Learning from China
Irrespective of whether China's One-Belt-One-Road initiative is aimed at enhancing its economic and military clout, the fact is that it has enabled China to move on from the chaotic days of the "let a hundred flowers bloom" campaign and the Cultural Revolution half a century ago to the modern world.
The ideological tilt towards establishing a pristine communist society has been abandoned in favour of achieving its opposite where "to get rich is glorious", as the post-Mao messiah, Deng Xiaoping, said, using a phrase which even capitalists will be wary of saying. The advancement has ensured that China could host the Olympic Games despite its poor human rights record and emerge as a country second only to the US in economic and military prowess.
India, however, is seemingly moving backwards. The endeavours of the BJP and its brethren in the RSS-led Sangh Parivar to replicate their interpretation of the life and times of ancient India have led to a turning back of the clock. The cow has become the focal point of this backwards march under the saffron brotherhood. In no other country is an animal held in so much reverence that a death sentence for its killers can be cheerily pronounced by a Chief Minister, as Raman Singh did in Chhattisgarh.
Therefore, it is not surprising that people have been done to death for what the worshippers of the cow have seen as mistreatment of the animal. A truck driver lost an eye because of an assault by cow vigilantes because he honked at a cow. There has also been at least one case of the murder of a person suspected of eating beef. None of this has enhanced India's status as a significant regional power with a firm commitment to the rule of law and economic progress. Instead, the country may increasingly be seen as having bogged down in inessentials when its focus should have been on growth and education, especially science.
As may have been expected, the issue of the cow has become allied to the question of nationalism. A Union minister loftily laid down the rule that those who want to eat beef can go to Pakistan. Although the concept of the holy cow has always been associated with Hinduism, it is a measure of the country's diversity that beef is widely eaten in states like Kerala, West Bengal and the north-east. Indeed, a Hindu couple even petitioned the Bombay high court to allow them to eat beef since it is cheap and nutritious. The court's view was that the possession of beef, which has been brought into Maharashtra from outside, is not a crime. The very fact that such a clearance is needed in a cosmopolitan metropolis in the 21st century indicates the prominence of antediluvian forces.
It is not only what is eaten but also what is drunk which tell a great deal about a country because restrictions of any kind are out of sync with the present-day lifestyles where the emphasis is on privacy and individualism. These are the two factors which are crucial in distinguishing the past from the present. In the days of yore, attitudes based on pursuing lives which might not conform to what is favoured as the norm in joint families or the villages were frowned upon. As is known, the elders of the khap panchayats with their medieval mindset represent this outlook.
However, the growing urbanisation of the modern world has led to the obsolescence of out-fashioned attitudes. For the success of a "new India", in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's words, it is imperative, therefore, that the constricting outlook related to a mythical, religion-based concept of ancient times is not allowed to gain ground. If anything, such a tunnel vision will hamper the advancement towards what has been called a digital India.
China has succeeded in dispensing with the constraints of communism to ensure the flourishing of private enterprise. As is widely acknowledged, its growth as a result of the shedding of the earlier shackles has been phenomenal. India, unfortunately, has been hamstrung by at least two impediments. The first and foremost was the public sector-based "mixed economy" – or mixed-up economy, as it was derisively called – pursued by the Congress which throttled the private sector, resulting in the slow Hindu rate of growth of 2-3 per cent.
Although the country was able to break free of this hidebound economic environment in 1991, it is now being hobbled by the Hindutva lobby's love for the cow and its culinary fetishes, which can revive the old images of a bucolic, backwards country of rope tricks and snake-charmers.
To the saffron brotherhood's objections to beef have been added the preferences of a section of politicians for prohibition, which have received a boost from the ban on liquor shops near the highways.
The average citizen of "new India" has to undertake a tightrope walk, therefore, to avoid being caught on the wrong side of the law for eating something which is not allowed or drinking where he shouldn't or reading a book which has been proscribed. He also has to be careful about courting a girl from another religious community. Evidently, he is constantly under the watchful eyes of Big Brother.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)