WHY TODAY’s INDIA DOES NOT HAVE ENOUGH INDIANS
As India turns 75 as an independent nation, it is worth asking whether we have become “Indians” enough. Do we see our challenges or opportunities as Indians or in terms of our being a Dalit or Tribal or OBC or member of a particular caste or follower of a particular religion or belief or resident of a particular region or state?
Unfortunately, the answer is that those thinking or working as Indians in India are in a distinct minority. In fact, they are increasingly being ridiculed. And our political class and intelligentsia are systematically giving primacy to the narrow identities of caste, religion and region. No wonder why India is more fragmented and divisive today than it was at the time of Independence.
In the 1970s and 1980s, a significant trend was gaining momentum in Indian universities. Many students were dropping their caste-based surnames. They were nationalists to the core and thought that the best way to make India strong and a great power was to strive for one identity— the identity of being an Indian—by ignoring myriad other identities based on ethnicity, religion, state and region, among others.
In fact, one was proud to have friends like them. It is against this background that I was really surprised the other day to discover the son of such a friend using now the family surname. “My dream of India as a casteless society has been shattered. All our political parties and governments are competing with each other to consolidate the caste-system in the name of reservation. In fact, my son’s future, be it admissions in educational institutions or the job opportunities, is dependent on our caste factor”, my friend explained.
It was really heartening that both in 2014 and 2019, many voted as Indians. And that has been, in my considered view, the single most important achievement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. People expected Modi to carve out a new path for India, be it in politics, economy or social issues. Because for nearly 70 years, people did experience one model, the Nehruvian.
Understandably, vested interests excelling in and dominating the Nehruvian model have worked the hardest in making Modi’s life miserable over the last seven years. It is to the credit of Midi that he did fight these interests. But that was until recently. Of late, one has seen a discernible trend of Modi succumbing to the relentless pressure of the Nehruvian diehards, many of whom are present in plenty within the ruling BJP and the NDA.
I could not believe when I read recently of a meeting where Modi prided himself of being an OBC. The speed at which the government passed a constitutional amendment in Parliament last week and the increasing demands to conduct caste census in the country further erodes the prospects India having more Indians in foreseeable future, even under Modi.
In other words, Modi is increasingly becoming ineffective in unifying and strengthening the Indians. On the contrary, he is now becoming a participant, reluctantly though, in the campaign to discredit “the Indians” and promote the identity- politics.
And if one adds the strident campaign against the sensible proposals of the governments of Uttar Pradesh and Assam to encourage population-controls, that is smaller families, the sinister aims behind the caste census become too obvious. It is nothing but increasing the reservation quotas to as ridiculous limit as 90 to 95 percent in education and jobs, both in the governmental and private sectors. The rationale here is that the country’s resources must be divided on the basis of numbers of each caste or ethnicity. Here, merit or talent or hard work has no place whatsoever.
Population control is bad because it will affect the number-game. One hears of course “intellectual rationale” that population control will adversely affect the demographic dividends, that is, you will have fewer people to work, something that is being noticed in ageing societies in many developed countries at present.
In my considered view, the above is an absurd argument. It is right that the developed countries do not have enough working people. But the same is not the case here in India. We have already abundant people in surplus to run the country. Suppose a job requires 10 people for the best results. But here in India, for every job, we have thousands of people. So it is not a matter of strength, rather weakness that 99.9 percent of the people doing that particular job are not required at all. They need alternate opportunities, which the government has failed to provide at the moment, leading to unemployment and underemployment.
Same is the case with the distribution of wealth. A family having two children has better chances of providing the children better education and skills to produce more wealth than a family having 5 or 6 children, feeding whom properly is a difficult task in itself, let alone educating or providing skills to them for gainful occupations when they grow up. Obviously, these families remain poorer.
Imagine what would have been the economic and political power of India in the committee of nations if our population was 50 crore with proper skills instead of 130 crores that include overwhelming majority of youngsters who do not have skills to excel in this century marked by rapid advances in technology?
Look at the issue from a different angle. India, with poorer health infrastructure, has already vaccinated against Covid 19 virus as many as 55 crore people as against 45 crore in the highly developed United States. But in terms of population ratio, whereas the US has vaccinated more than 75 percent of its population, we have not reached even 25 percent of our population. Likewise, our national wealth is highly unimpressive when seen in terms of the per capita terms.
So India needs more skills and more talent to produce more wealth. But our identity-politics is the biggest hurdle on this path. Because, here, it is immaterial what and how much you contribute to national wealth. What is material here is the number you have on the basis of which you will be getting your share, whether you work for it or not. So best thing is to forget everything and produce more and more children to increase your share. This is the essence of caste or community based reservations, which are far different from affirmative actions that are really desirable. So you need caste-census.
Since almost all our parties are strong votaries of the caste-based reservations, and many of them now want these reservations getting extended to the private sector, what will happen to the India-Inc? Will foreign investments come? Will the Indian entrepreneurs shift their operations to outside the country (say China, Africa, West Asia as the available trends suggest)?
And it will be intellectually dishonest to rationalise (positively) this dangerous phenomenon in terms of “politicisation (hence democratisation) of caste or for that matter religion. Real democracy is the one that unites; it does not promote divisiveness and elements of fragmentation. But unfortunately, the identity-politics in India has become so pervasive that corruption is no longer the issue if the leader concerned markets successfully his or her caste or religion factor. That explains why many of our top-most leaders today simply do not bother about their ill-gotten money.
There is another aspect, and this more dangerous, of this population-based theory of dividing the national opportunities or wealth. More developed states in the Western and Southern India have relatively smaller families as a matter of choice than those in the Northern and eastern India, particularly in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. But if the past rate of population growth is any indication, over one-third of the total increase in India’s population between 2011 and 2036 will come from two states alone – Uttar Pradesh and Bihar -, while all of the southern Indian states will see their share in the population further declining.
Bihar will surpass Maharashtra to become India’s second most populous state after Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan will grow bigger than Tamil Nadu. People from the four most populous southern Indian states will account for fewer people than from Uttar Pradesh alone.
It may be noted here that the prosperity of people in South and West is due to their relatively smaller population. The converse is the case in North India, which, incidentally, dominates the national politics because of it having more Members in Parliament due to its bigger population.
The people in the South and West grudge this phenomenon (this has been raised politically too in the past in the states in these two regions) because they have to subsidize the rest of the country. Tamil Nadu gets back 30 rupees for every 100 it sends to New Delhi; the northern state of Bihar, by contrast, receives 219!
This quite understandable grudge of the South and West were so far managed to certain extent because for all major distributional issues, including the division of taxes between federal and state governments, it was the population shares of the 1971 census that mattered. But now the Modi government wants to use the 2011 census instead of the 1971 one.
And if this is done then the and Western states worry justifiably that their share of revenue will be reduced significantly, despite the fact that they have worked hardest to empower women and control their populations and given their youth better skills and education to generate more wealth.
The question is – does this legitimate grudge promote national cohesion or disintegration? This is a dangerous question as one writes this piece on the eve of the 75th Independence Day. And one feels sad that this question is raised under the Modi regime.
By Prakash Nanda