Will India Remain a secular plural democracy

When Gunnar Myrdal’s classic study of poverty in third world countries under the title the “ Asian Drama “ was published in 1968, India had completed 3 five-year plan periods. The country had been free for more than two decades. Myrdal had pointed out in his book that the most important problem facing countries, which had won freedom, recently, would not be the lack of ideas for economic development, but it would be corruption. The people in India scoffed at this idea. They felt the though it might effect other countries the form of parliamentary democracy existing in India would effectively deal with any corruption. But alas, Myrdal proved to be prophetic. The nexus of corruption between the politicians and the bureaucrats, which had showed up even in the early years of free India, grew enormously in the following decades. The state planning, curbs on imports ostensibly to support an indigenous industry, led to crony capitalism. This in turn turned into a “permit license” Raj. All this led to economic isolation and brought the country almost to an economic collapse by 1990. Then the liberalization policy undertaken by the central Government when the present PM Man Mohan Singh was the finance minister seemed to put the country back on the road to recovery and development. But the cancer of corruption continued.

As the new 21st century dawned corruption became the biggest problem. Then came a mass upsurge of protests against corruption. A relatively little known retired solider of the Second World War and a silent development worker in his own village in the Ahemadnagar district of Maharashtra became a national figure. Today Anna Hazare has become an Icon with his non-violent war against corruption. There is now a countrywide awakening against all forms of corruption. The recent sweeping victory of the Aam Adami party which was an off shoot of a movement led by Haazare in Delhi State has given a new vigor to the anti corruption movement.

This is one big problem facing the country now. The other big problem is that of communal fundamentalism. The problem of communal fundamentalism started with the very berth of the free country. When the freedom struggle started India and Pakistan were parts of one nation. Even during the 1857 revolution or rebellion as different interpretations refer to it, both Hindus and Muslims fought the struggle along with all other communities in the nation. Unfortunately misunderstanding started in the days of the diarchy; the colonial government tried an experiment of local self-government with British administered provinces of India in 1935. This ultimately led to the partition of the country into Pakistan and India. When Pakistan became an Islamic state people in India were worried about the reaction in India. Many thought that as a backlash India would become a Hindu state. Fortunately better sense prevailed and our founding fathers opted for a nation based on secular Plural society. But the under current of a militant Hindu fundamentalist movement was present in the country. With in months of the birth of free India the father of the nation fell to a bullet fired by one of the followers of this movement. In spite of this great tragedy the secular plural society has survived to this day. But, unfortunately, India has had to face fundamentalism from the Muslims and Hindus in the last six decades. The loss to life and property of the people due to the violence has been considerable.

Some of the policies of the Government have contributed to this unfortunate situation. The Babri Masjid case and the Shah Bano case are examples. In the Babri Masjid case a place that had been closed down by a court order as a place of worship, and was being administered by the archeological department was thrown open and ultimately led to the desecration. Many people criticized this as pandering to the majority community for votes. In the other case of Shah Bano a court order was justly awarded compensation to a Muslim divorcee was over ruled by a constitutional amendment in order to placate the Muslim minority. In Both cases the result was the government was discredited. History has only one use they can learn from it if one wants too. Let us hope that the country will learn its lessons.

In 1990 Arthur Bonner American journalist who had spent some time in India earlier, published his book “Averting the Apocalypse”. Many dismissed him as a prophet of doom but in fact he was an optimist. He referred to the activities of thousands of small non government organizations working all over India doing excellent work of awakening the people to their rights and duties. These he said were the real hopes of the country. We need to strengthen these organizations wherever they exist and set up new ones wherever necessary.

So the two great problems facing the nation today are corruption and communal fundamentalism. There are prophets of doom galore who think that India will not be able to overcome these problems. But the country has shown remarkable resilience in the past. The next general election coming up in May is another opportunity, perhaps the last unless all progressive and liberal leaders of all parties forget petty politicking and jockeying for power the prophets of doom may yet be correct. Let us hope that these prophets of doom will be proved wrong and there will be a coalition of honest secular leaders, who may yet be able to set up a transparent plural secular democratic society.

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