Plus points trump the minuses on Independence Day

August 14th, 2008 - 12:42 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
(Commentary)
By Amulya Ganguli
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that this year’s Independence Day will prove to be, in retrospect, more memorable than any in the recent past. The claim may seem exaggerated in the context of the bomb blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad last month and the fear of home-grown Muslim terrorists. But terrorism, by common consent, does not pose a major long-term threat to India’s integrity, however menacing it may seem at present because of the suicide bombers and the indiscriminate killing of innocent people.

Similarly, Naxalite insurgency may seem a serious threat because of the presence of these ultra-revolutionaries in the tribal belt and their occasional attacks on police personnel. But few expect the Indian state to crumble before them, just as it didn’t while confronting the Sikh militancy in the 1980s.

However, it is the path-breaking initiatives on the nuclear deal and the continuing economic reforms that have implications well beyond the present times. Although the terrorists and the Naxalites do present major security challenges, what will ultimately matter is the fallout from India’s entry into the league of big powers, as the invitations to India to attend the G-8 summits show.

But what is even more noteworthy than India’s presence at the high table of international diplomacy is how New Delhi is rapidly moving ahead of some of the less friendly powers in the neighbourhood.

Pakistan, for instance, has realised that its earlier dream of parity with India is now unattainable. It isn’t only that India is now on the road to become an economic giant, its multicultural democracy also acts as a role model even for advanced European countries, where white racism - a colonial legacy - still undermines pluralism.

It is India’s success in moulding a multi-religious, multi-cultural, multi-lingual country of one billion people into a vibrant and responsible democracy which has persuaded the US to ignore its non-proliferation concerns and accord legitimacy to India’s nuclear status.

But while India can accept the applause of the rest of the world for this achievement on its 61st Independence Day, its other rival in Asia - China - will keep its fingers crossed to ensure the success of the Olympics. No one is more aware than the Beijing leadership that the Games have highlighted the very features of Chinese society which the communist party wanted to keep out of sight - the country’s deplorable human rights record, simmering unrest among the Tibetans and the Uighurs of Xinjiang, official corruption, high levels of pollution and poor industrial safety standards, as the frequent mining accidents show.

It is evident that China’s hope that the staging of the Games will mark its arrival at the gateway to the First World - partly by wiping away the taint of the Tiananmen Square massacre - may not be wholly fulfilled. Less ambitious India, however, is clearly making steady progress in this respect, raising expectations that the tortoise will finally emerge victorious at the expense of the hare.

One reason for such a dramatic denouement is that economic reforms, stalled till now because of objections from the Left, may follow a faster trajectory. The break in relations between the Manmohan Singh government and the communists is a blessing not only because the ideological objectors to market-oriented policies are no longer around in the corridors of power but also because the rupture can mark the beginning of the end of Leftist influence in India.

Just as a fire flares up before dying down, the Left had reached its highest point in its parliamentary career by securing the largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha. But it apparently got so carried away by the resultant clout that it tried to scuttle both the economic reforms and the nuclear deal.

But its defeat in the trust vote in parliament along with the rest of the opposition has not only cut the Left down to size but it is now also clear that the comrades will be far less successful in the next general election because of the expected setbacks in their strongholds of West Bengal and Kerala. The result will be that the Left will once again be a marginal force in Indian politics. History may well record that it was in July-August 2008 that the Left’s decline began.

It is worth noting that this process is in keeping with worldwide trends and, not surprisingly, has coincided with India’s growing proximity to the US and the Western world. As a result, non-alignment is being given a quiet burial along with the idea of ushering in a “socialistic pattern of society” in India, as the 1955 Avadi resolution of the Congress promised. Half a century later, India is evolving a capitalistic pattern of society with its inevitable emphasis on consumerism.

To old-timers, this change of direction may seem like a betrayal of the ideals that guided the Indian freedom movement and the government in the early years after independence. But today’s younger generation, which comprises nearly 70 percent of the population, do not appear to have any time for socialism, which is widely believed to have died an unlamented death with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This is not to deny the still unconscionably high levels of poverty. However, it is becoming clear that the much-maligned neo-liberal policies have contributed more to the alleviation of distress than the tax-and-spend socialistic policies of the past. The latest figures show that there has been a fall in the number of people below the poverty line to 24 percent compared to 36 percent in 1993 and 51 percent in 1977-78.

That even the communists have woken up to the values of capitalism is evident from the praise of this form of the economy, which was anathema to Marx, by West Bengal’s Marxist Chief Minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharjee, and his predecessor, Jyoti Basu, the nonagenarian patriarch of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).

If India does become a major economic power over the next two decades, as is predicted, historians will look to the present period to assess the individuals who were responsible for the magical transformation from the land of tigers and snake charmers to one of Information Technology and nine percent growth.

And among those who will be remembered are Rajiv Gandhi, who inaugurated the age of computers in the mid-1980s, and Manmohan Singh, who launched the economic reforms under the tutelage of then prime minister P. V. Narasimha Rao in 1991, and carried on the process after becoming prime minister himself in 2004.

There is little doubt, therefore, that the positive aspects of the present times score over the negative features.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at aganguli@mail.com)

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