மு.க. ஸ்டாலின் தலைமையிலான திமுக அரசின் முதலாவது நிதிநிலை அறிக்கை தாக்கல் செய்யப்பட்டிருக்கிறது. எதிா்பாா்த்ததைவிட அதிகமான அறிவிப்புகளுடனும், தொலைநோக்கு நிதி நிா்வாக திட்டங்களுடனும் தயாரிக்கப்பட்டிருக்கும் நிதிநிலை அறிக்கை என்று இதை வகைப்படுத்துவதுதான் சரியாக இருக்கும்.
முன்கூட்டியே வெள்ளை அறிக்கையை வெளியிட்டு, தான் புத்திசாலி என்பதை நிதியமைச்சா் பழனிவேல் தியாகராஜன் உணா்த்தி இருக்கிறாா். தமிழகத்தின் நிதிநிலைமை மோசமாக இருப்பதையும், அதிகரித்து வரும் கடன் சுமையையும் வெள்ளை அறிக்கை மூலம் ஏற்கெனவே வெளிப்படுத்தி விட்டதால், நிதிநிலை அறிக்கை குறித்த எதிா்பாா்ப்புகள் குறைந்துவிட்டன. அதனால், இப்போதைய அறிவிப்புகள் முக்கியத்துவம் பெறுகின்றன.
கடந்த ஓராண்டுக்கும் மேலாக உலக அளவில் மிகப் பெரிய பாதிப்புகளை ஏற்படுத்திப் பொருளாதாரத்தைத் தடம்புரளச் செய்திருக்கும் கொவைட் 19 கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றுப் பின்னணியில், எல்லா அரசுகளும் திணறிக் கொண்டிருக்கின்றன. இயல்பு வாழ்க்கையே பாதிக்கப்பட்டிருக்கும் சூழலில், பொருளாதாரம் ஸ்தம்பித்திருப்பதும், அதனால் அரசுக்கான வரி வருவாய் வறண்டு போயிருப்பதும் எதாா்த்த உண்மை. அதில் தமிழகம் மட்டும் விதிவிலக்காக இருந்துவிட முடியுமா என்ன?
முந்தைய ஆட்சியில் கடந்த மாா்ச் 11-ஆம் தேதி தாக்கல் செய்யப்பட்ட இடைக்கால நிதிநிலை அறிக்கையில் எதிா்பாா்க்கப்பட்ட வருவாய் வரவு ரூ.2,18,991.96 கோடி என்றால், இப்போது அதுவே ரூ.2,02,495 கோடி என்று மறு மதிப்பிடப்பட்டுள்ளது. அரசின் செலவினங்களும் (ரெவின்யூ எக்ஸ்பென்டிசா்) ரூ.2,60,409.26 கோடியிலிருந்து ரூ.2,61,188.57 கோடியாக அதிகரித்திருக்கிறது. அதனால், முன்பு எதிா்பாா்க்கப்பட்ட வருவாய் பற்றாக்குறையான ரூ.41,417.30 கோடி இப்போது ரூ.58,692.68 கோடியாக அதிகரித்திருக்கிறது.
இந்தப் பின்னணியில்தான் நிதியமைச்சா் பழனிவேல் தியாகராஜன் தனது நிதிநிலை அறிக்கையைத் தாக்கல் செய்திருக்கிறாா். தோ்தல் வாக்குறுதிகளுக்காக திமுகவால் தரப்பட்ட வாக்குறுதிகளைவிட, தமிழகத்தின் நலன் கருதிக் கூறப்பட்ட வாக்குறுதிக்கு அவா் முன்னுரிமை அளித்திருக்கிறாா் என்பதைப் பாராட்ட வேண்டும்.
‘வருவாயில் ஏற்பட்ட சரிவை நிறுத்தி, நிதிநிலைமையைச் சீா்படுத்துவது மக்களுக்கு அளித்த வாக்குறுதிகளில் முக்கியமானது. ஒரே நேரத்திலோ, ஒரே ஆண்டிலோ அதனைச் செய்துவிட முடியாத அளவுக்கு அந்தப் பணி கடினமாக உள்ளதால், குறைந்தபட்சம் இரண்டு அல்லது மூன்று ஆண்டுகள் வரை தொடா் முயற்சிகள் மேற்கொள்ளப்படும்’ என்கிற அவரது நிதிநிலை அறிக்கைக் கருத்து வரவேற்புக்குரியது. ஒரு நிா்வாகியின் பாா்வை அதில் தெரிகிறது.
தாக்கல் செய்யப்பட்டிருக்கும் நிதிநிலை அறிக்கையின் முக்கிய அம்சமாகக் கருதப்பட வேண்டியது, கணினி மயமாக்கலுக்கும், இணையவவழி நடவடிக்கைகளுக்கும் நிதியமைச்சா் கொடுத்திருக்கும் முன்னுரிமை. அனைத்து தமிழக பொது சேவைகளில் மின்னணு அளவீட்டு முறைகள் அறிமுகப்படுத்தப்படுவதும், அரசின் அனைத்துக் கொள்முதல்களில் மின்னணுக் கொள்முதல் கண்டிப்பாகப் பின்பற்றப்படுவதும் மிகப் பெரிய நிா்வாக மாற்றத்தை ஏற்படுத்தக்கூடும். அதன் மூலம் இடைத்தரகா்களும், ஊழல்கள் நடப்பதும் தடுக்கப்படும். இணையவழி செயல்பாட்டின் தொடக்கத்தை அறிவிப்பதாக அமைந்திருக்கிறது, முதன்முறையாகத் தாக்கல் செய்யப்பட்டிருக்கும் காகிதமில்லா நிதிநிலை அறிக்கை. இதுதான் இந்த நிதிநிலை அறிக்கையின் சிறப்பம்சம் (ஹைலைட்).
பத்து ஆண்டுகளில் ஆயிரம் தடுப்பணைகள், கதவணைகள்; காசிமேடு மீன்பிடித்தளம் மேம்பாடு; தமிழ்நாடு சித்தா பல்கலைக்கழகம்; நான்கு இடங்களில் டைடல் பூங்காக்கள்; ஒன்பது மாவட்டங்களில் புதிய சிப்காட் பூங்காக்கள்; துணிநூல் துறைக்காக தனி இயக்குநரகம்; ஒவ்வொரு சட்டப்பேரவை தொகுதியிலும் மூன்று கோடி ரூபாய் செலவில் விளையாட்டரங்கங்கள்; 15 அரசு தொழிற்பயிற்சி நிலையங்களில் 65 கோடியில் திறன்மேம்பாட்டு மையங்கள் போன்றவை வரவேற்புக்குரிய தேவையான அறிவிப்புகள்.
மத்திய அரசின் உதவியுடன்தான் பேருந்துகள் வாங்குவதிலிருந்து பெரும்பாலான திட்டங்கள் நடைமுறைப்படுத்தப்படுகின்றன. பொதுவாக, மாநில அரசுகள் அதை வெளியில் தெரிவிப்பதில்லை. கிராமப்புற வீட்டுவசதி திட்டமும், குடிநீா் வழங்கும் திட்டமும் மத்திய அரசின் உதவியுடன் செயல்படுத்தப்படும் என்று வெளிப்படைத் தன்மையுடன் அறிவித்திருப்பது நிதியமைச்சரின் நோ்மையைக் காட்டுகிறது.
ஒருபுறம் அரசின் கடன் சுமை; இன்னொருபுறம் நிதிப்பற்றாக்குறை. இதற்கிடையிலும், மகளிா் சுயஉதவிக் குழுவுக்கு ரூ.2,756 கோடி கடனை தள்ளுபடி செய்து, புதிதாக ரூ.20,000 கோடி கடன் வழங்க நடவடிக்கை என்று அறிவித்திருப்பதும், பேரவை உறுப்பினா்களின் தொகுதி மேம்பாட்டு நிதியை ரூபாய் மூன்று கோடியாக அதிகரித்திருப்பதும், ஏற்கெனவே பேரிழப்பில் இயங்கும் போக்குவரத்துத் துறையை மேலும் கடனாளியாக்க ஆயிரம் புதிய பேருந்துகள் வாங்குவதும் நிதியமைச்சரை நிா்வாகி அல்லாத சாதாரண அரசியல்வாதியாக்கிக் காட்டுகின்றன.
நிதிச்சுமை இல்லாத பல வாக்குறுதிகள் கடந்த நூறு நாளில் ஏற்கெனவே நிறைவேற்றப்பட்டிருக்கின்றன. தோ்தல் வாக்குறுதிகளை நிறைவேற்றவில்லை என்கிற குற்றச்சாட்டை எதிா்கொள்ளாமல் இருப்பதற்கு பெட்ரோலுக்கு ரூ.3 குறைத்து வழங்கப்படுகிறது.
கொடுத்துவிட்ட வாக்குறுதிகள்; பற்றாக்குறையான நிதியாதாரம்; - இதற்கிடையில் குறைந்த காலவெளியில் தயாரித்து வழங்கியிருக்கும் நிதிநிலை அறிக்கை என்கிற அளவில் பாராட்டலாம்.
A month before the Assam-Mizoram border conflict on July 26 claimed the lives of six Assam police personnel, Lalchhandama was in Champhai town near the Myanmar border when his farm shed and areca nut plantation, 320-km north at Aitlang, were destroyed. Aitlang is within the Inner-Line Reserve Forest, which is a 509-sq km green belt that the British India administration had notified in 1875. They did this to separate the plains of the tea-rich Surma or Barak Valley from the hills inhabited by the Lushais, who would often raid the plains. The Lushais and other ethnically related communities came to be called the Mizos decades later.
The Inner Line Reserve Forest runs along the 146.6-km Assam-Mizoram border. Not clearly demarcated, it separates the Aizawl, Kolasib and Mamit districts of Mizoram from the Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj districts of Assam. About 300 Mizo families — all residents of Mizoram’s border town Vairengte — have broomstick or areca nut plantations in the hilly Aitlang, which Mizoram claims is in Kolasib district. Assam claims it is in Hailakandi district and has periodically been evicting Mizo “encroachers”.
The last time Lalchhandama and a few others lost their broomstick plantations to such an eviction drive was about 10 years ago. “We would wait for things to cool down in a few days and reclaim our land,” he said. But he had a bad feeling when fellow cultivator Darthanzaua narrated how the officials from Assam were more organised than ever before during the eviction drive on June 29. Apart from destroying the plantations of 18 families, the Assam police set up camps in the vicinity in no time. “I switched to areca nut on my 1.5-hectare land two years ago. I am not sure if I will get back my land this time, let alone start cultivation again,” he said.
Aitlang is aerially about 5-km west of Auto Stand on National Highway 306, Mizoram’s lifeline, where the conflict took place in July. The Auto Stand, almost midway between Vairengte and Assam’s Lailapur town where three-wheelers from both the States terminate, is now a Mizoram police checkpoint. In the 4-km stretch of the highway between the Mizoram police checkpoint and the Assam police barricade at Lailapur are two barriers, about 100 metres apart, each manned by a unit of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). The CRPF units have been stationed as a neutral force at violence- prone spots along the inter-State border after the July 26 incident. The CRPF replaced the Border Security Force and the Sashastra Seema Bal which were deployed after arson and violence on October 17, 2020, under the operational control of the Mizoram police and the Assam police, respectively.
About 10-km east of Lailapur, Riyazuddin Laskar is more worried than relieved by an instruction from local authorities in Assam to stop paying ‘tax’ to his Mizo landowner. Laskar, a Bengali Muslim, has been residing for more than a decade on the farmland Laltimliana claims he owns in the disputed stretch of the volatile inter-State border.
Laltimliana’s thatched house is the last civilian structure in the Assam-controlled territory at Dholakhal Kulicherra Forest Village, referred to as Saihapui V in Mizoram, near the ‘line of control’ – the Kalakhal stream – flanked by temporary camps of the CRPF.
Laltimliana’s house is about 500-metres north of his tenant Laskar’s, in the Mizoram-controlled part of Saihapui V, beyond three layers of security – two of CRPF on either side of the culvert and a unit of the Indian Reserve Battalion inside the Mizoram-controlled territory. The ‘V’ stands for Vairengte.
Laskar, like most Assam-based contract farmers on ‘Mizo-owned land’ along the inter-State border, had struck an annual deal with Laltimliana. This entailed handing over 80 maunds of rice as ‘tax’ to Laltimliana in lieu of staying and farming on his land. A maund in the border areas equals 30 kg, almost eight kg less than the measure elsewhere in Assam. The contract farmers subsist by growing three crops a year, usually keeping the yield of two crops for their own consumption or for selling in the local markets. “I have not paid tax to my landowner this year. But I am worried this could be the end of my farming in this area and of years of association with the Mizo landowners,” Laskar said. Laltimliana is the second Mizo landowner Laskar has worked with.
Radheshyam Chauhan and Ramlal Chauhan of Frenchnagar, west of Dholakhal Kulicherra, face a similar dilemma. They have not been to work on the paddy fields, fish ponds, areca nut and broomstick plantations in the adjoining Mizo- controlled Paglachhara. The ‘border’ here starts where a road ends about 100 ft from the elevated Frenchnagar Khasiapunji LP School, now a camp of the Assam police commandos.
The camp set up after the July 26 incident has forced Bijon Malakar and his family to spend their nights at home. Their house adjoins the school. “We used to send our women, children and the elderly away to spend the nights at the house of relatives since the border violence started in October 2020. The fear of attacks increased after Intaz Ali, a firewood collector from Lailapur, was killed in Mizoram 10 months ago. Intaz invariably took the road beside this school,” he said.
A series of wooded low hills with patches of plantations and small valleys characterise the inter- State boundary. The Kulicherra area has four forest villages – Phainum, Upper Phainum, Buarchep and Saihapui V – marked as Cachar’s ‘Mizo section’. The four villages have about 600 people listed as voters in both Assam and Mizoram. Locals said the road and the Bengali-medium Upper Phainuam LP School damaged in a bomb attack by miscreants in October 2020 were built by the Assam government while Mizoram provided electricity and water supply.
“Whatever is our status on paper, we are emotionally, ethnically and culturally with Mizoram. We hope the Assam government will give back the land our forefathers have been occupying since 1925. What will Assam gain by robbing us of our land and livelihood as well as depriving their contract farmers caught in no man’s land,” Samuel-a, the son of Laskar’s landlord Laltimliana asked.
It is not a question of taking or ceding land but of a violation of the Supreme Court’s 1996 order banning the felling of trees and non-forestry activities in forests across the country, officials in Assam said. “The law is absolutely clear. Irrespective of status and ownership, there cannot be any non-forestry activities in forest areas. And they (Mizoram) have over the years built permanent structures, thereby breaking up the land,” Jatindra Sarma, Southern Assam Circle’s Chief Conservator of Forests, said.
Records of the Assam Forest Department show that the encroachment on the Inner-Line Reserve Forest started in 1985, two years before Mizoram was upgraded from a Union Territory to a State.
“The incident of encroachment first recorded was during November 1985 when a portion of Kalaland and Shantipur area inside Singla Reserve Forest (part of the Assam-Mizoram border in Karimganj district) was occupied with the help of the armed forces of Mizoram. Gradually, they encroached a total of 75 ha clearing natural vegetation and practising jhum (slash-and-burn cultivation on hill slopes) and cash crop plantation,” a report prepared by the Forest Department on July 5 said.
Officials said some farmers in Assam showed the Mizos the way to encroach the forest. These farmers came up with the idea of contract farming, replacing the trees with plantation crops that ensured them a steady income.
Unlike the border forests of Karimganj and Hailakandi districts, the Cachar Division was relatively free from encroachment until October 17, 2020, the Forest Department report said. That day, “three temporary bamboo shops on NH-306 were burnt down by miscreants from Vairengte”, leading to a law-and-order problem in the border areas. “Mizoram police accompanied by IR Battalion of more than 30 armed personnel entered Inner Line Reserve Forest and constructed a temporary post at Kulicherra Forest Village,” the report said.
Manoj Kumar Singha, the beat officer at the Lailapur Forest Beat House, the last Assam government structure on the edge of the de facto boundary, said the Mizoram authorities had used the COVID-19 situation to grab Assam’s land inch by inch. “Almost every day, our men on patrol saw them advance the testing centre for incoming passengers towards Assam. Whenever we objected, they would say it was a temporary set-up to be removed,” he said.
Before long, Mizoram set up a police outpost atop Rengtilila, a mound beside the Auto Stand that had been cleared of an illegal plantation a few days ago, Singha said.
A notice that was to have been served to the Mizoram authorities for removal of the outpost led to the July 26 incident. “We had registered a case against several Mizoram officials under various sections of the Assam Forest Regulation such as trespassing and encroachment. Based on that, we went to serve them the notice to come to our office on a specified date and give a written explanation. They refused to accept the notice and then all hell broke loose,” Sunnydeo Choudhury, the Divisional Forest Officer said. He was transferred out of Cachar Division after the incident.
Assam police officials said the attack on them appeared to have been planned. “The Mizoram officials became aggressive and in no time, a large crowd gathered firing air gun pellets and throwing stones. We fired a few teargas shells to disperse the mob before the Mizoram police started firing from behind bunkers on higher ground,” a senior Assam police officer who received an air gun injury said. He said the Assam police retaliated after 20 minutes of firing from the other side only to evacuate their dead and the injured. “We never thought a normal notice to people occupying our own land could cause such bloodshed,” he added.
According to the Mizoram government, the Assam police’s version of the incident is a web of lies. “Why would 200 officials and policemen come trooping here if not to create trouble? They started the firing that led to the unfortunate incident on our territory. We are pained by the loss of lives because of the provocation,” the State’s Home Minister Lalchamliana said.
The killing of six policemen led to a 13-day economic blockade on Mizoram that was lifted after senior Assam ministers negotiated with the Lailapur locals in Assam and promised justice for the slain policemen.
Border conflicts became a fairly regular feature from the mid- 1990s. Silchar-based historical researcher Sanjib Deb Laskar said the conflicts intensified after the BJP-helmed North-East Democratic Alliance stirred sub-nationalism across the Northeast. The incidents took a serious turn after the Centre’s push for settling Assam’s border disputes with Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland ahead of the celebration of India’s 75th year of Independence.
Two British-era notifications are at the root of the Assam-Mizoram border conflict. One was derived in 1875 from the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act, 1873, which prescribes a permit for Indians beyond Mizoram to enter the territory. Mizoram follows this while Assam swears by the ‘constitutional boundary’ decided in 1972 (when the Lushai Hills district of Assam became the Union Territory of Mizoram), based on a 1933 notification. Mizo leaders say the 1933 notification is not acceptable as their ancestors had not been consulted. Assam leaders reject this argument since the scenario, they say, was similar during the 1875 notification.
“When the Mizo Peace Accord (with the extremist Mizo National Front that became a political party now ruling Mizoram) was signed in 1986, the boundary of 1933 was agreed to be made Mizoram’s boundary,” Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.
Political experts in Mizoram said the Constitution of India does not explain the constitutional boundary. “The Mizos have lived under a colonial wrong and our leaders have time and again said the only acceptable boundary is the 1875 notification since the voices of our leaders seeking re-organisation of the Mizo-inhabited areas were never heard,” Aizawl-based college teacher and member of Mizoram’s boundary committee, Joseph Lalfakzuala, said.
Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga said Assam was trying to grab its land for settling ‘Bangladeshi migrants’ in Barak Valley. This seemed to have gained traction in the Northeast, especially with the BJP seen as eyeing the land of neighbouring States to settle Hindu Bengalis under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The Congress was earlier accused of using Bengali Muslims as a buffer in the disputed belt.
Deb Laskar contested this theory. “The Bengali Hindus and Muslims living in areas near Mizoram are agriculturists of Sylhet (in Bangladesh) origin settled since 1650. The contract farmers on land claimed by the Mizos are not locals, but are from other parts of Barak Valley. In contrast, many Mizos came from eastern Asia in the 1800s and tribesmen would often raid areas up to Silchar. One must remember these raiders were the reason why the British raised the Cachar Levy in 1835, which became the paramilitary Assam Rifles later on,” he said.
“The bogey of Bangladeshi comes up when all arguments fail in the Northeast. No one in Lailapur or adjoining areas has been left out of the National Register of Citizens. We have been demanding a similar exercise in Mizoram to find out how many are domicile Mizos and how many are migrants from Myanmar,” Lailapur-based social worker Abul Hussain Barbhuiya said.
The indigeneity of the Mizos can never be in doubt, said Famkima, the chairman of the joint council of four villages that comprise Vairengte town. “Mizos are not encroachers too because the land always belonged to us. In fact, the old maps show our territory is as far as Dhalai (between Vairengte and Silchar). If Assam wants to remove the encroachment, they should start with those occupying our land in the plains of Barak Valley that should have been ours. In football terms, Assam has scored an offside goal because of the adventurism of its Chief Minister and it is the duty of the Centre to don the role of a fair referee,” he said. Dhalai is the constituency of Assam Forest Minister Parimal Suklabaidya, a BJP veteran and a key player in the Assam Forest Department’s bid to reclaim “encroached” forests along the border.
But he agreed Mizos and Bengalis and other communities in Assam cannot live in conflict forever. “We have a history of interdependence, and the sooner the boundary issue is resolved, the better for us,” he said.
“The boundary issue should have been resolved in 1947 but we cannot keep on complaining. The give-and-take policy that Assam and Meghalaya are pursuing can be a way forward for the vague Assam-Mizoram border too. How long can two sister States keep on reopening old wounds? Our job is to recommend, and a solution requires political will from both sides,” Lalfakzuala said.
He recalled how Assam rejected a Supreme Court-appointed commission’s report that prescribed transferring 70% of the disputed land to Arunachal Pradesh while accepting another panel’s report that advised Meghalaya to hand over a disputed village to Assam. Similarly, both Assam and Nagaland rejected the recommendations of two panels to settle their border disputes that have killed 136 people since 1979.
Assam’s Urban Development Minister Ashok Singhal, who along with Border Affairs Minister Atul Bora had met their Mizoram counterparts for easing the boundary tension, said the boundary should be properly demarcated and the Mizoram government should propose a mechanism for that.
“The Reserve Forest cannot be encroached by either side, and there should be a proper investigation of the July 26 incident. Those guilty must be punished for the boundary issue to be resolved since policemen have died and people in Assam are emotionally charged,” Singhal, also Cachar’s ‘guardian minister’, said.
The angst is apparent at the 6th Assam Police Battalion at Jayfarpur near Silchar. Forty-nine-year-old Shyamsundar Dushad, one of the policemen killed, was a havildar attached to this battalion. “We received Rs. 50 lakh from the government as compensation. But this is not the justice we seek. Whatever may be the trigger, they committed a crime and should be tried as criminals,” said his widow, Lakshmi Dushad.
“The dead policemen were not Bangladeshis, were they? In a region of diverse communities, we want peace for normal life and a non-militarised boundary. But I hope the killing is not forgotten like the excesses committed by extremist groups after they come to the mainstream,” Barbhuiya said. His reference was to the Mizo National Front which has been ruling Mizoram since December 2018.
The Indian economy has travelled through an eventful period through the last three decades. In the post- independence economic history of our country, 1991 stands out as a watershed year. This was the year in which the economy was faced with a severe balance of payments crisis. In response, we launched a wide-ranging economic programme, not just to restore the balance of payments but to reform, restructure and modernise the economy.
Thus, the crisis was converted into an opportunity to bring about fundamental changes in the approach and conduct of economic policy. A near tragedy was averted and a new path was laid out before the country. The words of Charles Dickens in somewhat reverse order seem appropriate: “It was the worst of times, It was the best of times,... it was the winter of despair, it was the spring of hope.”
The shift, key players
It is important to recognise in what way the new regime was different from the earlier one. The break with the past came in three important ways: in dismantling the vast network of licences, controls and permits that dominated the economic system; in redesigning the role of the state and allowing the private sector a larger space to operate within, and in abandoning the inward looking foreign trade policy and getting integrated with the world economy and trade. The last was particularly important because it was the opposite of what we normally did when faced with a balance of payments crisis.
Dr. Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister spearheaded the new policy. He articulated the need for change and provided not only the broad framework but also the details of the reforms. P.V. Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister gave the valuable political support and shield which were very much needed. It must be noted that as Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao also held the portfolio of Industry which was directly responsible for initiating the changes that led to the dismantling of various types of controls and licences related to the industrial sector. This was indeed a key element of the reform programme. At the ministerial level, strong support came from P. Chidambaram as Commerce Minister who oversaw the transformation of the external sector.
There is a common thread running through the various measures introduced since 1991. The objective has been to improve the productivity and efficiency of the system by creating a more competitive environment. Thus, barriers to entry and growth were removed. As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It is therefore appropriate to look at three broad parameters to judge the performance of the economy after liberalisation — growth rate, current account deficit and poverty reduction.
Between 1992-93 and 2000-01, GDP at factor cost grew annually by 6.20%. Between 2001-02 and 2010-11, it grew by 7.69% and the growth rate between 2011-12 and 2019-20, was 6.51%. The best performance was between 2005-06 and 2010-11 when the GDP grew by 8.7% showing clearly what the potential growth rate of India was. This is the highest growth experienced by India over a sustained period of five to six years. This is despite the fact that this period included the global crisis year of 2008-09. The recent decline in growth rate which started even before the advent of COVID-19 should make policymakers reflect and introspect.
The balance of payments situation had remained comfortable. There were three years in which the current account showed a small surplus. Most of the years showed a small deficit. The exceptions were 2011-12 and 2012-13 when the current account deficit exceeded 4%. This was taken care of quickly. Foreign exchange reserves showed a substantial increase and touched $621 billion as of last week. The opening up of the external sector, which included liberal trade policy, market determined exchange rate and a liberal flow of external resources, has greatly strengthened the external sector. Of course, we still run a high merchandise trade deficit which is offset to a large extent by the surplus in services.
Besides growth, the other major objective of economic policy is to reduce the number of people living below the poverty line. There are many problems associated with the definition of poverty and the kind of data required to measure it. Going by the procedure adopted by the erstwhile Planning Commission using the Tendulkar expert group methodology, the overall poverty ratio came down from 45.3% in 1993-94 to 37.2% in 2004-05 and further down to 21.9% in 2011-12. The per year reduction in percentage points in poverty ratio between 2004-05 and 2011-12 was 2.18. The post-reform period up to 2011-12 did see a significant reduction in poverty ratio because of faster growth supplemented by appropriate poverty reduction programmes such as the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Extended Food Security Scheme. With the decline in growth rate since then and with a negative growth in 2020-21, this trend must have reversed, i.e. the poverty rate may have increased.
Had the growth trend seen up to 2011-12 continued, we would have an unqualified answer to the impact of reforms on growth. Growth requires more than reforms. Reforms are, in the words of economists, only a necessary condition. It is not sufficient. In a developing economy, in the final analysis, growth is driven by investment. It is the decline in investment rate of nearly five percentage points since 2010-11 that has led to the progressive decline of the growth rate. Reforms normally create a natural climate for investment. But ‘animal spirits’ are also influenced by non-economic factors such as social cohesion. Reforms supplemented by a careful nurturing of the investment climate are needed to spur growth again. This should become the sole concern of policy makers.
Need for continuity
The reform agenda must continue. It will be incremental in character. It has to be. Policymakers should be clear about the directions in which they should move. First of all, there is a need to move in the same direction in which we have been moving in the past three decades. Policymakers should identify the sectors which need reforms in terms of creating a competitive environment and improving the performance efficiency. From this angle, we need to take a relook at the financial system, power sector and governance. Centre and States must be joint partners in this effort. Second, in terms of government performance, there should be increased focus on social sectors such as health and education. In terms of the provision of services, the emphasis must be not just on quantitative expansion but also quality. To achieve the latter is even more difficult. The advent of COVID-19 has clearly shown our inadequate health facilities and preparedness.
Reforms are necessary to improve the productivity of the economy and achieve higher growth. But the story does not end there. We cannot ignore equity considerations. Growth and equity must go together. They must not be posed as opposing considerations. They are truly interdependent. It is only in an environment of high growth, equity can be pushed aggressively.
C. Rangarajan is former Chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister and former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address on August 9 (https://bit.ly/2VSH6Sz) at the UNSC High-Level Open Debate on “Enhancing Maritime Security: A Case For International Cooperation”, convened by India, was both timely and apt. He described the oceans as a common heritage for humankind and a lifeline for the future of the planet. In urging the global community to develop a common framework to deal with contemporary challenges, including maritime disputes and natural disasters, he outlined a far-sighted vision rooted in India’s culture, history and geography.
With a long coastline and large island chains spread-eagled across the Indian Ocean, India has a natural seaward orientation, with key sea lanes of communication coursing through its surrounding seas.
India has ancient maritime traditions. In the 15th century, Vasco de Gama was piloted to the west coast of India from Zanzibar by a Gujarati seaman. Long before that, India’s ancient mariners were trading with the old world. The very word navigation is derived from the Sanskrit word “navgath”.
In enunciating five principles, Mr. Modi linked free and open trade to India’s civilisational ethos. His words were a reminder of India’s maritime trade with Mesopotamia 4,500 years ago. Lothal was a key maritime centre of the Indus Valley civilisation.
The Prime Minister’s home State, Gujarat, has one of India’s oldest maritime histories. Kutch and Kathiawar as well as the Malabar coast enjoyed ancient links to Africa. A ship built indigenously and manned by a local crew voyaged to England and back in the time of Rao Godji II (1760-1778) of Kutch. Buddhism and Hinduism spread to South-east Asia by the maritime route. Even Islam took the maritime route from India to South-east Asia.
Mr. Modi reiterated the relevance of SAGAR (Security And Growth For All In The Region). He urged the international community to develop a cooperative and inclusive framework for maritime security, so essential for unimpeded trade and commerce. Ninety per cent of global trade is conducted on the high seas, for the simple reason that it continues to be the most cost effective mode of transport.
Disruption of sea lanes of communication has global repercussions. The blockage in the Suez Canal earlier this year interrupted the flow of trade worth billions of dollars. In 1956, great powers intervened militarily when Egypt nationalised this key waterway. Today, a naval blockade at any choke-point in the Indo-Pacific could prove catastrophic.
Freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce are key to the spread of prosperity. Critical supply chains depend on the concept ofmare liberum(open seas). The neo-colonial concept ofmare clausum(closed seas) in the South China Sea is anathema to the future of the global economy.
The Prime Minister advocated peaceful settlement of maritime disputes on the basis of international law. This idea is rooted in India’s values of peace and non-violence. India’s acceptance of the award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2014 paved the way for India and Bangladesh to put aside their maritime dispute and forge even closer ties. This should be an example to others in the region. In 2016, China summarily rejected the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in favour of the Philippines.
Today, natural disasters and maritime threats posed by non-state actors have grown exponentially. Mr. Modi called upon the global community to rally together to deal effectively with the ravages of cyclones, tsunami and maritime pollution. India’s role as ‘first responder’ in the Indian Ocean, whether in thwarting piracy or providing relief after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, is well- documented. The Indian Air Force airlifted 30 tonnes of relief material to Mauritius in August 2020 to contain an oil spill that threatened to engulf the island nation’s pristine coast.
The Indian Coast Guard’s operational reach and capability has vastly improved in dealing with environmental hazards and piracy. The election, on August 5, of the Director General of Indian Coast Guard as the executive director of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre, Singapore. is an endorsement of India’s contributions. India now has white shipping agreements with several countries. The Indian Navy’s state-of-the-art Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) based in Gurugram hosts officers from the United States, Japan, France, Australia and the United Kingdom. The Indian Navy regularly offers a large number of training slots to friendly countries.
Mr. Modi’s remarks underscored the importance of preserving the maritime environment and its resources. The oceans remain our lifeline. Yet, they have been overwhelmed by plastic waste which chokes all forms of marine life. This, in turn, poisons the entire food chain and imperils the lives of millions.
Development of connectivity and infrastructure were also outlined as a major priority. There are heightened concerns today over China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). India stands for openness and transparency in the execution of projects, based on local priorities, with in- built fiscal viability and environmental sustainability. The U.S., Japan and Australia are also promoting better standards for global infrastructure through the Blue Dot Network.
Primacy of UNCLOS
As President of the UN Security Council for the month of August, India’s leadership in the debate on maritime security, that too at the level of the Prime Minister, has strengthened its credentials as a key stake- holder in the maritime commons. The Presidential Statement issued on the occasion highlights the commitment of the UN Security Council to international law. More relevantly, it emphasises the importance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as the legal framework governing all maritime activity.
India’s natural interests stretch across both the Indian and Pacific Oceans as reflected in its inclusive Indo- Pacific vision. No doubt, India’s initiative will further the prospects for a stable and enduring maritime environment.
Sujan R. Chinoy, a former Ambassador, is currently DG, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal
Several Twitter handles associated with the Congress and its leaders including its former president Rahul Gandhi were blocked by Twitter in the last few days, for violating its user policy and the law of the land. The violation pertains to posts shared by these handles that identified the family of a child who was allegedly raped and murdered in Delhi. The platform has since revealed that the NCPCR brought the violation to its notice. A petition in the Delhi HC seeking legal action against Mr. Gandhi has pointed out that his post was in violation of Section 74 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 and Section 23(2) of the POSCO Act 2012, both of which mandate that any material that might reveal (directly or indirectly) the identity of a child victim of a crime shall not be published. Additionally, the post also violated Twitter’s own rules. The Congress has not addressed the substantive question raised by the platform regarding these violations. It has alleged double standards by the platform, and questioned its impartiality. That is not a mature response. The party transgressed the norms of discussion in a sensitive case in its campaign. It must, without qualifiers, accept that mistake, and commit to better standards in social media campaigns.
Twitter had flagged posts on several handles associated with the BJP in May, which were intended to target the Congress, as ‘manipulated media’. The BJP and the Centre took umbrage over the decision, claiming that only a police investigation could establish whether the content was altered. Twitter insisted that it had its own mechanism to check whether files uploaded on the platform were tinkered with. Herein lies the core conflict between the state and private companies over controlling the information flow in a democratic society. Both the state and the companies invoke public order and interest to justify their control over information, but the protocol for exercising that enormous power over lives remains open to question. Additionally, private companies also claim a right to unilaterally decide their user policy. This raises the pertinent question of whether a private company that is providing a service that is essential — connectivity in this instance — can set the terms of usage arbitrarily. The state has often shown itself unable to control speech in a fair and even-handed manner. It does even wilfully misuse such powers, going by experience. The age of acceleration has thrown up many such complicated moral and governance questions that society needs to resolve. In the meantime, state agencies must exercise control over speech only in the rarest instances, for the briefest periods, and in the most transparent manner. Private companies must be more transparent in enforcing their guidelines and reassure users that their standards for those in power and those in the Opposition are one.
With the fall of Kandahar and Herat, Afghanistan’s second and third largest cities, to the Taliban, the war in the country appears to have entered an irreversible phase. They already seized Ghazni, a strategically important city on the Kabul-Kandahar highway. The speed with which the Islamist insurgents captured the cities — 17 in eight days — is a surprise. Troops from the U.S. and the U.K. are to go back to Afghanistan to evacuate their citizens. The latest U.S. intelligence assessment predicts that Kabul could fall within 90 days. The Afghan government has reportedly offered a power sharing proposal to the Taliban. But neither the offer nor the warning from the U.S. and other countries that they would not recognise a Taliban regime that takes power by force has stopped the militants. In his Id message, Taliban’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada said the Taliban are on the verge of establishing a “pure Islamic system” in Afghanistan. It is clear from his words and the military campaigns that the Taliban want the whole of Afghanistan under their command. Also, why should they make concessions when their offensives are cutting through the government defences at break-neck speed?
What altered the balance of power in the battlefield was the withdrawal of the U.S.-led international forces. While the U.S.-Taliban agreement in February 2020 legitimised the jihadists, the American withdrawal gave them a sense of victory. At no point in talks with the Taliban did the U.S. manage to extract concessions towards a political settlement in Afghanistan. The American focus was on taking its troops out unharmed, and the Taliban stayed away from targeting Americans even when they continued an assassination campaign inside the country. On the other side, the U.S. withdrawal has left the Afghan government, internally divided and lacking support in rural areas, devoid of its most critical advantage in the war — air support. Overstretched across the cities that were under siege for weeks, their defences crumbled like a sandcastle when the Taliban pressed on. The government of President Ashraf Ghani has long tried to ignore the former warlords in an attempt to shore up the national army. But when the national forces failed to defend the cities, Mr. Ghani turned to the ethnic leaders, but it is now too late as the Taliban are already at the gates of Kabul. The Taliban, like in the 1990s, promise stability and security. But the tragedy is that if they take Kabul, Afghanistan’s nearly 40 million population would be subjected, once again, to one of the most barbaric forms of religious totalitarianism. Whatever limited progress and freedoms the Afghans earned over the last 20 years are now at risk of being surrendered to a murderous militia with scant regard for human rights.
Can fashion be green? In a recent social media post, the environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, wrote, “You cannot mass produce fashion or consume ‘sustainably’ as the world is shaped today.” Quite simply — and this may come as a shock to those who wear their “ethically-manufactured” yoga pants like a badge of honour — there is no such thing as “sustainable” fashion. Much like how denims were once acid washed or stone washed, these days, everyone’s “greenwashed”.
The fashion industry, especially the sector known as fast fashion, has a massive environmental footprint, accounting for around 10 per cent of global carbon emissions and about 20 per cent of wastewater, and using up more energy than aviation and shipping combined. And, as consumers have grown conscious of this over the last decade or so, brands have been looking for ways to appear more eco-friendly. So they make clothing that includes a tiny percentage of organically-grown cotton, just to slap on a label that says “uses organically-grown cotton”. Or they claim that their clothes are “ethical”, “climate-neutral” or “green” — buzzwords that sound reassuring to consumers (whose conscience might otherwise play spoilsport) but which really mean nothing. More ingeniously, brands offer buy-back schemes to customers only to sell the used clothing in bulk to countries in Africa and Asia where they end up as waste in landfills anyway. In the meantime, consumers, their conscience soothed, keep buying, while manufacturers, their bottom lines intact, keep making.
With the release of the recent IPCC report on the climate emergency, it’s never been clearer that sacrifices are in order. For consumers, this means consuming less. Know that it’s fine to not own the latest Dries Van Noten or Céline knockoff. Just wear to brunch what you did last weekend or borrow your sister’s peplum blazer. Because fashion can only be sustainable if there isn’t so much of it filling up closets and, ultimately, landfills.
Vinesh Phogat returned from her second Olympics without a medal, like thousands of athletes across the world. But her reception by the Wrestling Federation of India included the slapping of a temporary ban, and the prospect of a longer punishment. The show-cause notice issued to the disappointed athlete will require her to explain why she wasn’t friendly enough with her team-mates, amongst other unrelated-to-sport allegations. The federation has not only mistaken the individual sport for a game of Ring a Ring o’ Roses, it has sought to deflect attention from the first red flag that Vinesh raised upon landing in Tokyo: Questions on the absence of her regular physio, who could’ve contributed to nailing down the medal. The insensitivity of imposing a ban on an athlete even before she sets foot at home, is compounded by the slander for “indiscipline”.
Celebrating its highest medal haul from an Olympics, India has swung from dissing athletes who couldn’t medal in the first week to over-the-top celebrations by governments looking to piggyback on the winners. There is no semblance of balance when crores are showered on medal winners, while those who missed out are abused on social media and pushed off stage for not meeting expectations. Only three — or four, in case of contact sports — medals are given per event. But India, new to winning any medals at all, has refused to display the equanimity needed to empathise with those who return without medals.
Writing for this paper, Vinesh spoke of the flip side of fame, and how “failure” is treated by the country. Wrestling did bring home two medals in men — both well-supported by a foreign coach, an Indian coach, a dedicated physio and the backing of a federation, which arbitrarily refused to send a physio for the 4-member team of women. But at the core of Vinesh’s cry for help is the anguish she has struggled to cope with while trying to win in a stacked field. When critics called for punishment to be meted out to her for having an “ego”, they had forgotten that it was the same confidence that she used for tough takedowns on the mat. An elegant wrestler who has won on the world stage, the authorities didn’t allow Vinesh to fight freely, with all the support she needed and deserved. Being penalised for not medalling was only the last straw.
The wheel has turned almost full circle in Afghanistan. The Taliban first stormed to power in 1996, with an open demonstration of medieval cruelty and a barbaric transition to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Twenty-five years later, and two decades after they were ousted from their seat in Kabul by the US and other NATO forces, their steady march through the country as they capture one strategic city after another indicates that their return to Kabul may not be far away. According to the latest reports, the militants control two-thirds of the Afghan land mass, including in the non-Pashtun north where their advance was stalled in the 1990s by the Northern Alliance. There is no Northern Alliance this time. The Afghan National Defence and Security Forces — including a 1,80,000 strong Afghan National Army, and a police force with 1,50,000 personnel, besides an air force and other security wings — trained by the US military, have proved unequal to the task of holding on to territory and containing the Taliban.
As the August 31 deadline for full American withdrawal approaches, the irony is that the US will send 3,000 troops back to evacuate the personnel at its Kabul embassy, while the US special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, author of the Doha agreement, pleads with the Taliban for the safety of Americans in Afghanistan. The Doha Agreement, from which the US excluded the Afghan government in order to keep the Taliban happy, is now in tatters. A UN report has already pointed to the continuing contacts between Taliban and al Qaeda, and Indian intelligence reports point to a confluence of Pakistan-based jihadi tanzeem inimical to India in Afghanistan. There is no certainty as to how long the government of President Ashraf Ghani will hold in the face of the relentless advance. Finance Minister Khalid Payenda has already quit, underlining the isolation of the government. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has estimated that nearly 4,00,000 Afghan civilians have been forced to flee their homes in the fighting this year, most of them internally displaced. There have been reprisal killings already and reports say 90 Afghan media outlets have shut down.
An offer by Ghani to share power with the Taliban may not make any difference to the insurgents who clearly believe they are on the cusp of winning it all. The Taliban appear to enjoy the support of the Pashtuns, the majority community in Afghanistan, and several international powers, including Russia and China. A question that has to be asked is if the Taliban’s rapid military advance through Afghanistan would have been possible without help from Pakistan, its chief patron. It was Pakistan that delivered the Taliban to the table when President Donald Trump wanted to fast- track talks towards a US exit. For India, the invitation to Thursday’s “Troika Plus” talks in Doha was small consolation. Delhi’s only option at this moment is to secure the country against possible consequences, and wait it out as it unfolds. Delhi must also get ready for Afghans who may come to this country seeking refuge, as they have done in the past.
This 75th year of India’s Independence feels like what its first year of freedom may have been like. How can 2021 remind this writer of how historians described 1947? Quite simply, this time of the pandemic is the single largest existential threat experienced by us as a nation just like that time of Partition when our constitutional republic was founded. The pandemic era defined by large-scale loss, lack of adequate state infrastructure and deep economic uncertainty — on the face of it — is reminiscent of the Partition years. Yet, there was one dramatic institutional difference that arguably enabled us to weather the existential threat that Partition was as a precursor to Independence — it was the functioning of Parliament or the legislature. However, in the pandemic-era 2020 onwards, Parliament, or the people’s voice and will, is as chaotic within as are the streets outside it.
On August 14, 1947, at the midnight hour, Jawaharlal Nehru addressing India’s dual-purpose legislature that was both Parliament and constituent assembly rolled into one, heralded our freedom by observing: “As the world sleeps India awake to its freedom.” That very same institution in its contemporary form, the People’s House or the Lok Sabha, was adjourned sine die earlier this week.
It has been inexplicably rare for Parliament to have been convened in the pandemic era that spans March 2020 to the present. In 2020, Parliament sat in session for 33 days. According to PRS Legislative Research (PRS), in the 2021 Monsoon Session, the Lok Sabha was scheduled to work for six hours per day for 19 days. Instead, it sat for 21 hours in total or 21 per cent of what was conceived. Contrast this with Brazil’s Parliament, that using an application called Infoleg, functioned at higher rates than in pre-pandemic times, with extraordinarily high voting rates. A contrasting approach was the United States Congress that met physically for 113 days in 2020. In the year before, they met for 130 days.
But it’s not just the pandemic that has caused this abysmally low functioning. In the past 10 years, the Rajya Sabha has functioned for less than 25 per cent of its scheduled time. According to PRS again, none of the 15 bills introduced in this Monsoon Session 2021 has been referred to a Parliamentary Committee. In this current Lok Sabha commencing 2019, only 12 per cent of the bills introduced have been referred to committee. By contrast, the 16th Lok Sabha (2014-2019) had 27 per cent and the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-2014) had 71 per cent of bills referred to standing committees, where they could be discussed, debated amid testimony by experts. More significantly, fewer and fewer drafts of key legislation are being debated across the political aisle before becoming law.
Even more astonishing, in this Lok Sabha, nine minutes were spent discussing and passing the supplementary budget that included a Rs 15,750 crore Covid-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Package. This is the functioning of the legislature — increasingly convened less and debates are few. Worse, more law is being made bypassing the body itself. I will leave it to the press and politicians to ascertain who is to blame for the steady decline of Parliament, culminating in this the 75th year of our freedom. As a lawyer and student of our Constitution, the contrast of today’s legislature with our founding one that gave us our Constitution could not be starker.
Indian Independence from the British was always meant to be a precursor to the real freedom that would follow, the adoption of a Constitution that would provide for equality, non- discrimination and fundamental freedoms. The drafting of India’s Constitution started in December 1946, when the Constituent Assembly first met, seven months before Independence in August 1947.
The Constitution was drafted between 1946 to 1949 and adopted on January 26, 1950. What makes these years of our constitutional founding so dramatic, was that the backdrop to our founding was as torturous as this pandemic era. Partition was unfolding, millions would be displaced, killed or disappeared as they crossed borders between the two nation-states. Yet, as the heart of Delhi was slowly filling up with refugees, India’s dual function legislature functioned as Parliament by morning and Constituent Assembly in the afternoon. What set it apart from the drafting project of any other assembly at that time, was its diligent attendance, committee for each theme and vigorous debate. Imagine writing a thoughtful Constitution as the world around you was being unmade and made afresh, as refugees flowed into Purana Qila that was only a short distance from Parliament. The violence, displacement, the smell of blood, smoke and fear was present all over north India and most certainly in Delhi.
The first Constituent Assembly was meant to comprise 296 members, but its initial session had only 210 members in attendance. The assembly faced a boycott by the rest of the members. In response to the boycott and to entice these members back, the chairman of the Drafting Committee Bhim Rao Ambedkar said: “This is too big a question to be treated as a matter of legal rights. It is not a legal question at all. We should leave aside all legal considerations and make some attempt whereby those who are not prepared to come, will come. Let us make it possible for them to come, that is my appeal.”
This approach of rapprochement and engagement with those who had contrasting opinions and interests was present at large. The Constituent Assembly caucus of the founding Congress Party included many members from outside the party. This motley crew of members from across the political-ideological spectrum were able to arrive at decisions as Upendra Baxi notes, “using a mixture of techniques of problem-solving, persuasion, bargaining and politicking”. This was in tandem with the hard technical work done by experts in various thematic committees and the political charisma being deployed by popular leaders to give credibility to the exercise.
Within even comparative constitutional scholarship, the functioning of this Partition era Constituent Assembly is held up as a model of nation building in tandem with writing a rare enduring Constitution for a large and diverse nation-state. As I look at our Parliament today, I am compelled to ask our political class — would you have been able to draft this nature of a Constitution that continues to be our freedom even today? Are we a democracy if our Parliament does not function?
I am blessed and privileged. While I have the honour and responsibility of being the Chairman of Wipro, I also have the opportunity to be fairly engaged with the work of the Azim Premji Foundation. This has given me the chance to see very different views of the world — of the tremendous potential and success technology has brought to our lives and the tremendous deprivation and inequity that still exists all around us.
This reality is visible, but often not noticed. While we are all familiar with the economic hardship of many Indians, the figures tell us how deep this issue is. Even before the pandemic, the median household income in India was Rs 15,000 per month. That means a family of four at the median income level lived on just Rs 125 per day per person for all their expenditure on food, clothing, housing, healthcare, festivals and more. Half of India lives with less than that. It isn’t a surprise that one health emergency can crush an entire family economically even at the median income level — and this happens to fellow citizens in our country every day.
The bottom 25 per cent of households (about 300 million people in India) lived on an income of less than Rs 8,500 per month or Rs 70 per day per person. For the bottom 10 per cent these numbers are even more gut- wrenching. And these numbers do not account for the economic devastation that the pandemic has caused.
None of these numbers capture stark inequities and injustices across gender, caste, regions, and more. Can we even imagine what circumstances many of our fellow citizens live in?
There is no doubt that from the wonderful day when India became free in 1947 to today we have made enormous progress. However, we still have work to do to build the India that we promised to ourselves in our Constitution.
To make progress on these inequities, I propose we add an additional key measure to that of the GDP — the Human Development Product (HDP). I believe deeply that you achieve what you measure. However, at times you must dig deeper, to the next level of measures, to truly understand the real health of the situation you are assessing. It is critical to narrow down to these “vital few” measures without forgetting that as time and circumstances change, these “vital few” measures may also need to be revised. What is special about these measures is that they themselves align and reflect the progress on many other measures.
I propose that the HDP consist of the following five parameters: First, the female labour force participation rate. Depending on what definition you look at, currently this number is 11 per cent or 22 per cent. It is shockingly low. The empowerment of women through their economic independence is central to human development. Second, gender income parity: A comparison of both, the median and the 75th percentile, of wages of men and women. There is no point in more women participating in the labour force if we continue to give them insecure and lower-paying jobs than men. Third, stunting. Stunting amongst children is about 35 per cent. This number reflects many things directly, for instance, the state of our public health, the nutritional status of our people, and environmental conditions. Fourth, water quality and availability. This is more difficult to measure, but tracking a few important indicators can suggest the national trends. So, I suggest we measure the quality and flow of 10 key rivers at specified geographical points and periodicity, as well as measure groundwater levels and quality in some of the most stressed areas. All this could give us an aggregate water health index. Fifth, the quality of polity. For this, we can measure the percentage of members of all our legislatures — state legislatures and Parliament — against whom criminal cases are pending or have convictions.
The natural debate that follows is why only five measures and why these five. There is no perfect answer to this. I have tried to pick the “vital few” which I believe will measure the progress of the most fundamental things in our country and reflect human progress. Like former US President Barack Obama once said, “if you want to see what a country is like, go and see how it treats its women”. The two measures on women empowerment that I have chosen balance each other and reflect deep structural issues, both in the economy and in society. So, any progress on these two will happen only when there is broad-ranging progress across multiple factors such as education and an increase in employment opportunities.
Stunting is not only one of the cruellest things that society accepts but is also reflective of widespread conditions of public health, nutrition and public education.
I also worry deeply about climate change. India will be ground zero for all effects of climate change — it will affect livelihoods, health and more. We must tackle climate change and its effects on multiple fronts, and these can be measured in many ways. But I cannot think of anything which will hurt the average person more and is already doing so, than water. Lastly, a country is as good as its polity and vice versa.
I am deliberately calling it the Human Development “Product”, because these measures are a product of innumerable important factors — education, health, livelihoods, societal norms, political climate, environmental conditions, and more. Improvement in HDP will reflect and happen only with improvement on all these factors.
I am an amateur in these matters. Others could perhaps propose better parameters. What I am arguing for is a measure of true human progress, which if left behind will negate all the progress we make in our GDP and as an economic power of the future.
On this eve of the 75th anniversary of our Independence can we commit to ourselves that the HDP growth rate will be as much or higher than the GDP growth rate?
It was the 1920s. India had been long subjected to colonialism. But the soul of the masses was stirring. Gandhi had arrived from South Africa. He crafted a political vocabulary that had no precedent in history. He put the Congress party on notice. It had to become a mass organisation, with a common touch and vernacular cadence. Even the elites, who privately grumbled about his simplicity and moralism, had to concede to his authority. After all, Gandhi had, as one leader put it, “lifted the pall of fear”. The intellectual ambitions of India’s new leaders were not modest. It was to create an alternative universality; position India as a vishwaguru on the dint of its values and the power of its example, not on the barrel of the gun. Human rights and development as the West understood them were cloaks for a false universalism. They came with imperialism and exploitation.
This vision was not uncontested. Ambedkar rightly pointed out that a civilisation that had perfected an oppressive social hierarchy was hardly in a position to occupy the high moral ground. But this vision also stood on the ground of values and an ambitious universality: The idea of human dignity at the front and centre of everything. He was cynical about the motives of his colleagues, but never about values, and he crafted the principles of a new social contract capable of being a lodestar for the ages. There were other leaders of other persuasions as well, some more conservative, some more liberal, some revolutionary, but all fully conscious of the monumental task of bringing back a long subjugated country to its freedom, its moral centre and civilisational creativity.
And creativity that generation saw in abundance. What had begun as a sort of renaissance in Bengal became a national creed. Poets and writers created new songs and stories for this new stirring nation in more languages than one can list. Its scholars were rediscovering the deepest recesses of its traditions, even as its scientists were beginning to win Nobel Prizes under difficult circumstances. New universities were created. New art forms flourished. Fierce political debate flourished over the ends of politics and the means appropriate to it. All kinds of futures were being imagined for India, from the industrial to the pastoral. But all committed to freedom. The arguments were sometimes bitter. But they were chastened by a consciousness that Gandhi reminded us of “that our besetting sin is not our differences, it is our littleness”.
But under the surface of this brilliance and glitter of this golden generation that would lay the foundations of independent India, a poison was brewing. Limited democracy came in the form of the 1935 Act. Petty squabbles over power operated under the shadow of this greatness. But the deeper poison was the poison of communalism, with its same dreary murderous templates. There were fights over conversion and reconversion, sacred cows and prohibited pigs, which pamphlets were offensive to which community, who gets patronage from the state, threats of intermarriage, and the writing of history. There was sheer prejudice as well, those reservoirs of hate that cloak themselves under the garb of a higher purpose.
The social and intellectual partitions between Hindus and Muslims acquired new force. Rioting gained momentum, mutual recrimination became the new flavour. A nation looking at freedom was now contemplating division. In a few years, the energies of an authentic universality, spiritual regeneration, creative excellence, productive political debates were replaced by horrendous violence, a fearful nationalism, community narcissism and the strategic unity of the Subcontinent in ruins. This golden generation were no fools of history; but even they were certainly fooled by it. Once the poison took hold, the best and the brightest were powerless to stop it: A few drops of poison could overpower the sweetest of nectars.
Two new nations were born. India was born amidst the failure of its nationalist project. Nineteen forty-seven was both Partition and freedom; self-determination and slaughter. Pakistan decided to continue with the Partition project; it homogenised its territory, set religious benchmarks for identity. India in an act of creative resetting decided to make a fresh start. We embraced our tryst with destiny, even in this truncated form. We tried to let the legacy of freedom define India more than the obsession with Partition. In that audacious commitment was born a grand experiment: The largest democracy in the world, committed, with various imperfections, to liberal ideals, and a new hope. Our tryst with destiny collided with quotidian realities. We did not lift people out of poverty fast enough. Social democracy was often held hostage by plutocracy, bureaucracy and caste hierarchy. But we still said, to use Aurobindo’s words, we do not belong to the past dawns, but to the noons of the future.
In the new century, it looked as if India’s economic promise would finally gain momentum. India had much to build on. But then we rolled the clock back. Our battles are like a rerun of the 1930s — cow protection, love jihad, new excuses to hate. We will now complete the logic of Partition, we said — deepen the divisions, define ourselves by those same violent templates, the sense of victimhood and bigotry that tore apart the soul of India. In the 1930s, it happened to a certain extent despite the leaders; now our leaders are leading the charge. So long as we are completing the project of Partition, we said, we will put up with anything, even authoritarianism. Fundamentalism in Pakistan, open calls for violence in Delhi, all now wearing the garb of some higher national purpose. In a strange alchemy, embracing this death wish seems to make us feel more alive as a nation.
The moral of the 1930s was clear. Once unleashed, communalism always breaks nations. It took the sheen off India’s renaissance in the 1930s; it will again corrode new India’s energies. It has momentum that we can only pretend to control. The logic of Partition and the logic of freedom are fundamentally incompatible. One traps us in compulsory identities, the other lets us define ourselves. One sees fellow citizens as a potential threat, the other as a resource to build something special. One wallows in the past, the other is oriented to the future. One concentrates on the true foundation of national greatness, the other creates an impostor-like substitute. One is premised on fear, the other on hope. One on violence, the other solidarity. Which logic will we embrace — freedom or Partition? A question for both India and Pakistan. And alas, the answer is looking depressingly clear.
The 75th year of India’s independence is, of course, a moment of celebration but it should not pass on with mere sloganeering, stereotyped publications, festive programmes and the exaggerated glorification of the icons and incidents from the freedom struggle. This would be a missed opportunity to reread our own history. The occasion should be used to not only critically understand the anti-imperialist struggle, but also to know the many socio-cultural and political processes which expanded its social base. The magnitude of the history of India’s freedom movement is bigger than we know. Rigorous and consistent efforts to unravel and interpret historical events and the forces behind them strengthen their power to deliver a message to posterity. Hegemonic writings deplete the capacity to ferret out critical ideas and make icons out of a few actors. Similarly, the institutionalisation of ideas, the only source of success in achieving India’s freedom, makes the present a prisoner of the past while obstructing the progressive evolution of thought processes. The Indian freedom movement was a battle of ideas that gave it a sense of modernity and also the quest for its own civilisational strength, which was demonstrated by its resilience against the efforts of the European mind to culturally subjugate the people.
Understanding the freedom struggle and colonial forces constitutes the basic paradigm for post-colonial India. Everywhere, colonialism masked itself as social transformation. This gave it the space for socialisation with the local elites and progressives. Moreover, in politics, it used the negotiation table for a meeting between unequal forces. It sought to end the abhorrent leadership of the exploited masses and exhibited pseudo- sympathy for the colony. This was a strategy to delegitimise those who considered colonialism a demon to be defeated by force. There are commonalities between the “marginalised” and “discredited” ideas and forces battling against the British regime in India and the anti-imperialist ideas and leadership of the African mainstream. For instance, forces like the Forward Bloc and the Indian National Army (INA), both formed by Subhas Chandra Bose, and the RSS, along with the revolutionaries, despite their differences in socio-economic perspectives, campaigned and acted to dethrone the British regime and made violence moral. At the same time, there was counter indoctrination of the masses against their ideology and programmes by the mainstream leadership. Nevertheless, they survived and played their role as the nationalist grassroots. This is obvious from certain historical instances.
Despite the unbounded reverence for Mahatma Gandhi, the masses rejected his silence on the hanging of Bhagat Singh. Another instance is no less important. In the Tripuri Congress session in 1939, Bose was re-elected as the president of the INC. His subsequent resignation is important for understanding the evolution of internal democracy of social and political organisations.
It is aptly said that history does not explain, it has to be explained. Both the Gandhian and revolutionary movements had their own understanding of colonialism as well as post-colonial India. Anti-imperialist thinker Frantz Fanon’s argument that colonialism was not a thinking machine but the state of brute violence does not need much rigour to be proved. Baji Rout of Odisha, merely 12 years old, was killed by British bullets for his anti-colonial demonstration. Tileswari Barua of the same age met a similar fate in Assam. Seven teenagers who hoisted the tricolour at the Patna Secretariat were killed by the British police on the orders of district magistrate W G Archer on August 11, 1942. There are innumerable painful and unforgettable instances that are ignored or are footnotes in history books.
Freedom does not put an end to the colonial impact on a post-colonial society. Although Gandhi was a daring anti-colonialist who wanted indigenous ideas to supplant the colonial ones, the influential leaders of the freedom movement remained the social partners of colonialism. Gandhism was frequently and fervently quoted, but rarely practised.
This was reflected in independent India. We became lazy decolonisers and consumers of European ideas. On August 19, 1959, G Ramachandran, a veteran parliamentarian, and on November 3, 1965, M P Bhargava, asked India’s sovereign government why the statues of Queen Victoria, King Edward and King George remained on Indian soil. On September 5, 1969, Dattopant Thengadi asked the government in the Rajya Sabha why the symbols of the British crown were still there on the pillars of North Block and South Block. It showed a disregard for the emotions and pains of innocent Indians who had sacrificed their lives for the motherland. Another instance is more glaring. On November 22, 1966, Atal Bihari Vajpayee expressed anguish over the imprisonment of Mohan Ranade, who fought against Portuguese colonial rule in India, and was awarded 25 years imprisonment after being arrested. He asked why the government at the time of Goa’s liberation sent back 3,500 Portuguese prisoners without demanding Ranade’s repatriation.
The Gandhian movement, based on non-violence, expanded with the help of violent resistance and the indoctrination of the masses by the nationalist grassroots. Teachers and religious leaders worked to invigorate Indians’ sense of self and gave enormous strength to the freedom movement. There are umpteen stories. Dadoba Pandurang’s A Hindu Gentleman’s Reflections Respecting the Works of Swedenborg (1878) or Col U N Mukherjee’s Hinduism and the Coming Census (1910) and prabhat pheris, melas, plays and religious festivals acted as patriotic catalysts to expand anti-imperialism. The INC failed to go beyond politics. Tilak’s Ganesh and Shivaji festivals or Ramnarayan Basu’s Hindu Mela were discredited by Marxist historians for creating a divisive discourse in the nationalist movements. This is an example of the fractured understanding of anti- colonialism.
Can a society be made to give up its dreams and commitments? Seventy-five years is not a very long time in the journey of a society. It is neither long enough to fulfil dreams, nor to render those dreams irrelevant. So, if amnesia is effected, where does a society search for the foundation of its self-hood after giving up on both the historical and the modern beacons that guided it? India at 75 seems poised not merely to give up on its commitments made at Independence; it also seems willing to renounce its own historical moral riches and instead, to uphold an un-Indian approach to self-hood by giving up its lived inclusiveness.
Such drastic departures are identified through moments of rupture, but they are often shaped slowly. Analyses of India’s departure from the “tryst with destiny” will have to strike a balance between the deep cut caused by the regime change in 2014 and the invisible injuries from routine coups preceding that. Today, with the search for the “other” to demonise, we are on the verge of losing our own self. This predicament becomes all the more serious in its non-recognition.
India lost sight of its dreams through a combination of two routes. One is the false sense of “achievement”, and the other is being uneasy with itself. Anti-colonial struggle and the Constitution gave us the dreams, not their fulfilment. But we mistook the dreams for the fulfilment. This happened not just in the field of politics but also in the realm of ideas. Dreams require continuous dreaming, expanding the habit of thinking; but we converted dreams into convenient dead-ends in the art of thinking. We began thinking that democracy, welfare, nationalism, inclusion, were already in our grasp just by virtue of our being legatees of the dreams.
Side by side with this complacency, India lived through the politics of being uneasy with itself. If culturally we were uneasy with our innate plurality, socially, we were unwilling to accept that caste was a part that needed surgical removal. In the material sphere, we never got scandalised by squalor. While electoral politics allowed a sense of achievement despite many maladies, we remained deeply uneasy with democracy with respect to both political equality and individuality. The inevitable outcome was a state that neither cared for the dreams nor worked for their realisation. The single most deadly weapon India’s social and political practices produced, and which has strengthened the contemporary rupture, is the Indian state. No wonder, affection for the nation is being replaced by fear of the state. This means that the spirit of India could be swiftly crushed through an electoral coup but an electoral upset might not be sufficient for its rejuvenation.
At the dawn of the 75th anniversary of freedom, these complications have brought India to the crossroads where the choice and trajectory will be extremely complicated. There is the highway of denial and erasure. This road beckons us to hit the “delete” button on our dreams; invites us to redefine our selfhood in ways that are incongruent not just with the moral core of our anti-colonial past but also ill at ease with our tradition and history. It assures an image of ourselves seen through a cracked mirror. It has donned the costume of denial — it denies anything that we do not want to see. Its single-minded objective is to erase the dreams we saw 75 years ago and almost everything associated with those dreams.
But merely going back to those dreams is not a road that is available or advisable. The challenge is to pave a new road even as we keep using the by-lanes and recesses that we come across. This task involves resolute rejection at the intellectual level of the claims of the current regime, courage to simultaneously critique and question the past, ambition to dream but also caution to remember that politics is often about the less-than-ideal. Countering the regime that presides over the erasure of dreams is an urgent task but equally urgent is the task of searching within, for fresh dreams. We are at a deceptive crossroads where one road is visible, others invisible.
India’s journey over the next quarter of a century and beyond depends on whether three kinds of politics emerge, converse and converge. The first is the politics of normal opposition. There will surely be many parties competing for formal power, but the question is whether they will qualify as the “opposition”. Will they go beyond expanding their social base, increasing their vote shares, and aggressively defend democratic politics? At present, they are not even doing the former.
The second, even more daunting politics is the politics of civil society where little blocs of resistance and alternatives are continuously built, where interpersonal and intergroup relations are marked by democratic norm. If parties need to ensure democracy’s form, the social universe — the universe of our lived reality — has to keep alive the democratic norm. The third politics is of ideas. Though not independent of the previous two, conceptually this third arena needs to be imagined separately. In the erasure of democracy as well as of dreams, the bankruptcy of this politics has contributed a great deal. It has contributed, also, in our embracing the current road. An atonement is overdue.
What can this threefold combination offer? It can ensure a narrow field of possibilities in the backdrop of the current atmosphere of the finality of fate; it can postpone democracy becoming debris. It can save us from forced amnesia about the collective dreams of 1947. Above all, it can save us from pseudo-nationalism which is replacing our national self- hood. But is there even a whiff of these politics with us?
The women and men who won our country its independence were driven by a dream. India still needs to dream. The country’s 75th Independence Day tomorrow will necessarily be a sober anniversary – it is the second I-Day we will mark amidst the Covid pandemic. But it should also be an occasion to honestly take stock of difficult, unfinished tasks and an occasion to hope we will find new resolve to undertake those tasks.
More than 70% of Indians were poor in 1947. What’s been the best antidote for that pervasive distress? That we have grown into the world’s sixth-largest economy. This upliftment is thanks to post-1991 reforms – the mistaken socialist direction of our early decades served us cruelly ill. But with two years of income growth lost and indicators from poverty to malnutrition trending up, a second major reboot of the Indian engine is now critical. Tinkering at the margins is a poor substitute.
As great an achievement has been the deepening of Indian democracy, including among communities oppressed for centuries. With education and urbanisation, a harshly hierarchical and ghettoised society has become less so. But we cannot take for granted today’s liberties that allow us to freely choose who we marry and what we eat or wear or watch on our screens. The regressive pushback is strong. The governing infrastructure of India, from its executive, to its Parliament and political parties, and most crucially, its courts, has to stand up for individual freedoms even more strongly.
India’s greatest resource is its people. Through innovation, economies of scale, network effects, they can deliver miracles – if they are given the tools. But if the overall pie doesn’t grow the danger is that social conflicts to divvy it up will grow instead. Political leaders should stop walking us down this dangerous road. As much as India’s power as a nation-state is a work in progress, so is its quest for domestic harmony and prosperity.
We need a specific law to address cases on the false promise of marriage, said the Allahabad high court recently. The breach of promise to marry can, in some situations, be judicially deemed as rape in India, accounting for roughly 20-30% of reported cases. This provision has caused great friction – many rightly argue that the natural end of a relationship is not a crime against a woman, that a man changing his mind does not make him a rapist. Of course, courts also recognise this. The Supreme Court has recently reiterated that every broken promise to marry does not amount to rape.
But a rape charge hinges on lack of consent, and consent given under a misconception of fact is tainted. While there are some islands of progressive social mores and greater gender equality, in much of India, sexuality is yoked to marriage. While rape law should not be used vindictively by women against their exes, empirical surveys of such cases show a different picture of young vulnerable women, for whom this clause is the only stab at justice.
Our criminal and civil laws do not currently offer remedies for this. The court is right to say that it is time to classify such deception as a separate offence, one without a mandatory minimum punishment as rape cases have, but with civil remedies like damages and maintenance. Until then, there are no glib answers to these knotty situations.