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Between the line

What holds for India ?
December 30, 2011


India is always a story of shadows and sunshine. Which of the two prevails at a particular time gives it bad or good name. The passing year, 2011, is no different except that the shadows have lengthened. Corruption darkened the atmosphere throughout the year and what it exposed was that the system was reeking with graft. Non-governance
tormented the nation further.

In 2011, many skeletons tumbled out of the government’s closet, one after the other. Early in the year, Commonwealth games were a splendid success but it got sullied by bogus contracts, exaggerated charges and poor workmanship. When Chief Organisor Suresh Kalmadi and his aides were arrested, the nation felt humiliated. Even though India won the world cup in cricket, the stigma of Commonwealth games scandal did not go.

Still worse was another skeleton that tumbled out of government’s closet was the 2G spectrum relating to mobiles. A sum of Rs. 40,000 crores had been denied to the state exchequer, the mother of all scandals. Telecommuniation Minister A.Raja was arrested. Another minister M. Maran, also from Tamilnadu, representing the ruling Congress ally, the DMK, resigned from government. It was a triumph of media and public pressure.

However, one positive development was the emergence of the Gandhian Anna Hazare who demanded the establishment of Ombudsman (Lokpal) machinery to deal with corruption. Hazare was in real the face of civil society’s resentment against government. Thousands came on the streets to demand the Lokpal. So heavy was the public pressure and
Hazare’s threat to go on fast that parliament had to extend its winter session for the relevant bill.

A new kind of India began taking shape. People felt that their voice counted if they would only raise it. It was a heartening to see all political parties except the ruling Congress, collecting on the same platform. Unfortunately, the government was busy in locking the stables after the bullocks had run away and did little to regain the credibility. Non-governance told upon the economy. Prices began to rise, the inflation touching a double figure.

Still worse was the fall in the industrial production, only 5.4 per cent growth against last year’s 10.6 per cent. Investors, both foreign and Indian, held back their hand and the rupees against US dollars fell by 18 per cent. Optimism of the past, particularly the people’s self-confidence, sagged and they were stung with the fear of further slide down.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the messiah of economic reforms, brought before parliament the proposal of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail to attract reportedly 100 million dollars and the Pensions bill to utilize the accumulated money for development. The fear of big joints like the Wall mart crowding out small shopkeepers and snapping direct ties between farmers and local mandis made all political parties including the allies of the Congress to close their
ranks. It was yet another blow to the Prime Minister whose graph of popularity came down by a few notches more.

People’s confidence in him is shaken because they do not see him raising the growth rate to 9 per cent as he had done earlier. Now it is hovering around 7 per cent, the minimum to avoid the lay offs and dire unemployment. The ruling Congress has retrieved a bit of reputation because BJP has supported it on the Pension bill but putting a limit of 26 per cent on FDI.

The last days of the year has seen measures to give security of food to the poor, nearly 65 per cent of the population. Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who does the back seat driving has pushed the unwilling prime minister to own the measure. However, the project will put a burden of Rs. 95,000 crore on the over-stretched exchequer. But it may
win the Congress votes in the forthcoming elections in five states, including UP, Punjab and Uttrakhand.

The prime minister’s belated firmness is visible from the announcement that Kundan Kalam 1000 MW nuclear power plant will open in Tamilnadu despite its Chief Minister Jaya Lalitha’s opposition. The same determination is reflected in his announcement that FDI in retail would be introduced in March. The pro-reform lobby has not yet given up the hope and some billionaires in America are closely watching whether he would open the nuclear plant and whether he brings round his political opponents to accept FDI in retail.

The sunny side of Manmohan Singh’s government is that it has improved its relations with the neighbouring countries. It has signed pact with Afghanistan to have a ‘strategic’ relationship. Bangladesh is happy over his visit to Dhaka, even though it is yet to get its share from the Teesta River. Islamabad looks forward to having free trade with India now that it has been extended Most Favoured Nation. People to people contact between the two countries has improved and both are discussing steps on easing visa facilities. The Prime Minister has visited Russia and has also met Presidents of China and America to underline the importance of equation with India. New Delhi expects to become the Security council’s permanent members next year because China, the only country to be bar the entry, has given favourable

The biggest plus point of India- and it holds good for the next year and the year after—is that the country is settling down to its democratic and secular ethos. Hindu and Muslims have learnt that they have to coexist. True, the minorities are increasingly assertive because their slice from the cake continues to be small. But their fight is democratic and within the precincts of the constitution. Their disappointment is in the slow process to bring Gujarat Chief Minister Narender Modi, guilty of pogrom, to book. The joint command of security forces eliminated Kishenji, a key leader of moist who are demoralized because of his absence but not deterred since poverty and under development in most areas still help them to thrive. New Delhi considers moists’ repulsion as the biggest achievement in the year.

However, the stalling of parliament over minor problem has evoked cynicism over the system. People accept that parliament is the apex body. But the proposal to have the presidential system of government is being seriously discussed in influential quarters.

True, India will maintain 7 per cent growth in the next year. But at least 9 per cent is required to eliminate poverty. It will be a challenging year again. Probably what India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said that the next generations were sentenced to hard work is true. Yet the confidence which the persons have developed in themselves and in the country, sustains hope that 2012 will see the sun light increasing and the shadows receding. Optimism is a moral
duty of every Indian. EOM

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