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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 34, August 13, 2011 - INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL

Time for a New Battle


Saturday 20 August 2011, by SC

As we approach our sixtyfifth Independence Day there is no gainsaying that an acute sense of despondency has gripped the nation, thanks primarily to the acrobatics of our present-day rulers though it must be acknowledged in all candour that those in the Opposition have fared no better. In the absence of the stalwarts who participated in and/or led the freedom struggle and upheld the picture of a radiant India before, during and in the immediate aftermath of our independence from foreign yoke, the political leadership today has singularly failed to guide us to a better and brighter future. Despite our striking rates of growth that substantially helped in the emergence of a burgeoning middle class in the 20 years since we embarked on economic reforms, the overall projections are nothing but dismal as eloquently brought out in our low rankings in the Human Development Index in successive Human Development Reports of the UN.

In this scenario one must have sufficient courage and boldness to admit in all honesty that the new economic policies, crafted on our behalf by the international financial institutions in 1991, have failed to deliver positive results when viewed from a holistic standpoint. Rather, it is these policies which have been instrumental in accentuating the disparities between the haves and have-nots—and thereby widening the gulf between India and Bharat—as never before in the post-independence era. Simultaneously deprivation, destitution, dispossession stalk the countryside, especially our tribal heartland, providing a fertile soil for the political and ideological growth of Maoist insurgency. This insurgency has registered a phenomenal rise in recent years in those very areas where the original inhabitants, the adivasis, have of late been marginalised and pauperised beyond measure with the dismantling of the welfare state and the total reliance of the governments, in the States and at the Centre, on the corporate-driven development paradigm. Significantly, with all one’s opposition to the Maoists’ excessive application of violence at the cost of people-centric politics, it must be recognised in all honesty that under the directive of the Maoists the tribals today have reinvented themselves and are offering spirited resistance to such a diabolical strategy of ‘development’ that reminds one of what had happened in the Latin American countries like Bolivia in the past.

However, the sense of despondency in the current situation stems not only from the ground-realities in rural India where some measures have lately been taken, like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), to build durable assets for the vast segments of those at the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder (though the imple-mentation of the Act has considerably belied one’s expectations). The essence of this frustration lies in the exponential increase in the levels of corruption among those occupying high public offices (while others in power, benefiting from this scourge in various ways, look the other way). Here one is not dwelling on the ubiquitous nature of corruption that has affected every section of our populace at all levels. The exposition of mega-scams by the media (which, despite its manifold limitations that are by now well known, has rendered yeoman’s service in this regard) in such areas as 2G spectrum, Commonwealth Games, Adarsh Housing Society in Mumbai (meant essentially for the families of the Kargil heroes) and the meagre steps taken by the government to prevent such shameful crimes (with the Opposition too doing precious little to book the guilty) has heightened the feelings of outrage and revulsion against the political class in general among the people at large who, in the event of a lack of civil society intervention, are bound to fall into the vortex of ever-increasing cynicism exploiting which fascism can make not just a backdoor entry but in effect entry through the front door itself.

Herein lies the real source of one’s fear generating widespread and allround dismay, agony and anguish.

And all this is happening at a time when the Western economies, especially those of the US and several notable countries of Europe, are in an enormous debt crisis. As a consequence the US Government’s credit rating has slumped from triple A to double A: in fact the country has been downgraded by the credit-rating agency, Standard and Poor, as a long-term borrower—this, for the first time in US history. Howsoever much our Finance Minister and the industry captains try to reassure the public against pressing the panic button asserting that “there is no reason to worry” as “it could not have too much impact on the (Indian) economy”, even a lay person understands that in today’s globalised world such assertions carry little meaning, if at all. This too is a cause for legitimate anxiety.

Indeed if one strives to draw a contrast between the situation prevailing during the early years of independence when the nation was stirred by Jawaharlal Nehru’s memorable “Tryst With Destiny” midnight speech at Parliament House on August 14-15, 1947 ushering in freedom from alien rule and the current political environment obtaining in the country as a whole, one is able to get a measure of the blighted hopes over the years. And here one must necessarily underline the point that despite all our short-comings and deficiencies, there was a sense of optimism in the air when we were pursuing independent policies in the political and economic spheres and the state was not totally sidelined in the interest of laissez faire and in the quest for corporate-driven development. Such a strategy as is being pursued now has historically resulted in the complete abandonment of the vulnerable segments of society constituting the bulk of the populace. In these conditions how is it possible to bring about inclusive growth that our political leaders from PM downwards have turned into a cliché?

And while the people at large are gasping from the ill effects of the development paradigm our leaders have ungrudgingly accepted from the West, not to speak of the incessant rise in the prices of essential commodities of mass consumption, those at the top are wallowing in wealth (we in this country have the largest number of billionaires as an illustration of our arrival on the global stage!)—and today they have no qualms of displaying that wealth through vulgar forms of exhibitionism. That, of course, is logical at a time when money alone determines the worth of an individual. Yet that is not all. The quantum of wealth is being sought to be enhanced through proliferation of unaccounted money. The result: corruption has assumed menacing proportions thus frustrating all efforts at ensuring balanced, sustainable, equitable growth for the benefit of our teeming millions (that has little in common with maintaining reasonably high GDP growth rates since such indicators are basically the outcome of structural imbalances based on the economic stratification of our polity).

The whole concept of the ‘meek shall inherit the earth’ has been discarded. At the same time the ruling coterie’s opposition to conduct a tenacious fight against corruption and unaccounted wealth is coming out in bold relief in its reluctance to give the nation an effective Lokpal Bill. This has drawn the civil society into the arena of struggle. And the powers that be linked to vested interests of all hues are out to discredit members and leaders of the civil society in order to perpetuate the status quo.

Against this backdrop the latest interventions by the highest judiciary on a range of issues from Salwa Judum in Maoist-infested areas, efforts to unearth black money, cash-for-votes scam in Parliament, land acquisition Bill to illegal mining in Karnataka offer a ray of hope. What is missing, however, is a broad-based movement for national regeneration through unremitting endeavours to root out scourges like corruption and black economy that not only block but even seek to reverse our overall advance.

For that to happen well-meaning politicians (whose numbers have no doubt dwindled) and members of popular movements of different complexions must join hands with civil society activists to sweep away the dross and dirt which have accumulated in our society over the years and pave the way for allround progress.

This new battle to defend, preserve, consolidate and further enrich and extend our freedom (and our democracy that is equally dear dear to us) with the objective of spreading the fruits of our independence among all sections of our citizenry, especially the poor and the marginalised, must be launched at the earliest. For, the very survival of our nationhood, which we had discovered anew 64 years ago, is at stake.

August 8, S.C.

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