Saturday, September 07, 2013

India 2020: 'How India Got Its Funk'

India has a problem: Suddenly, everyone seems to agree on that. In a few short months, India has gone from being the beacon of a new economic order to a prospective failed state, only to be engaged with to avoid the creation of a black-hole equivalent of a state. Strangely, the Indians seem to agree: There is hardly any resentment in the country towards the fickle bond traders and currency speculators, who are primarily responsible for the anorexic Indian rupee, and rather a mood of self-blame, though not of introspection. India's time in the sun, and the hope of being counted alongside China, seems to be over.

The International Media has started commenting on India's fall with gusto. Almost every major newspaper has run stories, mainly blaming inefficiency of its government, and primarily, of its Prime Minister, who seems to be a 'natural follower than a leader', as a German magazine hopefully observed. The Economist pointed to India's failure to reform its labour regulations, which would have unleashed its manufacturing sector and lifted its exports, easing out current account deficits somewhat (See here). The point they conveniently remain rather quiet about that this may be just an all too familiar saga of dependent development, and despite all the negativity about India, the fall of Indian Rupee has less to do with the ineptness of Indian government than the investors shifting their money to United States: This observation will be in line with a new research by Hélène Rey, of London Business School (See The Economist story here).

The Indians in India, apart from blaming their hapless Prime Minister and wishing for a 'strong leader', blame corruption and, menacingly, population, notwithstanding the fact that its young population is the only thing India has going for itself.

Indeed, the failure in Governance is too obvious, but whether the Prime Minister is the cause or the symptom of the problem is debatable. That Indians can't come up with any alternative idea other than a xenophobic megalomaniac may illustrate that the problem may be entrenched and it is not going to go away. The corruption is a problem, but again bigger than one imagines: It is not going to go away with any change in government as every private citizen seems to be complicit in corruption. There are movements against corruption, but these advocate highly technocratic solution - put a bureaucrat or a judge in charge and the corruption is going to go away - which is discredited already. India has the classic game theory problem that everyone is corrupt because everyone else is corrupt - and this problem may need a social movement, however utopian it may sound before start, than a top-down political solution.

The most terrifying among these loose-talk solutions is the one regarding population: Well-placed Indian elites seem to believe that the country's population, whatever is the opinion of International Media, puts the country down. There is simply no way a country like India can provide for so many people. This is very similar to Hitler's original argument for genocide and aggression - that Germany simply does not have enough land for the German people - and perhaps precursor of things to come in India. This is indeed not the solution, but the cause why India may become a failed state, and reason why one must steadfastly oppose the 'strong leader' talk and xenophobic tendencies, which are gaining ground among Indian middle classes.

Surely, this population talk has come to the fore after the Indian government belatedly pushed through the Food Security Bill, which will guarantee a minimum amount of cereal to every poor person in India, and avoid starvation and malnutrition. This is seen as a massive betrayal of the privileged class, particularly as at the same time, Petrol and Diesel become more expensive. The immediate reaction was about populism, which is now become a bad thing in English lexicon, and vote buying: Once the emotions settled and inevitability and irreversibility of such measures in a democratic state dawned, some of them could clearly see the problem - the poor people. This is indeed the starting point of xenophobia, and politics that make states fail, eventually.

In fact, an alternative explanation to India's woes, which is underlined in the commentaries in the International Press, lie with its elite, the same people who are looking for 'solutions' and trying to drive the discussions about a new India. In a way, post-liberalisation India has been hijacked by them, and now Internet (particularly Facebook and Twitter) has given them a platform to organise and spread their views, and indeed, appear more numerous than they really are. They have vigorously protected their privileges, and expanded them, twisting the legal and administrative system and trampling other people's rights whenever an opportunity arose, thus creating a jungle state. If anything is failing today, it is this state, lopsided and inefficient, that is failing. And, there would be no solution in sight as long as these inmates are running the asylum.

How this has come about is indeed worth exploring, but this may have its roots to the post-Independence preservation of social and economic privileges. If, however, there was a sense of nation-building and sacrifice owing from the memories of colonial rule and the partition in earlier generations, which sustained a sense of society in India, for the generation of people in power today, the 'ask not' questions have not been asked. The post-liberalisation policy-making, enthralled in neo-liberal quest for growth (alongside an utopian belief in trickle down of prosperity), has driven most of the Indians to abject poverty and despair, while a false story of India's development was spun in the English speaking media. The most potent symbol of the state of the nation in India was not its space programme, but that it had to recall its Helicopter Gunships from the peacekeeping missions in Congo to use on its own people in Central India; not the hosting of the F1 Formula Racing in Gurgaon, but that its trains can not travel at night through the forests between Kolkata and Mumbai, two major cities.

Indeed, all of this look surreal from the airconditioned offices in the cities (where such problems are attributed to a few wicked Maoists, and questions why these handful of miscreants can't be defeated even after a twenty year war, go unanswered) and such discussions cause unease and disappointment. The House of Cards that the Indian Middle Classes have built, while they enjoyed their holidays abroad, shopping malls, and imported Whiskeys, is just now been exposed to fire. At this time, not just the Government of India, but all those who enjoyed the prosperity of the last two decades, seem to have a case to answer.

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