, are planning an all-out military offensive against the Maoists in the tribal belt and, according to latest reports, this is set to begin by end-October. The recent military operation in Lalgarh (West Bengal) is supposed to be a dress rehearsal of such an offensive. Any person endowed with a reasonable degree of foresight would understand that this move can ignite the entire tribal region and something analogous to the Santhal rebellion of 1856-58 can recur. Regrettably the Left parties, primarily the CPM, suffering from partial or total myopia, are egging on the authorities to undertake such a misadventure leading to a bloodbath, in which the tribals, not the Maoists, would be the actual victims. Civil society must therefore urgently intervene to halt this proposed offensive (which is being planned in aid of the corporates) that would strike at the root of our democratic edifice. Without giving any quarter to Maoist violence it can be tackled in a different way through political negotiations which have been advocated by all well-meaning individuals and also the expert group set up by the Planning Commission to study the problem.

Tackling terror is high on the government’s agenda especially after the Mumbai terror attack of 11/26 last year. But that cannot be done through jingoist outbursts against Pakistan. In that context the Indo-Pak Joint Statement at Sharm el-Sheikh on July 16, 2009 marks a definite departure. However, doubts remain on the concessions made by PM Manmohan Singh on Balochistan. Nevertheless, there is no alternative to engaging Pakistan if cross-border terrorism is to be brought to an end.

On the issue of industrialisation the governments, both at the Centre and the States, are surrendering to the corporate interests to the detriment of the rural poor as seen in many parts (especially Orissa and West Bengal). Meanwhile corruption and criminalisation of the polity are eating into the vitals of our society as communalism, casteism and regionalism raise their ugly heads off and on and make considerable advance in trying to vitiate the minds of the people.

In such a setting the project of national regeneration needs to be revived and implemented with renewed vigour upholding the legacy of the freedom struggle. Let this be the pledge of the sixtythird Independence Day this year.

August 10 S.C.

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