As we celebrate our 67th Independence Day, it is indeed a disturbing scenario that the country is confronted with. In his 10th consecutive address from the ramparts of the historic red Fort – unarguably a remarkable distinction – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may give the nation a rosy picture. But I am sure that in the heart of his hearts he knows that he is no longer convincing to the crores of Indians. An average Indian was much happier in 2004 than what he or she is now. The Prime Minister and his ministerial colleagues may give reams of statistics on how the country has developed by leaps and bounds in the last 10 years, but if we go by some fundamental criteria, the picture is quite dismal.
When one Kg of onion costs about Rs. 100 and every month the prices of the milk are revised upward twice on an average, not to speak of other food items, one can understand why the rising middle class is angry with the Manmohan government. In fact, Indians are now struggling with higher prices and fewer jobs. India is no longer a success story with international media. After all, the annual growth rate has fallen down to 5 percent. Despite all the tall talks of the grand future of the Indian economy, the fact remains that our infrastructures are among the worst in the world. Ask any German or American or Japanese investor and he will say that he will think ten times before putting money in India, a country that does not guarantee all-weather roads and uninterrupted power supply. No wonder why foreign investors have started taking back their money from India.
Worse still is the fact that Indian businessmen are now finding it safer and less troublesome to work from other countries. The famous Dabur Company runs its international business from Dubai. Dodsal’s Rajen Kilachand, whose business spans from exploring oil in Africa to running Pizza huts in Hyderabad, does not regret over shifting his headquarters from Mumbai to Dubai. Most of India’s private airlines now service their planes in Dubai and Singapore to save penal taxes in India and high custom duties on imported spare parts. About half of India’s Shipping business is now operated from Colombo. Most of the Fund managers investing money in India are based in Singapore, as they are not comfortable with Indian rules and regulations. Singapore, London and Paris are now providing legal services to the foreign firms operating in India with the result that many business deals involving Indians have clauses that mention that courts there, not in India, will have jurisdiction to arbitrate over any future disputes. The obvious message is that the lengthy legal procedures of Indian Courts are not business friendly.
Our “Republican” constitution talks of “Equality”. But our political leadership in the last 67 years has tried its best to keep us unequal by legitimising identity politics based on caste, religion and language. Their politics of “reservations”—meant to be temporary and time-bound in our constitution—aims at perpetuating inequality. They use public funds to provide the promised special benefits to their chosen vote banks at the cost of the rest of the country. In the process, they generate resentment among the other groups that do not get these benefits, and further divide society to their own advantage. In a sense, we are more divided as a nation today than we were at the time of Independence in 1947.
Even the “Right to Life” of Indians has come under increasing threat. There is not much to boast of the law and order situations in metropolitan cities, not to speak of other paces. Road-rages, robberies and rapes are constantly hitting the headlines. Let alone secessionist movements in Kashmir and the North-East, one-third of the country’s landmass is now under the violent tyranny of the Maoists. If we add the periodic terror- acts that take place in our cities, sponsored by inimical forces from abroad and in collaboration with antinational elements at home, the situation is really grave.
Our years of Independence have not made our governments transparent enough. That is why we see scam after scam involving the governments both at the central and state levels. Some of our politicians and their close relatives have emerged to be among the richest in the country, their humble beginnings notwithstanding. There is no national consensus as to how to fight corruption, evident from the fiasco over the legislation on the “the Lokpal Bill”. Our political masters have double standards in dealing with corruption-matters. For instance, the Congress goes to town on the mining scam in the BJP-ruled Karnataka but is absolutely mum about the similar scam in Goa. It went hyper about the removal of the BJP chief minister in Karnataka following his indictment by the Lokayukt, but the same Congress allowed its arrogant Delhi Chief Minister to stay on despite the fact that she was found guilty by the Lokayukt and the Comptroller and Auditor General of the country for her various acts of omission & commission.
For years we have been hearing about the menace of the black money in the country. But nothing has been done to deal with it. There are serious studies by the scholars that estimate the black money in India to the tune of nearly 80 percent of the national budget. As WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said, unlike in other countries where corrupt are usually heavy spenders, thus bringing the money back into their economy, Indian black money is parked in huge amounts in Swiss banks and seems to be out of the Indian system indefinitely. If such a huge component of the Indian economy is black, it is natural that we cannot bring about an all-inclusive growth for all our citizens and fully integrate with the global economy.
Our stated goals of providing quality health and education in the country remain still a dream. And the situation is getting terribly worse, with scant attention of our leadership towards the problem of reckless population growth. I do not come across any government slogans on family planning these days. Such slogans are no longer “politically correct”. Instead our politicians are openly inciting people to have more and more children so as to have a better share in reservations in jobs and education in proportion to their population! What these politicians really mean is the increase in size of their vote banks. But then the unpleasant truth is that unless population growth is brought under control, India will always continue to have large numbers of poor, uneducated and ignorant people. This truth does not bother our politicians as their very survival depends on these people.
If internally the situation is grave, externally it is worse. Under the present government, most of our traditionally friendly neighbours have turned anti-India, be it Nepal or Bhutan or Sri Lanka or Maldives. Our traditional enemies have become stronger. Pakistan and China continue to violate the sanctity of our borders, not to speak of the former aiding and abetting fundamentalism and terrorism directed against us. However, the Prime Minister pretends that everything is alright. So much so that we have horribly neglected the modernisation of our armed forces. Indian military today is terribly under equipped and its morale is at an all time low.
Talking of a larger global picture, the present government loves to annoy our time-tested friends and woo those who hurt our interests relentlessly, all in the name of proving that we are nobody’s camp follower. Let me cite just one instance. The whole world, including China, recognises that North Korea today is one of the most dangerous countries, given its “State policy” of nuclear and missile proliferation (particularly benefiting Pakistan) by wrecking international commitments. The country is virtually an international pariah, but not for Manmohan Singh government. Last month, it sent a parliamentary delegation, led by CPM MP Sitaram Yechury (others in the delegation were BJP MP Tarun Vijay and Congress PM Hamdullah Sayeed) to participate in the end of the `Fatherland Liberation War’ celebrations on July 27 that marked the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1953.
Just imagine what it meant to South Korea, a country which is one of our “strategic partners”. North Koreans mark the day as “Victory Day” (over South Korea after the fratricidal war of three years) and our MPs were enjoying this celebration in Pyongyang, despite the fact that this “victory” must be the most dubious one in the world history. The Manmohan Singh government overlooked in the process that South Korea is one of our leading economic partners. From US$1 billion in bilateral trade in 1991, vol¬ume had grown to $21 billion in 2011 with a goal of $30 billion in 2014. Hundreds of South Korean companies are in India, and thousands of Indian engineers and scientists are working for South Korean companies in India.
Don’t we deserve a better government?
By Prakash Nanda