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August - September 2006

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Faces of Changing India - Good, Bad & Ugly

by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee

“ It is a great privilege to stand as an Indian before the world and say: ‘I am ready. An Indian is ready to take on this challenge’. I think it is a measure of how far our country has come…”

Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary General for Communication and Public Information at the UN accepting his nomination by the Government of India for election to the post of Secretary General of the UN.

The place of India and the Indians, at home and abroad, is unique in the annals of world history. The Indians are different from most other people in the world. They do not spare any effort to find a place under the sun and occasionally they do succeed in making their mark. Yet historically, exceptions apart, they were hardly hands-down winners to become the envy of other nations.

The nomination of Shashi Tharoor, Under Secretary General for Communication and Public Information at the UN, as India’s official candidate for election to the post of the Secretary General of the UN, is a new development. In proposing young Tharoor’s name for the UN top job, Dr Manmohan Singh, an alumni of Cambridge and Oxford, among other reasons is perhaps making an attempt to correct the age imbalance. US support is critical if Tharoor is to win. But where is the guarantee that Washington will not disappoint India by adopting a stance of introspection and reticence in extending its support to Tharoor as it did with New Delhi’s bid for a permanent seat in the UNSC. In both cases China, a permanent member of the UNSC, encouraged and pressured by Pakistan - Beijing’s closest long-standing third world ally - could exercise its veto to kill India’s candidature, which will acutely embarrass the US. However, support for India could well be a test run for the US if it wants India to take on the role of a counter weight to China. In fact Washington should consider supporting Japan and India together for the UNSC seat and back Tharoor too. Such a move will significantly help in preserving US security interest in Asia as indeed the national interests of both Japan and India, America’s strategic partners.

India leads the world in IT Revolution

It is the IT revolution where the Indians are in the lead. It has made India competitive and business-savvy in the international marketplace for the first time and put the nation on the fast track growth trajectory. India had missed out on the first industrial revolution. The IT revolution, which is the second industrial revolution, is led by India’s youth. The old established industrial houses have basked in the sunshine of that success. Let us all hope that there will be more such success stories in fields like biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, nano-technology, space sciences and more. Indian multinational companies are on a roll, making their presence felt all over the world. Their global footprint is unmistakable.

As modern India moves ahead, an unprecedented imbalance between the political high command – the rulers - and the business leaders – the wealth creators - who are in the driving seat of the engine of progress, has come into being. Energetic, motivated and highly educated young Indians, mostly IIT and IIM post-graduates, are leading the charge while the ageing and tired political elite, on the average, is poorly educated, some are even illiterate. They do not seem to understand the value of higher education nor have they any stake in the future of the nation. Introduced in the name of positive action, the quota controversy was triggered by one such ageing leader. When the youth rose in revolt it looked like a pro-democracy movement breaking lose. The popular perception is that these old men are corrupt to the core busy making tons of money for themselves. It is sapping the inner strength of the nation. They are today the real drag-anchors of the Indian system.

Laksmi Nivas Mittal is world’s largest steel producer:

The one Indian industrialist to show his mettle in the international arena is Lakshmi Nivas Mittal, 55, an NRI living in London. His company Mittal Steel took control on June 25, 2006 of the European steel maker Arcelor and formed the Arcelor-Mittal Group controlling 10 percent of the world’s steel market with an annual production of 100 million metric tons, employing 320,000 workers, with sales of £38 billion a year. Kamal Nath, India’s Trade Minister, in a mood of euphoria said,

“ Mittal Steel’s success in taking control of Arcelor was a proof of India’s rise on the international scene. Countries trying to stop this are realising that globalisation means cross-border investments on both sides.” It was a dig at France’s failed effort to protect itself from la mondialisation, French for globalisation, through state intervention. The score was India 1, France 0.

Back at home in India there are stalwarts like Azim Premji, Naryan Murthy, Nilakani, the Ambani brothers, Ratan Tata, Kumaramangalam Birla, Naresh Goyal, Vijay Malliah, Subroto Roy and others who have become legendary figures of world of commerce and industry.

Nobody can take away from India its most prized possession - its high moral stature and standing in the world - head and shoulders above many other nations, including those of some of the great powers. This is an asset that has remained stubbornly anchored with India.

If India seriously wants to make a sustained impact on a ruthlessly competitive modern world, it has no alternative but to pursue well-thought-out, healthy and sustainable economic policies such that they energise the nation’s wealth creators to help the country emerge as a strong economic and a military power.

India’s advantage is that its GDP growth (8.4 % in 2005-06) is driven by a stable and high domestic demand while in the case of China, its high GDP growth (9.5% in 2005-06) is driven by massive infusions of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Last fiscal year, China’s FDI inflows stood at about $45 billion whereas India’s was about $7 billion. India’s best days are yet to come. As FDI flows increase in volume and is backed by sustained high domestic demand, the growth curve will begin registering a significantly upward trend.

The Speed Breakers:

The on-going rapidly changing progressive face of modern India represents the brighter side of the picture. It kindles hope in the hearts of many Indians and makes them proud. There is the other side of the coin though. It is the ugly face of India, pock-marked by corroding and pervasive corruption, criminalisation of politics, over-politicisation in almost every sphere of life, mass illiteracy affecting 260 million people, grinding poverty among one third of the population of a thousand million, indebted and hungry farmers committing suicide, filthy cities served by poor or non-existent infrastructure, urban sprawls dotted with festering slums, lack of clean drinking water, poor public health provision, no public hygiene worth the name, governance by rotten boroughs driven by vote-bank politics and so on. This is what parliamentary democracy has achieved in 60 years of the nation’s independence. Has the present political system failed? Is it now time for change?

Embracing the Market Economy 1991

Yet it must be admitted that despite these gargantuan systems failures, the policy makers of the nineties of the last century could take the difficult decision to embrace the market economy and set the country on the road to progress and prosperity. The decision radically transformed India from a lumbering backward economy to a vibrant and an emerging industrial giant. The unfortunate thing however was that there was no strategic thinking involved when the decision to jettison socialism and embrace the market economy was taken. It was primarily the result of a persuasive pressure from the World Bank at the time of a crisis, a knee-jerk but a welcome response to an unprecedented crisis of foreign exchange reserves which had dropped to just $1 billion. In 1991 India was almost bankrupt. Fifteen years down the road, the gathering momentum of the internal liberalisation and external globalisation of its economy has opened the doors to many new opportunities. India’s foreign exchange reserves now stand at $165 billion, which is a landmark achievement.

An emerging feature of changing India is that business leaders are beginning to dominate the debate on the development effort while the politicians are increasingly taking a back seat. It reminds one of Italy of the seventies. While the minority coalition governments kept changing, as one would change his clothes, the businessmen went about developing Italy’s economy at a furious pace. This traumatic phase of political history ended in the late eighties but not before the constitution was amended. It is almost 20 years now that India entered the coalition phase of its governance. It is hardly different from the Italian experience and seems to have settled down as a permanent feature. The result: India has a weak centre.

On June 19, 2006 Mukesh Ambani, Chairman of the Reliance Industries Ltd, signed an agreement with the Haryana State Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation to build in Gurgaon a Mega Special Economic Zone (SEZ) on a 25,000 acres plot with an investment of Rs 40,000 crores where Fortune 500 companies are to set up their industrial parks. A former Chief Minister of Punjab, sounding like sour grapes having failed to secure the project for Punjab in an outburst said “Reliance is nothing more than a modern East India Company”. When Badal’s statement was brought to his notice, Mukesh Ambani retorted “ We are businessmen and usually prefer to leave the business of politics to the politicians”. A thing to note is that the Haryana State Government did not have to seek the permission of the Centre to sign the deal with the Ambanis. Devolution of powers to the States has produced its own competitive momentum in the national development process.

The Indian Diaspora

Not to be left out, the Indian diaspora has also made great strides having had the opportunity of working in the market economies of the West. Given high education, sharp intellect, entrepreneurial drive and instinctive business acumen, their great achievement is that they have earned much respect for themselves from the host communities and also made themselves hugely affluent. Money is not everything in life, but cynics argue, it may be the only thing that really matters. Nobody wants to remain poor and as Deng Xiao Ping, formerly the supreme leader of Communist China had aptly said: It is not a sin to be rich. With so much capital - some believe it is over $100 billion - non-resident Indians, whose number is estimated to be 20 million world wide, are beginning to develop political clout in their homes of adoption – although it is more in the US than in the UK - but also in their resurgent homeland. India has recently started engaging the NRIs more closely than before with sops like the grant of overseas citizenship status for select groups of People of Indian Origin. By a combination of factors, significant investment possibilities in India from the NRI’s have started opening up.

After opening its economy from the socialist straitjacket, set up by the founding fathers of the republic, which created a scarcity economy, a licence permit Raj and promoted inefficiency and corruption through networks of patronage and nepotism of the state system of industrialisation, India today is heading towards a promising future. A measure of the success story is its burgeoning foreign exchange reserves, to which I have referred earlier. India’s exports have touched the figure of $100 billion in the last fiscal year 2005-6. The general prosperity and well being of the people is on the rise.

If the nation genuinely wants to maintain the gathering momentum in its development process on the fast track, it has to be free from the shenanigans of cheap populist twists and turns of policies. The unfortunate thing is that compulsions of coalition politics is just doing that, which has the potential of slowing down the march of the caravan of progress. Those political parties who are in a position to influence policy-making, the Communists are not the only ones but they are in the lead, must rethink their strategies and step back from putting speed-breakers on the path of development. If they cannot contribute, they should not at least come in the way.

Food Security – Need for a Second Green Revolution and Population Control.

A matter of serious concern for the policy makers is that explosive increases in population are beginning to outstrip food production in India, which means the nation’s food security is under threat. India is adding every year more than a whole Australia to its population. A second green revolution has become absolutely imperative. The US has promised technical assistance to help achieve it, which must be welcomed. India maintains a strategic food reserve of 16 million tonnes. The grains are stored in silos built across the country, maintained by the Food Corporation of India. The strategic food reserve is now depleted drastically which has forced India to go back to the open market buying food grains from abroad including Australia, the US and other sources. As the need for a faster rate of growth in agriculture has become urgent, it is important that population control measures are strengthened. The 2001 census report sounded alarm bells. Certain sections of the population have registered increases up to 36 per cent in the last decade. If the population keeps increasing at this rate, India is heading towards a national calamity.

Energy Security

India’s energy security is a matter of much concern to the nation. Demand for fossil fuels has gone up to about 150 million tons per annum; it is expected to reach 200 million tons soon. The explosive increase in automobiles on the streets is the primary culprit. The megawatts need to power the industries have grown to phenomenal proportions. The Petroleum Ministry is in the international market to secure supplies for the long term. China too is in the market and perhaps they are winning in securing concessions more than India. Demand for gas supplies is also increasing by leaps and bounds and efforts are underway to meet these demands too. The Manmohan Singh Administration seems to have opted for massive increases in the generation of nuclear power for which it has signed a deal with the US. One big problem is the high levels of subsidies on oil which is costing the exchequer Rs 26,000 crores annually. It is part of the Government’s poverty alleviation exercise but the downside is that it is making the Indian oil companies nearly go bankrupt at a time when the Western oil companies are making exponential profits on the back of high oil prices.

Water Security

India being a rain-dependent country and prone to droughts, prudent water management must be placed on the top of Central Government’s plan agenda. Already there are plans and programmes for linking the river systems, which is most welcome and must be expedited. Water pipelines creating giant regional water reservoirs should be considered. There is much to learn from Britain in this regard. Construction of a chain of desalination plants along the long coastline is a must. Water harvesting has to be encouraged on a village by village basis right into the interiors of the country. Awareness of the phenomenon of water shortage is where one has to start and go forward from there to address the problem.

India Needs to Become a First Class Military Power backed by a Powerful Nuclear Arsenal.

A positive factor is that the politicians have not put roadblocks, at least as of yet, in the current phase of the modernisation of its armed forces which is moving hand in hand with its phenomenal economic renewal. The need for India growing into a first class military power cannot be overemphasised. New Delhi has no alternative but to make a determined effort to establish as quickly as possible a genuinely “balanced nuclear weapons-power equation” with China and also claim its place as a formally recognised independent nuclear weapons power.

India’s armed forces are a highly disciplined apolitical military institution. Like the IITs and the IIMs and the Institutes of Science, it is an oasis of excellence in midst of the organised anarchy of India. The Indian Army is the second largest standing army in the world having 1.1 million men in arms while the strength of its paramilitary forces is another million men. The “troops-to-task ratio” (the management of its manpower requirement) as well its “teeth-to-tail ratio” (its firepower management) although comfortable, have room for improvement.

The Meek Do Not Inherit the Earth.

In the midst of so much progress, which we are witnessing all around us, one should not forget the lessons of history. A cruel irony has defined India’s destiny. If one harks back to India’s past - the colonial era for example - one does not fail to notice that such a talented people, who have given mankind a rich and a varied culture and a continuing civilisation from the very beginnings of history, who have inhabited a land which has offered a whole cluster of some of the profoundest of world religions and who have made great contributions to the development of complex mathematical models and scientific inventions, have remained under the subjugation of foreign powers for nearly 1200 years without a break.

It started with Mehmood Gazni, a military adventurer from Gazhni, now a province in Afghanistan, who invaded, pillaged, raped and plundered the Somnath Temple in Gujarat no less than 14 times in a grim sequence. Muslim rule over India lasting nearly a thousand years ended with Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last in the long line of Mogul Emperors.

The rise of Christian power began with Robert Clive who established the British Empire in the sub-continent in 1757. It ended when Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy, stepped down from his office and returned to London in 1947. It was a long dark unrelenting chapter of Indian history.

Will Hinduism Cease to Exist in India and Go Off Shore ?

The arrival of the British and the rise of Christian power in India produced certain unlikely strategic consequences. It was a case of unintended consequences. Firstly, it stopped the advance of Islam in India. Yet Muslim population in India today stands at 150 million, which is more than Pakistan’s population. This is notwithstanding the partition of India on the basis of religion. Without the British interregnum, India would have by now converted perhaps wholly to Islam. A longer lasting Mogul Empire would have presided over such a tectonic demographic change. Destiny however had other designs carved out for India.

The British too failed to convert India to Anglicanism, which was something of a curiosity. It is obvious that they were busy making money for 250 years of colonialism rather than converting people to Christianity. Whatever successes the European proselytisers achieved, it was the work of the Roman Catholic Church. The rest of the Christian population in India today are Syrian Christians, a legacy of St Thomas one of the apostles of Jesus Christ sent out to India by the founder of the religion for proselytisation work. The Anglicans are in a minority among the Christians in India.

It is surprising that after 1200 years of subjugation under colonial rule – first Muslim and then Christian, both being proselytising religions - India still remains a Hindu majority country. There is an unspoken lurking fear among large sections of the Hindus that what did not happen before, may be waiting to happen now. They see signs that Hinduism in modern secular democratic India is increasingly under attack. Ask any Hindu if he is proud of his religion, he would look over his shoulders and say it in a whisper: Don’t know, maybe. Why is he so secretive or defensive in saying this much. One young man told me in my last visit to Delhi that if anyone hears him declaring his pride in being a Hindu he will be dubbed as communal, a label he wants to be without. With that kind of a label, he may not get a job if he is looking for one or lose it if he has one. This problem largely affects the majority community. The Muslims do not face this problem as much. They are a vociferous minority, suffer no inhibitions and are proud of their religion. Hinduism on the other hand gives the impression of being a tired religion in India. Like large swathes of Christians in Europe, significant sections of the Hindus in India are turning to agnosticism or atheism losing faith in their religion. After 30 years of communist rule, West Bengal leads in this sad state of mind. Secularism has become the new creed.

According to some Hindu thinkers, like Buddhism in the past, Hinduism in the future may cease to flourish in India and go off-shore and survive in pockets outside India, maybe among the non-resident Indians living in the West. How to stem the tide is thus engaging the minds of sections of Hindu leaders. One can see a furious pace of temple construction that is underway particularly in North India. It is obviously aimed at achieving one objective and this is: how to save Hinduism from leaving the shores of India. People like Swami Ram Dev and others have joined this bandwagon promoting the one objective that Hinduism survives in India.

A lot more affluent are the Islamic Mosques which are also under construction in large numbers backed by Arab petro-dollars. If one looks at the competitive pace of temple and mosque construction in India one gets the impression that the country is not progressing but in actual fact regressing into the middle ages. In my view the contorted application of a politicised version of secularism is responsible for this phenomenon.

Why did India suffer such waves of invasions by foreigners in the Middle Ages and how did it remain under occupation for so long? There are two reasons one can attribute. Firstly the country was rich and wealthy which acted as a magnet for the foreign adventurers to invade, loot, rape and plunder. And secondly India’s centre of power at critical junctures happened to be militarily weak, lacking in charismatic leadership, squabbling at the top and worst of all bereft of high technology. A combination of these circumstances triggered such invasions, leaving it incapable of defending itself and its economic power and wealth when faced with foreign invasions.

Security Threats India is facing in the 21st Century:

What about today? Once again it looks like we are going through a process of history repeating itself. There are several reasons why the nation must be worried about the future.

India’s internal security management is under par. Kashmiri Islamic separatist insurgency causing mass murders and mayhem is on the rise, Maoist killings perpetrated by the Peoples War Group in Bihar, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere are increasing, bomb blasts by the ULFA in Assam and other NE States have become a daily routine, Khalistani protagonists are raising their heads once again. A million other mutinies are mushrooming everywhere. Hundreds of lives are being lost. The challenge posed by the proliferating separatists who are increasingly getting stronger may get out of control and become unstoppable, seriously threatening India’s territorial integrity and security.

Weakness in dealing with recalcitrant neighbours like Pakistan and Bangladesh, who are providing encouragement to separatism, is heavily undermining national security. Cross border terrorism run from the Pakistani soil continues unabated, the rate of killings is not less than 10 innocent lives a day on the average, while the exodus of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh remains unchecked. An estimated 20,000 are infiltrating into West Bengal and Assam every day.

Vote bank politics pursued by the present UPA Government of Manmohan Singh alluring the electoral support of the Muslims and the backward classes and the NDA Government of Atal Behari Vajpayee in the past making attempts to attract the Hindu vote for reasons of electoral gains, are creating unbridgeable divisions in Indian society on religious and caste differences at a time when the nation should close its ranks and unite to meet the challenges posed by its enemies. The communal divide is creating the potential of triggering a civil war at some future date, which may render India more ungovernable. The time has come when the outdated caste system should be abolished by law and secularism redefined and re-applied in the context of a new paradigm. For the sake of national unity, India should seriously consider evolving a model of cultural nationalism suitable to its needs and retire multiculturalism, India’s present practising creed.

Scientific rigging practised by the Marxist Communists in West Bengal has ensured their uninterrupted rule for 30 years. It has become a world apart from the rest of the country. Worse, the State has been pushed back to basics from an industrialised to an agrarian state. No anti-incumbency factor was allowed to come into play. This has turned West Bengal into a one party State. There is a strong view prevalent across India that this amounts to corrupting democracy to its extreme limits and is weakening the system of governance nationwide.

Need to Re-define and Re-apply Secularism

India should be proud of its secular democracy - a singular achievement judged by any yardstick - but like every thing else in life, even such an ideal model of social cohesion, which modern India with a large population of minority communities cannot do without, has been allowed to suffer pathetic distortion and degeneration. The weakness of the concept as applied to India lies in the fact that secularism was introduced by the founding fathers arbitrarily almost a day after the country was partitioned in 1947 on the basis of religion. The sub-continent was plunged into a blood bath and the largest mass migration in history was taking place. The people of India were not consulted at the time of the introduction of such a controversial model. Nehruvian model of secularism has therefore no democratic legitimacy and what is worse it has become over the years a tool of vote bank politics, which has pathetically corrupted democratic practice in India. The safety valves and the shock absorbers of democracy have rusted as a result.

Need to Form a Constituent Assembly by Common Consent and Consider a Presidential System of Government.

Governance in India has reached abysmal levels of ungovernability. There is no respect left for the politicians among the people at large thanks to corruption. Public confidence against the entire system has been seriously undermined, thanks to muddle and inefficiency. It is perhaps time for India - like Nepal in the wake of the success of its pro-democracy movement - to create by common consent a Constituent Assembly and frame a new Constitution. One of the options should be to consider a Presidential system of Government. There is certainly a need for a national debate about how the organised anarchy of the present system of governance is addressed and evolve ways and means to remove uncertainty and secure the future stability of the nation.

What are the Chances of India being Partitioned a Second Time on the Basis of Religion ?

It is a sign of the times that fundamentalist Islamic political parties have started mushrooming in Assam, Kerala, UP, Andhra Pradesh and so on, founded among others by such extremist clerics like Ahmed Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid in New Delhi. To strengthen their cause, the Mullahs are appealing for Muslim votes en bloc to be cast in their favour, come national and state elections. This is an ominous development. The practice of vote bank politics by the political parties might have provided the initial encouragement. This was strengthened by the fact of the infiltration of 25 million Bangladeshi illegal immigrants into India, which has dramatically altered the religious demography of some of the bordering states like Assam, Manipur, Meghalay, Nagaland and West Bengal. The launch of Islamic political parties seems to be an echo of the days of the Muslim League in pre-partition India. It may now be only a matter of time that political demand for a second partition of India on the basis of religion may not be far away.

As the nation’s outer flank is coming under threat, coalition politics is severely weakening the centre. Serious decision making at the political level seems to have come to a standstill. There is no dearth of legislation in Parliament but the subject matter more often than not is non-serious, peripheral and self-defeating and injurious to the health of the nation. When India is doing well on the economic front, the Government gets busy creating controversies by promoting quotas for OBCs in the educational institutions at the cost of meritocracy. It may destroy the centres of academic excellence so painstakingly created over the last half a century that form the foundation of progress today. Reservation politics has divided the nation. The enemies of the nation are watching and waiting for their opportunity to fish in troubled waters.

Having said that, modern India is not lacking in inherent strengths. But it is slow to exploit its natural competitive advantages and lay claim to a great power status. It is more of the same sad story from medieval to modern times. Thus for example India is one of the largest countries in the world, having a population of 1.1 billion second only to China, it has one of the largest pool of scientists, technologists, doctors and engineers, the largest and the most competitive youthful English-speaking work-force in the world, it has a vibrant economy being the 4th largest in size in terms of PPP or purchasing power parity, it is an advanced nuclear power proud in the knowledge that the technology was not stolen from other countries but developed by its own scientists, its space research is as sophisticated as can be, yet its aspirations to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council is being thwarted by its supposedly strategic partner the US and friends like China, its aspiration to be a full member of the powerful G-8 bloc of nations is being denied and despite the George W Bush-Manmohan Singh joint statement of July 18, 2005 issued in Washington bringing India and the US together as strategic partners and setting a seal on civilian nuclear co-operation, New Delhi is being denied due recognition as a full-fledged nuclear weapons power. India is lionised as the largest secular democracy in the world but to what purpose or effect?

Where has India Gone Wrong?

India’s big problem, to borrow a high street commercial phraseology, is that it is almost always “knowingly undersold”. The Hindu way of submitting its point of view, meekly and in roundabout ways with philosophical undertones, gets quite incomprehensible to the Westerners. When a Pakistani General roars about Kashmir, half of which is under the illegal occupation of Islamabad, the world sits up and listens and sympathises with Pakistan, while the measured, erudite, low-key defensive Indian argument gets drowned in the sound of gun-fire from across the western borders. Realpolitik is about alliances, for or against, and does not tolerate the splendid isolation of such complex concepts as non-alignment. John Foster Dulles, the US Secretary of State had described non-alignment in 1955 as “immoral”. Indians argue that, he did not understand the meaning or the nuances of non-alignment, the foundation of India’s foreign policy during the cold war. The language that the Indian diplomats use to explain India’s views on complex issues is too complex to be easily understandable.

India’s habit of choosing the wrong side of the fence in international political interaction is age-old. The ego problem lies at the root of it all. In the cold war era, getting close to the US was a violation of non-alignment, while aligning with the Soviet Union was pass. Non-alignment was envisaged as a policy of equi-distance between the two superpowers but was it ever practised strictly according to its letter and spirit? Perhaps not. Everybody knows that the West, led by the US and UK, dominate the world’s media. By getting too close to Moscow during the cold war, India had no chance of getting a good international press to its cause. Yet while being aligned to Moscow, India craved for recognition from the West. The interest shown by the western media in respect of India has been mainly the disaster stories. We have not seen the last of the distorted reporting on India yet.

When issues of religion are discussed, no newspaper in the West mentions Hinduism, except as a pagan or an exotic religion not worthy of taking any notice. It does not exist on their radar screens. The only religions known to the western media are the Abrahamic religions that originated in the Arab and Jewish lands namely Islam, Judaism and Christianity. In the more localised context, but quite relevant to the bigger argument, in Britain for example, the Muslim community of 1.5 million in a population of 60 million, receive a special treatment as if they are the only minority community. The Indians are a million strong and tremendously successful in education and wealth creation and are loyal and law abiding citizens, yet they are largely ignored. They don’t really matter. The blacks have gone out of reckoning altogether.

Persons of Indian Origin living in Britain are British Indian not Asian.

Indians resent being racially packaged into one basket with other people of the sub-continent and described somewhat derisively by the British media as “Asians”. There is an element of racial slur in such a description. Why the Chinese and the Japanese are not described as Asians? Indians hail from a vibrant secular, pluralistic democratic country while people from Pakistan come from a military dictatorship where religious intolerance is an instrument of state policy. Spreading religious fundamentalism in Bangladesh is not unknown to anybody, which also defines the cultural identity of most of the people coming from there. Indians must fight back and demand that describing the Indians as Asians, is racially abusive and therefore must be withdrawn from use. Mark Tully living in India is an Indian Englishman not a European just as we, who are settled in Britain are British Indians, not Asians.

The Indians themselves are much to blame for not taking the front seat in British politics. People like Lord Navnit Dholakia or Lord Swaraj Paul, Sir Ghulam Noon or Baroness Shreela Flather are honourable exceptions. Indians generally lack that extra oomph that is essential to successfully lay claim to their due place in Britain’s political landscape. The Pakistanis and the Bangladeshis have extensively colonised the Labour Party leaving no space for the indifferent Indians to even make an entry as new office bearers. Representation from the Indian community seems to have been clapped out of court from the Labour Party. The Indians are beginning to feel as if some sort of back-door ethnic cleansing has taken place in the Labour Party in which they have become the victims. The Conservative Party is likely to gain the support of the British Indians, if only they care for their votes.

Bye Bye to Non-Alignment and Welcome Multi-Alignment:

On the international front, a remarkable change in the conduct of India’s foreign policy is taking shape. New Delhi was a traditional votary of non-alignment but now that there is only one super-power, non-alignment has lost its relevance, even its sheen, although the Government of India rejects such thinking and continues to sing songs in praise of non-alignment.

In a significant development, the Indian Prime Minister failed to attend the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation ( SCO ) Conclave in Shanghai in June 2006 although the invitation was extended by the Chinese President Hu Jin Tao. The Russian President Vladimir Putin was one of those who attended the Conference. Manmohan Singh’s absence was a sign of the coming changes in the foreign policy thrust of India. There are no prizes for guessing who attended the meeting. It was General Pervez Musharraf parroting his firm resolve to fight terrorism and enjoyed sharing the podium with Vladimir Putin and Hu Jin Tao in Shanghai.

The focus of India’s special diplomatic attention seems to be shifting towards the US. New Delhi wants to be a strategic partner of Washington. The US is not unwilling either. The visit of US President George W Bush on March 2006 set the seal on this evolving new relationship. One should not rule out that India as it gets closer to the US, Japan, ASEAN, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, may in time decide to participate in a Grand Asian Alliance that may develop between them.

In this age of rapid changes, uncertain relationships and realignment of forces, India would be well advised not to neglect its time-tested strategic alliance partnership with Russia. It is far too important for India and needs nurturing with a lot of care. Indo-Russian friendship should be seen as an insurance policy against possible future emergencies and crises.

The new paradigm for India is not non-alignment, but Multi-Alignment where the US, Russia, Japan, the ASEAN, the EU, the Arab-Muslim World, Brazil, even China should configure as partners not foes.

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