Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Idea of India

The phrase “idea of India” was once used by Rabindranath Tagore in 1921 in a letter to his friend stating “the idea of India is against the intense consciousness of the separateness of one’s own people from others, which inevitably leads to ceaseless conflicts”. My idea of India is based on the actions of Indians that are seen as various factors causing this separateness.

Those factors include: Hindu fundamentalism, Ethnic Separatism, Inequalities, Perils of privatization, capitalism leading to unholy nexus of politicians and the corporate and that in turn leading to political and economic corruption.

The right-wing Hindu parties (BJP, RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena) have a very narrow/bigoted definition of India, as they call it Hindu Rashtra. This Hindu fundamentalism is responsible behind the Ayodhya carnage, their beating up of women if they are seen to behave immorally, seen in pubs drinking, opposition to celebrate Valentine’s Day, etc. This has to a great extent shaped the idea of India.

The second factor shaping the idea of India is the ethnic separatism in which we see, different states claiming independence from the Indian Union or from an India state, for instance, the demand for a separate Telangana, Kashmir, Mizoram, Nagaland, Assam and Manipur.

In India today, there are gross and apparently growing inequalities of income, wealth, consumption, property, access to quality education and healthcare, and avenues for dignified employment. These diverse disparities in turn run along diverse social axes, among them caste, religion, ethnicity, region and gender. . Upper caste people go to better schools and better hospitals, and are massively over-represented in the professional and entrepreneurial classes. In economic as well as social terms, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians are significantly better off than Muslims. The tribes of central India, as we have seen, may be even worse off than Muslims. Those who live in the west and south of the country have more regular sources of income than those who live in the north or east. All across India, per capita income is much higher in cities than in the countryside. Finally, in every social strata, men have easier access to education, healthcare and employment opportunities than do women. . The life chances of a Dalit remain grossly inferior to that of a Brahmin; of a Muslim to that of a Hindu; of a tribal to that of a Hindu or Muslim; of a villager to that of a city-dweller; of an Oriya or Jharkhandi to that of a Maharashtrian or Tamil. After 61 years of the Republic, can we name one dalit icon, in the domain of popular culture (music, arts, cinema, and cricket), business, and the private sector that has captured the imagination of India? The fact that we cannot shows the horrendous record of the idea of India. But we can always comfort ourselves saying that it could be that there isn't anybody who is talented enough from among a dalit population of nearly 18 crores, large enough to constitute the sixth largest country in the world! And meanwhile we always have Karan Johar's idea of India to fall back on, the India that lives in New York and London and populated by the Khannas and Kapoors, and the Sharmas and Pandeys. This is how the inequalities have caused separateness leading to constant conflict and therefore this stands as main and strong factor affecting the idea of India.

There appear to have been three, overlapping, phases in the evolution of political corruption in India. The licence-permit-quota raj of the ’50s and ’60s was the first stage. Favours were granted to particular individuals or firms in return for a consideration. The second stage, inaugurated in the 1970s, involved the ruling party taking a cut off large defence contracts. The third stage, which began at the same time but really intensified only in the 1990s, has rested on the abuse of state power to allocate—or misallocate—land and natural resources to friends and cronies. . With public policy overwhelmingly determined by the desire to achieve 9 per cent growth, we have handed over peasant and tribal lands for the most destructive forms of industrial and mining activity. By making that one number the sine qua non of national pride and honour, the central government has encouraged state governments to promote corruption, criminality, social strife and massive, and possibly irreversible, environmental degradation and thus we witness land grab cases of Nandigram and Singur, Posco, Lavasa, Noida, scams of 2G, Adarsh society, etc.

For this level of mounting corruption we also see the civil society raising its voice and becoming more politically vigilant of the government’s plans and actions, which, no doubt is a good sign. But this society in recent time, in the wake of Lokpal Bill agitation had shown a disinterested, ignorant and arrogant behavioral pattern towards democracy. The agitation was compared to that of Arab Spring, which is not only unrealistic but also ridiculous as ours is not a dictatorial regime. The government was seen bending towards the demands of the civil society. In this whole episode what was more disturbing was the fact that a bunch of citizens of the same country who are tired of dealing with the government’s level of corruption, formed an association and gathered/ assembled at a place to protest receiving full police security and media attention and on the contrary, the same citizens of the country living in Kashmir and North-east do not have such an extensive freedom of movement and forming assembly and moreover law and order there is governed by Military.

Despite all these commotions and disruptions that shape our idea of India with a bit of critical connotation, it is a great miracle/surprise to our amazement that India has still managed to remain a democratic, republican country. Such factors may have shaken the pillars of democracy but have not caused its fall; rather, it has only made the county more close, united and strong. It is this fact; by and large that is the idea of India – A Pluralistic Democratic Country.

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