Saturday, June 21, 2008

Will India become a super power? - An essay by Ramachandra Guha

Will India become a superpower? This is one question to which every Indian would love to answer: “Yes”. But Ramachandra Guha in an essay in outlook presents seven reasons that categorically convey why India can’t!

I rarely find interest in essays but this topic caught my attention and Outlook is one magazine that is a little different – one has to see only the “Letters” section in it to like it. For, even though I hardly listen to/like Vinod Mehta on TV debates, the magazine has some very good columns and cover stories are also a little different from the run of the mill ones.

In this essay, Mr. Guha has drawn from history, taken a very balanced stand, doesn’t criticize anybody too much, presents strong reasons for his argument and in a clear prose emphasizes his points. It is certainly a compelling read for any citizen of this land to understand a little more clearly the problems that we as a nation battle with and the probable solutions that we have.

From 1948, when the West was ready to write our obituary to this day when we are viewed as a formidable rising power, Guha charts our progress through the seemingly insurmountable threats to our “institutions” and towards the end offers India little hope.

“The challenge of the naxalites; the insidious presence of the Hindutvawadis; the degradation of the once liberal and upright centre; the increasing gap between the rich and the power; the trivialization of the media; the unsustainability, in an environmental sense of present patterns of resource consumption; the instability and policy incoherence caused by multi-party coalition Governments – these are the seven reasons why India will not become a superpower.”

Naxalite challenge:

We read about this menace day in and day out in the national dailies but go about our lives as it hardly affects us. If we are to move towards an inclusive and just society, this menace needs to be addressed at its roots but state policies like Salwa Judum, as we know today, have miserably failed. Mr. Guha seems to summarize the state’s ineptitude in handling this internal security threat when he writes:

“In the next decade, thousands of lives will be lost, some of policemen, others of naxalites, the majority perhaps of adivasis caught in the crossfire”.

Right wing religious fundamentalism:

Terming the philosophy of Hindutva as “a form of petty and at times vindictive chauvinism”, he traces the current state of affairs back to 1948 in VD Savarkar and MS Golwalkar.

In our country, we only see the changing colors of our politicians. They are a species who don’t seem to have true colors; it is only the masks that the electorate sees and is taken in by! On one side, we have the BJP which seems unsure with respect to which card to play in every election and at the other end, we have the congress which is confused as a result of which it is neither able to beat Narendra Modi nor combat terrorism effectively. All we hear is “vote bank”. The voter is also equally confused as a result-

“Many others naively hope that the mask will in time become the real face, and that with economic modernization the BJP will be able to successfully distance itself from the RSS.”

Degradation of the once liberal and upright centre:

With the advent of coalition politics and rampant corruption, politicians and civil servants care very little for the very people whom they are supposed to serve. The congress party and several other regional parties are filled with sycophants who feel that their full time job is ingratiating themselves into the good books of the high command.

“Now, the Government of India is run by men and women of limited intelligence and dubious integrity, who know little about and care less for the ideals on which the republic was founded.”

The widening divide:

The Indian state has failed to initiate concrete steps to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. Basic primary education and health care, equality of opportunity – these are some areas of grave concern that our politicians love to pay lip service to. Mr. Guha praises the work of numerous social workers but as he says, the state cannot be substituted. He cites his own experience briefly –

“The school my children go to in Bangalore is world-class; the school run by the state a few yards down the road is worse than third rate. I can avail of top quality healthcare; my house help must go to the local quack instead.”

Trivialization of the media:

Celebrities and “Breaking news” in news channels rarely make sense these days. While gruesome murders and the private lives of celebrities get the lion’s share of coverage, environmental issues are relegated to the occasional and stereotyped special reports.

“In the eyes of the new, excessively market-friendly media, the environment is only about pretty trees and tigers. They wish their readers to have their cake and eat it too; to live resource-intensive lifestyles and yet be able to glory in the beauties of the wild.”

Unsustainability in the environmental sense:

In our greed to consume, we are becoming blind to the enormous amount of constraint on our environment. I never cease to be amazed at the number of new cars that are registered in Bangalore every day. Driving them has become status symbols. Who cares about their carbon emissions and the rising fuel costs? The self is inflated; the common good and concern for fellow living things is almost absent!

“With India, China too is trying to ape the west, attempting to create a mass consumer society whose members can all drive their own cars, live in their own air-conditioned homes, eat in fancy restaurants and travel to the ends of the earth for their family holidays. Will these Chinese and Indian consumers collectively strip the world bare like locusts? Between them, they have set off a new scramble for Africa, stripping or at least strip-mining that unhappy continent to fuel their ever growing appetite for resources.”

Instability and policy incoherence:

When the current UPA Government hangs in the balance thanks to the whims and fancies of the left and the opportunistic policies of the opposition, need one comment more on this?

In all, Ramachandra Guha takes the reader through a short and compelling journey in his essay but doesn’t offer any “super” hope and rightly so!


The Layman said...

That was a very compelling review of a very compelling essay. I had just finished reading Guha's essay and was searching the net for reviews of Mr. Guha's essay. Unfortunately, I found a lot of 'anti - Guha' sentiments and a total misinterpretation of his neutral statements. The hard, slow work mentioned in his essay has been interpreted as "But why you should reject the idea that Indian people should get out of poverty as fast as they can?

Guha would prefer that prosperity in India flow out of a tap rather than flow with the vigour of a river, just so that people like him can control that tap".

Sometimes I think it is is the freedom of expression, which hurts the progress of this nation. Every Tom, Dick and Harry has an opinion (opposing ones at that) and all development is limited to intellectual discussions and debates.

Anyways good to see some positive reviews on your blog. I'm a beginner in the blogosphere and your blog is very inspiring :-)

shiva said...

Thanks a lot, the Layman for your comment!

"Guha would prefer that prosperity in India flow out of a tap rather than flow with the vigour of a river, just so that people like him can control that tap"." - Exactly, that is why I think this essay was very unbiased and focussed on topics of immediate concern very clearly!

Ram Badrinathan said...

Dear Shiva,

We are having an event with Ram Guha in Bangalore on August 2nd where we are inviting 25 attendees..

I was checking if you would like to be a part of the evening

warm regards


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D said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D said...

Hey Shiva, loved your piece. An extensive look and what I liked were your views on the matter. Keep writing. Cheers.