Playing with fire
Attempts by the government at the Centre to redefine the values of Indian democracy are likely to fracture the cohesion of its diverse society
Current events indicate that India is at a tipping point. You can feel the swirl of undercurrents and the violent conflict, see the process of disruption and sense the resurrection of ideologies. It is almost as if you are witnessing the birth of a nation. There is an upheaval underway and it is a strange feeling. There is uncertainty, there is aggression, suspicion, hysteria and there is palpable fear in society. It almost seems as if India wants to revisit the Holocaust and the horror of the Partition. It is a crisis in the making for a country that, until recently, the world respected for its commitment and its ability to survive as a democracy. We are witnessing Indian politics at its extreme. It is the politics of power and control.
Indian politics have evolved. Instead of churning out leaders and statesmen, politics is today throwing up power wielders who, more often than not, do not have the depth or the perspective to run an organisation, let alone build a nation. The clarion call today seems to be to create a new India but not many would understand the difference between creating a nation-state and creating a great nation. We need to draw some learnings from our history and the two-nation theory of 1947. The nation that chose its identity based on religion has eventually gone rogue and is struggling to create a semblance of democracy. India chose the more complex and difficult path of democracy, secularism, justice, equality and fundamental rights for all. The world admired India for this effort.
Just like Olympian athletes are admired for their hard work to create capabilities and achieve goals, India worked to create institutions that were meant to guarantee equality to all citizens and to ensure fundamental rights. Today, there is an unfortunate perception that we have moved away from the concept of politics for progress. Our society is suddenly becoming more aggressive and intolerant and unabashedly talking of revenge. These are markers that India is walking away from the path of democracy and secularism that was its DNA.
We are headed for a serious crisis. In fact, many would agree that we are already in the midst of the crisis. Government statistics and other economic indicators are worrying. GDP has slumped to a low of 4.5 per cent. Industrial output is contracting quarter after quarter. The domestic savings rate is falling and unemployment is spiralling out of control. Student unrest seems to be gathering momentum. There are other headwinds to face as well. The US-Iran conflict will have fallouts that are expected to add to our troubles, even as hardening stands on trade negotiations take their toll. Our decision to stop the import of palm oil from Malaysia as a reaction to unfriendly comments from Malaysia will further polarise international opinions about India. We are becoming arrogant and we lack humility which is the antithesis of good governance. These, amongst others, are all symptoms of an ailing economy and a troubled society. In this difficult scenario, we need to implement clear policies and plans.
The government has the responsibility to make decisions and policies that are based on practical realities and unbiased root cause analysis but knee-jerk reactions and policies are already creating an image of inexperience. The picture is worrying. We are facing a severe 'fractured syndrome'. We have a fractured economy. Fractured employment. Fractured society. Fractured vision. Excerpts from an open letter to the Chief Justice of India by some law students is an indicator of discontent amongst the literate youth, "In the legendary history of this Hon'ble Court, this is the first time that the plight of the fundamental rights of the people is being heard on a 'conditional basis' ". The letter further says, "where the executive is dismantling the Constitution, the police is wreaking havoc, an autocratic system is on the rise and voices are being suppressed, it becomes critical for the judiciary to act expeditiously and save the rights of the people but your approach did not seem to conform to this principle, Sir". Clearly the 'fractured syndrome' requires introspection. This is perhaps critical because the ongoing turmoil is deconstructing reasoning minds into aggressive and defensive ideological camps.
There is no doubt about the immense potential of the Indian economy. In order to achieve that potential, it is necessary for us to nurture the economy like an adolescent child, with sensitivity, tact, knowledge and vision. The priority now, as never before, is to focus on economic growth. Without economic growth, we cannot progress as a nation and as a society. The foundation of any progressive nation is its ability to create economic value, just as human values are the foundation of a just society. To revive economic growth, we must understand the fundamental obstacles that are within our control and accept that they are currently in the negative. We need to go back to the basics. The pre-requisite for economic growth really revolves around four key parameters which include 'a stable society', 'demographic potential', 'purchasing power with the people' and 'confidence in the managerial capabilities and policymaking expertise of the government'. The key is for us to focus on these four parameters and get the basics right. All else will start falling in place automatically, including employment, manufacturing growth, sales and corporate profits. If we continue the way we are moving today, the chasm between the concept of a civic nation and an ethnic nation will inevitably widen and will be difficult to bridge. It is a serious error to be experimenting with structural changes in society and governance at a time when we should be stabilising the country.
There are three possible roads ahead. We have to choose between a proud democracy that honours the right to live with grace or a closed society that swears by religion and faith or perhaps even an autocratic society that only believes in the power of the gun. We are now at a stage where no matter what route we take, it is inevitable that the road ahead will be demanding and will require knowledge, skills and statesmanship. We need to have the courage to consciously accept the road we want to travel. It will not be easy. There are inherent dangers in choosing either of these three roads. The answer will lie in what we want to become as individuals.
Himanshu Manglik is Founder and President, Walnutcap Consulting LLP. Views expressed are strictly personal