Tuesday, September 09, 2008

India 2020

India, the land of the Indus, a cradle of civilisation, a land of milk and honey, a lumbering global economic elephant. India, independent India, exists as a post-colonial ideal, a Gandhian philosophy which doggedly persists despite a fractious identity crisis – one of belonging to a greater ideal; the ideal of the state. Does it transcend the ideal of faith? Is your identity the colour of your skin, your faith, or the land of your birth?

These questions have no definite answers, but neither can they be kept hidden forever behind a veil of ambiguity. "You are who you are" may sound terribly clich├ęd, or deeply philosophical, depending on your point of view.

India was once a gaggle of princely states. These states traded, went to war, acceded or seceded according to the prevalent economic climate. Western colonialists came, witnessed a vibrant country, were enchanted by the mystique and spiritualism, the wealth of the land, and the culture of its people. But, sensing political opportunity, what was once simple trade turned into a power struggle. Wars in Europe were waged by proxy for control of the colonies. With so many axes to grind by all parties concerned, it became a question of who had the best arsenal; military and political strategy went hand in hand, and the British, to their credit, proved the most astute. And so was formed British India, ruled by an iron fist by a bunch of goras and political sidekick 'darkies'. The irony of all this was the birth of the nationalist ideal – a united India, with the noble intent of self rule.

A returning lawyer from South Africa burned with a steely resolve, one which would never see him or his brethren grovel at the boots of the white man. He went on to inspire a nation to rise as one, to be self-sufficient, strong in the face of adversity, and to bear penalty which would be untenable for most. What inspires such a man in the first place?

Was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi a saint? A saviour of men, or mankind? Or, instead, was he an astute political manipulator, a king-maker, who, with an oath of penury sought to wreck a debilitating political methodology upon his opponents? It took a misguided fanatic to kill Gandhi, a tragic end to the life of one of the most significant personalities in history,and one who did not realise his ultimate dream of a united, free India.

Whatever his motivation, Gandhi was a leader of men, but, like many great leaders, he left a following who were a rudderless ship. The Gandhian ideology disintegrated pretty quickly after he was shot dead.

His legacy instead, was one of persistent protest; of dharnas, andolans, and bhook hartal. None managed to save the India Gandhi wanted; a land which incorporated and embraced the warrior tribes of the arid lands of what is today Pakistan, to the demure intellectuals of India's Gangetic plains, and all south of this. "Mother India" as envisioned by Gandhi instead fell prey to the politicking of the time; Partition was Britain's parting shot to an unwieldy colony. And so Hindustan and Pakistan came into being.

Religious identity was confused with national identity. Two countries were born, and left to their own vices.

Communalism as such, was born in Partition. Never before had religion and religious identity been the primary bone of contention among the people of India.

Pacifism was Nehru's primary policy; the horrors of Partition and the wounds they left would never really heal. A Kashmiri Pandit himself, Nehru would not commit to an all-out war to stake an Indian claim on the land. Kashmir is a wound which has festered since.

But let us step back a moment; Pakistan was created as a Muslim state. Why, then, did so many choose to remain in India? The decision of Partition was one by representation; and, unfortunate as it may have been, every Muslim should have been made to adhere to it. Every single Muslim should have been forced to leave Hindustan, the land of the Hindus. Would that have been vindictive and vengeful, at the time? Does it sound terrible to say so today? Doubtless, it does. But hard questions and tough decisions are the need of the hour.

Today, India, the secular, democratic behemoth which is India, cannot control a rogue state from perennially instigating violence and communal tensions across the land. Pakistan has turned Kashmir cancerous. Will its amputation save India?

The need of the hour is a tough, uncompromising leadership. While this country should open her arms to all who wish to live peaceably, she needn't spread her legs to those who don't. India doesn't need a police state, nor should it continue with its current impotent governance. Evicting every Muslim from India today isn't the solution.

But, burning the Indian Tricolour and raising the Pakistani flag by members of the 'minority' amounts to sedition. Worse, harbouring and breeding militant ideologies. Can the Indian administration stand back as mute spectators? Will it resort to a few token arrests? Will 'police brutality', where a couple of do-no-gooders are shot dead, be the only response?

Unfortunately, such is the case. What is needed instead, is a trial and a hanging. Due diligence to all the procedures of law should be followed, but a hanging is a must. Hang Geelani, if that is what it takes. And, to maintain the secular ideology we love to parrot about, bring to book the perpetrators of the Hindu-instigated riots in Gujarat.

While popular culture and fiction sees us make much ado of our military traditions, our martyrs and their sacrifices, it is beginning to rankle. For a developing nation to commit such vast resources to simply maintaining a border, a compromised one at that, makes little sense, politically or economically. It is a social question too; must the cross of Kashmir be borne by every Indian? Does preferential treatment of Kashmiris, in terms of rehabilitating them with employment, land, reservations in educational institutions etc, make sense? In my book, it does not.

Yes, we have further questions of secession. What about the North-East? What about the South? Again, Nehru is to blame for wanting to divide the country into states on linguistic grounds. There have been further divisions since; Bihar and Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal. Now, Vidarbha wants autonomy as well, and wants to secede from Maharashtra. And these divisive elements have all spoken a common tongue. How long can this be allowed to continue? Once again, the administration needs to toughen up. Aimless politicking by renaming streets and towns has to stop. Religious festivities and temple donations are not governance. India needs schools, hospitals, proper roads, and food for all. The rest will follow.

Politicians siphoning unaccountable billions of tax payer money must end too. Corruption is modern India's biggest curse. Corruption is tantamount to treason, and should be punishable by death. For every unlit and pot-hole-riddled road that claims a life, there is a string of corrupt politicians and government servants. Add up India's road deaths, and the figures are shocking: over one lakh people die on Indian roads every year. What about deaths due to negligence in government-run hospitals? What about infant deaths because of spurious drugs and vaccines? What about deaths because of starvation, while on average 60,000 tonnes of food grains rot in government godowns? What about deaths because of derailed trains? What about deaths because funds appropriated for relief are siphoned off after every earthquake/flood/tsunami? At least a million a year, would be a conservative estimate.

Do our politicians, then, deserve a right to life and liberty, luxury and pomp?

No.

Is anarchy the solution? No. Anarchy only breeds a monster which will rear up once the current menace is dealt with.

Once again, due processes of the law can provide the solutions. Let there be a fear of punishment, a stigma, which will cause the next corrupt politician to think twice. And it needn't matter if the politician in question is male or female. Bring to trial, incarcerate or execute as deemed just. But do it. This de-lousing is the need of the hour.

India 2020 will either be a vibrant and dynamic land, which merges hi-tech with myriad cultures and tradition, or a bastardised has-been, steeped in mediocrity and a debilitating fear psychosis.

The time is now.