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
“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.”
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
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
“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
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!