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December 2008 - January 2009

Political News

India in crisis - time to rebrand india into a new incarnation

by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee

After 60 years of its chequered existence as an independent nation, in its journey towards evolving into a developed nation, the Indian caravan seems to have got bogged down into the mire of a sticky path and into an uncertain future. Caught up in the eyes of layers of raging and unending storms - some of them self-created and self-imposed - the ship of the state of India has still some way away from a safe port of call. The fear is that unless its ruling class irrespective of its political colour and opinion gives up its criminal neglect and prevarication to take decisive and hard-headed decisions and steer clear of its adversaries obstructing its journey, the safe port of call may remain elusive for a long time to come. Re-phrasing what Charles Dickens had said, for India the 21st century may prove itself to be perhaps the best of times but almost certainly the worst of times.

What strategic threats India is facing today?

Ironically the best thing that has happened is that, despite all odds the country has remained intact and in one piece. It has so far defied audacious separatist tendencies fired by religious bigotry of some of the Muslim groups in Kashmir and the boldly defiant insurgencies run by such underground organisation like the ULFA in Assam, the Maoists in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere, the Manipuri, the Kamtapuri, the Tripuri, the Naga separatists in the North Eastern States, the Khalistanis in Punjab and many other such mutinies. The nation has so far withstood the onslaught of terrorism, mass murder and mayhem said to be masterminded by determined fanatics with foreign intelligence connections. According to the evidence provided by India’s security agencies the recent wave of bomb blasts have been mostly carried out by a proliferation of home grown sleeper cells active in Muslim ghettoes all over the land. According to M.K.Narayanan, the National Security Advisor, 800 terror modules were identified and smashed in the recent past. Hundreds of other such modules remain undetected and are actively pursuing their sinister mission of mass murder. During less than 6 months there were 64 terror attacks and serious bomb blasts in 6 states which left over 200 dead and hundreds and thousands maimed and disabled. The most recent serial outrage was in Assam where on 30 October, 9 RDX based bomb blasts were set off in crowded market places within a period of 5 minutes killing 77 and injuring nearly 750.

In the last 6 months, as the new wave of terrorism was launched in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Karnataka, Assam and elsewhere, from the evidence gathered, the elusive Masterminds recruited their bombers from the ranks of cross-border underworld elements as in Mumbai, hardened criminals as in Delhi and Rajasthan, disgruntled riot victims as in Gujarat, local insurgents as in Assam.

There are obvious signs that the not-so-invisible hand of the ISI is working behind this new-wave terror campaign. Lots of money are said to be exchanging hands to keep the terror machine well oiled and robustly performing.

The ISI seems to be working under a new brief that it has to prove to the world at large that India is as much a lawless country as Pakistan’s Waziristan is. Shining India has to be destabilised. The India-Pakistan strategic equation has to be maintained at any cost.

Then there is the other side of the coin. Every time a terror outrage occurs, one can be certain that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi will come out with a “strong” statement “condemning” the outrage. Beyond these rituals and hollow words nothing else happens. The Prime Minister had promised that a powerful National Intelligence Agency specialising in Anti-Terrorism would be created very soon to address the problem of spreading terrorism. It is now conveniently forgotten. Meanwhile people are getting killed and families are being destroyed. Ordinary citizens want protection from terror attacks not statements. The Assam outrage provided the right opportunity for a few smart pre-emptive strikes across India’s eastern borders on the established terrorist hideouts. No serious thought was given to exercise this internationally sanctioned option of self-defence. Will the Government ever do that? For the first time at least the people of Assam demonstrated against Government inaction.

Is the vote bank politics of the Congress Party coming in the way?

Strategic planners of the ISI across the borders, believe that terrorism on its own was not expected to achieve the desired result. It must have a second string to the bow to be effective. A set of tactical options was conceptualised. A two-pronged onslaught – terrorism from across the western borders and mass infiltration of illegal immigrants from across the eastern borders – would have the potential to create the necessary momentum for hastening the process of bleeding India and bringing it to its knees. So the argument goes. The phenomenon of infiltration of radicalised lumpen masses from Bangladesh into India began as economic migration. This came in handy with the passage of time. It was re-worked as an instrument of strategic offence in slow motion. According to authoritative sources their number so far is in the region of 25 million and still counting. These illegal infiltrators can be seen all over the land. According to sources in the security services the daily count is 6000 illegal immigrants crossing the borders from Bangladesh into Assam and West Bengal respectively unchecked every day. It is seriously altering the religious demography of the entire Eastern region of India.

The climate change that is underway and the rising sea level in the Bay of Bengal are likely to uproot millions of people living in the low lying areas of Bangladesh. There will be no other place of refuge for them except to mass migrate into India. India on its part will have no capacity to stop them from infiltrating. At one stroke India’s Muslim population will expand to 200 million. Its cultural identity will be changed forever. If the radicalised Imams get involved, it will have the potential to divide India a second time on the basis of religion. Make no mistake; it is not scare mongering. It is increasingly becoming an unavoidable reality. India had started fencing the borders as the US has done on its Mexican borders and Israel on its borders with the Palestinian territories. Why was it not completed? The openings provided by the unfenced borders are encouraging thousands of illegal immigrants into India.

It is a miracle that the country has stood its ground till now against such sustained two-pronged existential onslaught. There must be a wealth of reserves of inner strength that has made it possible. What are these reserves of inner strength? And for how long will they hold? There is urgent need of reassessment in the background of today’s grim political ground realities.

Despite serious handicaps India has moved ahead with glittering achievements

However to be honest, it would be wrong to overstate pessimism when there is so much good news around. There is a robustly positive side on the scoreboard of India’s achievements. The recent Moon Mission launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation called the Chandrayan I is an unparalleled achievement of Indian science and technology.

A debut Indian author Aravind Adiga won the Man Booker Prize for writing a novel on the subject of contemporary life in India. India’s cricket team beat the mighty Australians in a test match. India signed the Civil Nuclear Agreement with the US, which secured for New Delhi the all-important waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group for nuclear trade without having to sign the NPT or the CTBT. It removed India’s pariah status as the international community recognised India as a nuclear weapons power. The Indian industrial giant Reliance has made its first time financial foray into Hollywood in a big way. The Tatas have bought Britain’s largest steel company Corus as well as the prestigious car manufacturing companies Jaguar and Land Rover.

India built up by mid-July 2008 a foreign exchange reserve of $300 billion. India has now been taken on board for regular consultations by both the G-8 Group of advanced industrialised democracies and the OECD. India has formally taken up its case for a seat as a permanent member of the UNSC. India has been involved directly by the US, EU, Japan, the IMF and the World Bank in a consultation process on the global financial meltdown. At the Summit of World Leaders in Washington on 15 November 2008, India made a thoughtful contribution. New Delhi’s views were sought in the Asia-Europe Summit Meeting (ASEM) held in Beijing in October 2008 in the wake of the financial turmoil that rocked global banking systems. India’s growth rate had clocked 9 to 9.4 percent before the financial tsunami broke out. Now it is likely to drop to 8 percent but it will still remain the second fastest growing economy in the world. New Delhi has set up an Indian Air Force base in Tajikistan the first such outside the country. More such foreign military bases are expected to be set-up in the near future. New Delhi is committed to an outlay of over $200 billion for the modernisation of its armed forces. It has sent a strong message to the world. Building a blue water navy with power-projection extending from the Andamans to Australia is its top priority. The Indian Navy is already patrolling the international sea-lanes from the Malacca Straits to the Gulf of Aden as a partner in the US-sponsored Proliferation Security Initiative

India’s “economic miracle” is certainly impressive, dotted with oases of glittering shopping malls, a country-wide proliferation of prestigious corporate office blocs made of glass, steel and granite, additions made to the national housing stock of high-quality residential homes and tower blocs. The other landmarks are the establishment of high-tech Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and the emergence of India as a global hub of IT, pharmaceuticals, bio-technology and small car manufacturing. India is proud of its democratic institutions, its IITs and IIMs, its multi-religious inclusive pluralism, its cultural identity, its arts and literature, painting and music, its film industry. in a nutshell, it has achieved the status of a robust powerto reckon with in international arena. This has become the envy of its past and present adversaries. India will have to devise effective ways to protect these landmark achievements.

Yet these glittering achievements do not mean that India’s time as a world leader has come. The negatives are far too onerous and threatening and pose serious danger points to India’s safe passage to greatness.

Coping with unresolved & old pending problems and fighting security threats both domestic and foreign: The nation’s top strategic thinkers will need to put their heads together and find innovative solutions. Here are some suggestions.

Security threats apart, India’s myriad problems are mind-bending. India’s exploding growth of population ( going up from 300 million in 1947 to over 1 billion in 2008) has already started impacting on food security. Even with 8 percent growth rate India is facing difficulties in feeding its population. It has started importing food grains-one consignment was 16 million tons - from abroad at a high cost. What will happen when the country catches up with the Chinese growth rate of 10.5 percent. It is anybody’s guess how much more difficult it will become to feed the exploding population against the background of acute water shortages that India is likely to face in the near future, thanks to climate change and the receding glaciers in the Himalayan mountain range. It is estimated that India would be 40 percent short of food production in the next 15 years.

To address the twin challenges India has no alternative but to go on a war-footing to kick-start a second Green Revolution. Implementing the project approved in 2002 by the NDA Administration for inter-linking the country’s 37 river systems with utmost urgency is the need of the hour. It was put on the back-burner by the UPA Government. No Government has the right to introduce politics into infrastructure projects of national importance.

To have the desired effect the country will have to introduce concurrent and stringent controls on population growth. Obstructions like opposing an Uniform Civil Code by religious groups have no place in fighting population growth. Family planning campaign must be launched aggressively.

Over everything else, corrosive political corruption has become an all-embracing way of life in India and has taken the country into an octopus like grip. India is today seen as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. It shames we Indians wherever we live in the country or outside. So far corruption is confined to government departments. Nothing moves without greasing the palms of government servants from the Chaprasi up to the Chief Secretary. It is not only confined to bribery and monetary give and take, it has corroded the political system through and through.

It is time to re-define Secularism and opt for Cultural Nationalism. Indians should be Indians first and Indian last. Religious or caste identities should have no place in the new paradigm.

A front line victim of corruption is the day-to-day practice of secularism. As a system of social cohesion in a diverse and religiously divided nation secularism had no alternative. It was introduced by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947 at a time when the sub-continent was just partitioned on the basis of religion and was burning in the fires of communal carnage. A million people were dead and 25 million of uprooted masses of humanity both Hindus and Muslims were migrating across the borders. Nehru never consulted the people and decided to impose his own personalised view of Secularism on the country, which was then freshly partitioned on the basis of religion. He was driven by his personal whims and fancies. Nehruvian Secularism has no democratic legitimacy. Sixty years later there are sure signs that this version of secularism has failed to deliver. It has divided the people more than united them.

Secular parties ( the BJP calls it pseudo-secular parties ) like the Indian National Congress have used the Communal Card to win votes to remain in power using what came to be known as Vote Bank Politics in India otherwise called Identity Politics elsewhere. The INC concentrated its attention on appeasing the minorities most importantly the Muslim Community, the Dalits and the Other Backward Classes to garner popular votes. Smaller regional groupings led by politicians like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Amar Singh, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mayawati, Karunanidhi, Devegowda, the Left Front led by the Communist Party Marxists and others relied entirely on Muslim votes or those of the Yadavs, OBCs, Dalits and other minority communities to keep themselves in power. All this is being done in the name of Secularism.

The Hindu Nationalist Party, the BJP (described by the INC and its camp followers as Communal Forces) are a confused bunch of people unsure whether to rely on Hindu vote or go beyond and appeal to the minorities as well. In a fraught land, the lack of political conviction has diminished its appeal within the ranks of its own vote bank – the Hindus. Without the support of the Hindus the BJP can have no future.

All political parties without exception have helped in dividing the communities apart. India is today a deeply divided society of vested interest groups defined by religion or caste at war with each other. The land of Vivekananda, Rabindra Nath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi of peace and spiritualism is now a violent battleground of warring groups. Such is the fate of Nehru’s vision of a tryst with destiny. Such an end-result is the product of reckless politicisation and relentless corrosion of the practice of Secularism. The earlier the system is reformed or preferably abandoned, the better it is. The US system of the melting-pot model of social integration of diverse communities could possibly be the best alternative for India. Indians will be Indians first and Indians last. There will b no place for religious or caste identities. Vote bank politics should be allowed no place in the new polity.

These sharpening social, religious and caste divisions driven by narrow and self-serving interpretation of secularism and vote bank politics, accentuated by deepening political corruption, neglect of the on-coming water and food shortages, un-resolved energy security, the ravages of climate change, rampant illiteracy of 300 million ie a third of the population, 450 million people living below the poverty line – this a World Bank figure - a creaking infrastructure and so on are the result of poor governance of the country.

A large country like India needs a Strong Centre capable of taking decisive and hard decisions needed to keep the diverse country together facing stupendous problems.

Time to consider a Presidential system of government

The Parliamentary System of Government has served its purpose well for over the last half a century but it is unable to deliver what is needed of it anymore. It looks as if the system has gone past its expiry date. It would have continued to work nicely if India was lucky to have a two-party system. But alas that is not the case. We have learnt from bitter experience that India’s multi-party system had serially thrown up weak coalition governments made up of disparate parties with nothing in common between them except the desire to capture power to make large amounts of illegitimate money. The leaders of the coalition partners like the BJP in NDA Government and the INC in the UPA government have ceaselessly complained that they could not achieve what they wanted because their hands were tied by the smaller parties with larger than life clout holding the coalition governments back at will. Political analysts have said that coalition governments are here to stay. Which would mean that India will continue to be dogged by fractious governments at the Centre for a long time to come. Why have it then? Why not get rid of the rotten system?

India is crying out for a radical change of heart on political governance and more importantly a change of course. It is waiting to be re-branded into a new incarnation. The time to retire off the old and tired Parliamentary System of Government has come. John Kenneth Galbraith had said in the sixties that the Parliamentary system gave to the Indians nothing but Organised Anarchy. It has got worse lately. It is completely unacceptable that the head of government had to stand askance or beholden in a coalition government to the whims and fancies of the smaller and self-centred parties interested only in carving out pounds of flesh for themselves at the cost of national interest. The frustrating reliance of Dr Manmohan Singh’s Administration on the recalcitrant and self-centred Marxists in the run-up to the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement was an unedifying spectacle. This cannot go on forever. Drafting a directly elected Presidential System of Government with a Strong Centre is something the nation should serious consider.

To make the new system work effectively in the demanding environment of India’s rising stature what is needed is to have a Head of State with high educational qualifications backed by a Cabinet where only highly qualified technocrats can have a place. It must be founded on a constitutionally guaranteed two-party system.

If India has to survive as a self-respecting nation located in a hostile geographical neighbourhood, the time has come for it to abandon its addiction to being what the Swedish Economist Gunnar Myrdal had said about India in the seventies: a Soft State. Only a Presidential System will allow the option of a hard state for India to emerge.

There is an urgent need to consider abandoning the experiment with Linguistic States. What India needs are Five large Multi-Ethnic and Multi-Lingual States where secession is prohibited under the Constitution.

There are mainly two reasons among many why India should consider abandoning its experiment with Linguistic States. Here is why I am saying it ?

In the seventies the Hindu Assamese who were handicapped by a lack of sufficient education were unable to compete for jobs with the more educated Hindu Bengalis who were then living in significant numbers in Assam. The Hindu Assamese wanted the Hindu Bengalis to get out of Assam. They could not carry out the domestic ethnic cleansing on their own. They took the help of Muslim Bangladeshis to drive the Hindu Bengalis out of Assam, in which they succeeded. The mass migration of Bangladeshis into Assam started at this point. Assam’s other ethnic groups felt exposed at the bloody mindedness of the Assamese people and out of fear and some struggle they chose to separate into newly constituted states like Meghalay, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. Today, what is going on in Maharashtra where the Marathis prodded by the likes of Raj Thakray are trying to drive out the Biharis from the State is by any yardstick an unmitigated disgrace. This is a repeat of the Assam experience. The retaliation by the Biharis in their State against the Marathis is disproportionate and no less disgraceful. There are many other examples but there is no space here to recount them all. Linguistic States experiment has thus failed to deliver what was expected of them; instead they divided the people more than they united them.

The problem in Jammu and Kashmir is one of a kind. The autonomy of India’s only Muslim majority State is protected by Article 370 enshrined in the Constitution of India. There are many special provisions but the most glaring one is that a Citizen of India cannot buy a piece of land or settle down in the State. Yet the Muslims of Srinagar Valley – their number is about 5 million – categorically reject secularism and want to separate from India just because they happen to be in majority there. In the rest of the country there are 160 million Muslims but since they are in a minority they swear by secularism.

Dr Manmohan Singh’s decision to hold peace talks with the separatist All Parties Hurayat Conference (APHC) is a mystery. The APHC is an ISI created spokesman for Pakistan and wants nothing short of Kashmir’s separation from India. The Constitution of India categorically provides that no part of the territories of India has the right to secession. The separatist APHC is therefore an illegal organisation. The Government’s decision to talk to them violates a provision of the Constitution of India. Neither the NDA nor the UPA have had any guts to abrogate Article 370 and fully integrate the State of J & K into India. Against the backdrop of such political vulnerability, there is a strong case for abolishing the Linguistic States and reorganise States of the Indian Union into geographical units of 5 States, naming them as The Eastern State, The Western State, The Southern State, The Northern State ( it will include the present State of J & K ) and The Central State. None of the States will have the right of secession from the Union. The State Governors will be elected directly by the people exactly in the same manner as the President of India will be elected directly by the people.

India stands at the cross- roads. It is in crisis. Its territorial integrity is under threat. The country is waiting for a radical change of direction. Change it will have. If the corrupt politicians are allowed to stand between change and status quo prolonging the transition it will be suicidal for all of us. Indians may be left with no country to call their own.

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