|Friday, April 14, 2000,
marks for India
IS NOT DYNAMISM
the Ambedkar legacy
in American destiny
April 14, 1925
INDIA has secured barely 35 marks for its economic performance last year. It is not prudent to ignore the adverse report card since the mighty World Bank and the IMF have prepared it and included it in their World Economic Outlook released on the eve of the spring meeting. The biggest red blob is in the column failure to mitigate poverty. The report points out that fully one third of the population lives in dire poverty and what is shocking is that the success recorded in the mid-seventies and the eighties in reducing its severity is slowing down. Nor are the prospects for the immediate future any better. Agriculture is stagnating, or nearly so. More than 70 per cent of the population is dependent on farm output. The low skilled labour force is tied to the agriculture economy and poverty, therefore, is endemic. Surprisingly it advocates the abolition of land ceiling laws, freeing the sector from all regulations and ending the system of fixed prices as cures to lift the rural areas from the present misery. Given the present national mood of impatience with social justice measures, the changes which the Bank-Fund report suggests will trigger a capitalistic mode of production which will increase the yield but depress the labour market. Farm statistics will begin to look pretty and healthy but rural poverty caused by low wages or even no wages will deepen.
The report notes that Indian economy has grown at an impressive 6 per cent or thereabouts, double that of the world average even while inflation has stayed at a low 3 per cent or so. But the benefit has not been even and this raises a question about the efficacy of the structural reforms. (Another report brings this out tellingly through statistics. Maharashtra and Gujarat have achieved 10 per cent economic growth and six other state 6 per cent; in all these places annual individual income has risen by 4 per cent, which is a surer method of fighting poverty. In backward states like Bihar and UP economic growth has shrunk and poverty has increased.) The fiscal deficit is mounting and public debt has climbed to as high as 80 per cent of the GDP. Investment is sluggish, exports have only recently picked up and there is need to push up liberalisation. Perhaps surprised by its over-enthusiastic advocacy of poverty alleviation, it quickly shifts its attention to city-centric problems and repeats its tired recipes. The report calls for deeper reforms, freer trade, more direct foreign investment, and amending labour laws to allow easy sacking of workers.
Beyond the Indian theme,
the report covers fresh ground by attacking the rich
countries for exploiting the multilateral institutions to
serve their interests. It wants the rich bloc to write
off the loans to the heavily indebted poor countries
cause investment in those countries, which is
non-existent, allow greater market access to their
exports and, finally, steady prices of their primary
commodities, which often crash making their woes
unbearable. This new-found concern for the wretched of
the earth is not purely voluntary. The Seattle lesson and
the networking of NGOs against both real and perceived
policies against poor nations has induced a new mood of
caution; in fact the weekend Bank-Fund meeting has
already attracted criticism and protests are on the
"EVERYTHING grand is not always good, but all good things are definitely grand," said Demosthenes centuries ago. Nothing better can explain the idea of a grand alliance (Mahajot) mooted by the Trinamool Congress leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee. The purpose of the alliance is to defeat the CPM-led coalition in West Bengal in the next Assembly elections. The poll is roughly a year away. Serious talks are going on for uniting mainly the Trinamool Congress, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. There are two representative views on this issue. The BJP strong man, Mr L.K. Advani, sees the "maha milan" of the three parties as the need of the hour. He says that if the Congress does not take the opportunity by the forelock, it would be committing harakiri. Leaders like Mr Digvijay Singh and Mr A.K. Antony feel that the alignment of the Congress with the BJP would mean the destruction of the secular foundation of their party. Therefore, no talk of the joining of hands between the Congress and the BJP can be thought of in any set of circumstances because the BJP is a "communal and an untouchable outfit". Ms Banerjee is quite clear in her mind. She is determined to remove the Leftists from power. She needs the help of the Congress. She is prepared to accept Mr A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, a long-time political co-thinker, as the leader of the new front. She herself, however, is the choice of most of the persons, who matter in the Trinamool Congress, the Congress and the BJP, as the leader of the unborn alliance and the prospective chief minister.
The Congress is a victim
of immature decisions, a lack of consensus and myopia.
Party President Sonia Gandhi has not made a clear
statement on the subject. The West Bengal Working
President of the Congress, Mr Priya Ranjan Das-Munshi is
opposed to the move of the soldering of the BJP with the
Congress with or without the assistance or participation
of any other party. Mr Chowdhury and Mr Somen Mitra say
that the ground realities indicate that fighting the
Communists is more important than combating communalism
(associated with the BJP) in West Bengal. All thoughts of
untouchability must, therefore, be kept in abeyance for
the present. But the idealists say that what is morally
wrong cannot be politically expedient. The Trinamool
Congress supports the BJP-led coalition in New Delhi.
Should Ms Banerjee get out of the Delhi arrangement and
concentrate on providing an alternative to the
23-year-old Left-front rule in her state? In fact, the
matter of leadership should be postponed till a much
later date if an experiment in the re-alignment of
political forces has to be made successful. Twelve months
make a long period of time and once an alliance is in
place, like-mindedness can be forged with foresight. The
Left front is losing its hold and any major jolt can mark
the beginning of the end of Leftist governance. The
municipal poll results will be a crucial factor in
visualising the shape of the things to come. The central
leadership of the Congress has to reckon not only with
the Antonys, the Pilots and the Digvijay Singhs in the
party fold but also with the Muslim organisations in
Kerala and elsewhere which are suspicious of the BJP's
ideology. Bihar, being ruled by Mrs Rabri Devi, has
already brought up several prickly questions before the
Congress. Corruption and communalism have been the
traditionally stated targets of the party of Gandhi and
Nehru. The decision on the West Bengal link-up may change
the political nature of alliances in the country. It does
not involve ending; it involves mending..
IS NOT DYNAMISM
ONE regrettable fact about Punjab in recent years has been the lack of drive and dynamism in the states politico-administrative machinery. Not that the state is bereft of stalwarts. Nor does it lack grand ideas and ambitious projects. What is missing is political will to set the pace for ushering in a new order which should make Punjab competitive and efficient vis-a-vis other states.
Mercifully, the spirit of entrepreneurship is very much alive in different walks of life. Look around. Punjabis are a success story overseas. They have shown their class where opportunities beckoned them. The moot point is: why have not things taken off speedily here to carry the state forward? Has enough backup been ensured to help entrepreneurs in todays world of cut-throat competition? Have new thinking and ideas been adopted and implemented at the official level to provide new avenues for agricultural growth and agro-based industry? There is also scope for modern units in information technology.
Take the case of Andhra Pradesh. In information technology, the state has forged ahead spectacularly. US President Bill Clinton went out of his way to shower praise on Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu.
This was surely satisfying for all Indians. At the same time, one cannot help wondering why Punjab did not figure high on the agenda of the visiting dignitary despite the fact that Punjabis are influential in the USA, Canada and the UK. They form a formidable lobby. The success of Ujjal Dosanjh becoming the Premier of British Columbia in Canada is in itself a tribute to the spirit of overseas Punjabis.
This is not an isolated case. There are a number of stories of influential persons who dominate public life abroad.
There is, of course, more to life than mixing politics with religion. The people at the grassroots level have been craving for reasonably good standards of living and want basic amenities like power, potable water, communication and road networks for marketing their products. They also wish to see modern educational and health facilities. This is not a tall order. In the past 52 years of Independence, we should have ensured such facilities to everyone in the country. But an overdose of politics in every segment of life has cost the country dearly.
Punjab should have actually been ahead of other states in providing the requisite infrastructural backup for speedy all-round development. Of course, a decade of militancy put the development process in the reverse gear. That was quite a setback, though even in the adverse conditions the spirit of enterprise of farmers kept ticking and that is why the agricultural boom has continued despite innumerable obstacles. The question here is not of subsidy. What is required is rational and coordinated thinking and action.
Punjab has surely been in the forefront of the Green Revolution in India. Agriculture continues to flourish. The latest wheat production figure shows how Punjab farmers keep the flag flying against heavy odds. One is, however, not sure how they are going to face stiff competition under the WTO regime from 2002 onwards. I wonder whether the Punjab Government has given a serious thought to the impending threat to agricultural growth.
Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is no doubt a gentleman politician in every sense of the term. He swept the Assembly election in 1996. It was a landmark victory for him and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and its coalition partner, the BJP. The people of Punjab looked up to him to offer a new deal. Unfortunately, something seems to have gone wrong somewhere, with the result that there are serious gaps between promise and performance to the discomfiture of the common man.
Facts speak for themselves and I would like to quote the well-known economist of Punjabi University, Patiala, Mr Sucha Singh Gill: There has been general deceleration in the growth of the economy in the 1990s. Agriculture is stagnating and experiencing negative growth in alternative years. Rural poverty jumped from a low level of 3.20 per cent of the population in 1988-89 to 12-15 per cent in 1993-94.
There are nearly 15 lakh educated unemployed youth in the state. In the matter of unemployment and its increasing dimensions, the Planning Commission has bracketed the state with Bihar, UP and Kerala.
Incidentally, Maharashtra had overtaken Punjab and Haryana in 1992-93 in per capita income. Maharashtras per capita income is now more than 10 per cent higher than that of Punjab, which is likely to lag much behind Maharashtra. Gujarat may also leave Punjab behind. Both states are experiencing very high growth rates. They are growing respectively at 9.5 per cent and 8 per cent (during 1991-92 to 1996-97) per annum compared to Punjabs 4.7 per cent. (The Tribune, November 11, 1999).
Some of the figures given above are old but then the fact remains that the ground realities have not changed for the better. If anything, there have of late been visible signs of deterioration in the economy. Even the problem of unemployment among the educated is disquieting and it cannot be dismissed casually.
What is wrong and where? One, the Punjab leadership lacks vision. It has not been able to provide a new direction to the states development needs. The question here is not of adding a township or two like Anandgarh but of improving urban and rural infrastructure for faster growth and for ensuring better living conditions for the masses. Equally vital is the empowerment of rural women and financial backup to the panchayats as part of decentralisation.
Individuals do make a difference. Mr Chandrababu Naidu has done it in Andhra Pradesh. People expect Mr Badal to put the state on the global map in development and impart a dynamic thrust for the next millennium. Nothing of the sort has happened, notwithstanding good intentions and daily rhetoric. Mr Badal has actually entangled himself in politico-religious matters instead of providing the right leadership for faster growth in all areas of the economy and social life.
Two, the people of Punjab have been expecting a clean administration. They feel cheated on this count. Why the Chief Minister feels helpless in ensuring a corruption-free regime remains a mystery. This is a pity. For, Mr Badal is a well-intentioned person and he continues to enjoy popular goodwill, though he has of late been under pressure from his critics within his own party. His saving grace is that the Congress as the main opposition party has not been able to exploit the situation.
Three, religious factors have not only divided the SAD but also diverted the states attention to confronting one crisis after another. We know how the split in the SAD and religious politics have kept Mr Badals administration on the tenterhooks all the while, probably leaving him little time to tackle the major problems facing the state. It needs to be realised that the never-ending competition in negativism not only destroys the image of a leader but also creates an island of disillusionment at the popular level.
Four, there have been no serious attempts on the part of the administration to find solutions to pressing financial and other problems facing Punjab. It is true that most of the states in the country are in a financial mess. However, it must be said that Punjabis here and abroad do not like the state of drift visible at all levels.
Can the drift be reversed? Why not? Nothing is lost yet. All that is required is a clear perspective on men, matters and issues, and the refixing of priorities. Equally vital is the shifting of focus from self to the community in a true tradition of the Khalsa whose tercentenary has been celebrated with reverence and piety by the people everywhere.
Mr Badal has a historic
opportunity to deliver the goods and put Punjab on the
road to high growth and all-round development. History
has no place for buts and ifs. In fact, history is
written by the bold and the visionary. Vision can be
acquired, but boldness and dynamism have to be generated
the Ambedkar legacy
THE birth anniversary of Dr B.R. Ambedkar today has been declared a government holiday, but it is not clear whether it has been included as a permanent feature in the list of Central government holidays notified at the beginning of each year. However, notifying the birth anniversary is only a symbolic gesture, intended to appease the Dalits rather than perpetuate Dr Ambedkars memory and legacy.
It is needless to go into the contribution of Dr Ambedkar to the Indian people, the Indian Constitution and the Dalits in particular. During his lifetime he had emerged as a strong focal point of Dalit aspirations, and Mahatma Gandhi himself had to negotiate and come to an agreement with him. The reservation of 15 per cent of the electoral seats provided for in the Constitution is most likely to remain a permanent feature. The reservation seems to be extending to various fields including Central and state government jobs, admissions to educational institutions etc. But does all this make a substantive difference to the lot of Dalits in the rural areas, whether in prosperous Punjab, better educated Tamil Nadu, or financially advanced Maharashtra? The answer unfortunately is in the negative. More than half a century after Indias Independence and the temple entry movement by Mahatma Gandhi for Dalits, they are still being discriminated against. The crucial unspoken issue is the untouchability factor which permeates all walks of life in the villages.
On March 11, seven Dalits including three women were burnt to death in Kambalapalli village in Kolar district of Karnataka. The attackers were from the upper caste of Reddys who resorted to the dastardly act as a reprisal against the killing of an influential Reddy by certain Dalits a few hours earlier. Soon after the incident the entire political and administrative hierarchy of Karnataka descended upon the village and the Congress President also made a visit a few days later. But why did this tragedy occur in the village? How could such a tragedy be avoided?
Several villages of Kolar district bordering Andhra Pradesh have influential sections of Andhras upper caste of Reddys, owning most of the land there. The Dalits, who constitute about 50 per cent of landless agricultural labour, work for them on their fields. During the past couple of decades a few Dalits had become land owners. Some of the Dalits who are better educated and employed in the nearby urban areas started asserting their rights. A Dalit Sangharsh Samiti was set up to negotiate the wages with the landlords and the negotiations were not always smooth. The emergence of the Dalits as near equals on the social ladder was something which the Reddy landlords could not tolerate. In the neighbouring village of Billandahalli, the Dalits had once organised a cultural programme and on their request the nearby police station had deputed some policemen to provide security. The Reddy community was outraged and attacked three of the policemen who were on duty and killed them. This event demonstrated how deep-rooted the social divide between the forward community and the Dalits was. The hatred between the forward community of Reddys and the Dalits in these villages of Kolar has to be patiently handled, more as a socio-economic problem than as a matter of law and order. Unless the Dalits are empowered and given equal status and permitted to live their lives as equals with the forward community with adequate and permanent protection, and, more than anything else, unless the two communities realise the need to set their social sights correctly and are prepared to live amicably with one another, the problem will never be resolved.
From the South let us move to the prosperous state of Punjab where a Mazhabi Sikh and a landless labourer, Hazara Singh, was prevented by Jat landlords from cremating his dead daughter. This happened on January 4, and when the police eventually came, all that it did was to prepare a statement of compromise and no action was taken against the landlords. Again on February 8, the body of a Mazhabi Sikh woman, Pritam Kaur, could not be cremated in the common cremation ground as Jat Sikhs objected to it. The Mazhabis were asked by the Jats to construct their own cremation platform outside the village near their ghetto. All this happened in a village in Tarn Taran district of Punjab and it is difficult to imagine that this could happen in the 21st century and that too in a state, which has contributed a large number of Mazhabi armed jawans and officers who constitute a substantive segment of the Sikh Regiment.
All these events during the recent weeks make us wonder whether Ambedkars legacy really prevails and if so whether it has made any difference to society, and more importantly to the Dalits throughout the country. It has no doubt made a mark and Ambedkar has come to be regarded as a messiah of the Dalits throughout the country. His statues dot the Dalit bastis throughout the country. At the same time, the frequent desecration of the Ambedkars statues are also taking place. Mischief-mongers had sometimes resorted to such acts resulting in serious consequences. The desecration of Ambedkar statue by garlanding it with a string of shoes on July 11, 1997 in Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar at the outskirts of Mumbai led to riots by Dalits living in the colony and nearby. The police shot dead 11 Dalits during the riots and thereby created a first rate crisis in the Maharashtra and national politics. It opened old wounds which had hardly healed. For the renaming of Marathwada University the state assembly unanimously adopted a resolution to the effect on July 27, 1978. Immediately thereafter there were riots and attacks on Dalits throughout Marathwada and the implementation of the resolution was deferred indefinitely. The Shiv Sena came out strongly in opposition to the move. However, the Sharad Pawar government eventually implemented the resolution in January, 1994, after it took care to set up a separate university at Nanded for catering to the Marathwada area.
It may also be recalled that after the publication of Dr Ambedkars book, The Riddles of Ram and Krishna in 1987 the Shiv Sena held a massive demonstration in Mumbai seeking a ban on it. There was a counter demonstration by the Dalits at Hutatma Chowk which was followed by a purification ceremony led by none other than Chhagan Bhujbal, a prominent member of the Congress-NCP government of Maharashtra at present, when Ganga water was brought and sprinkled on the area considered defiled by the Dalits. Have the attitudes of tall upper class politicians, including those of the Shiv Sena and the Congress, fundamentally changed in respect of Dalits? There can be no positive answer to this question.
When the Mayawati government was in power for a couple of years in the largest state of India, UP, the deification of Ambedkar was taken up in right earnest by her by setting up an extensive park complex. More importantly she took steps to induct Dalits in various political and administrative positions during her rule. It did not, however, make a fundamental difference to the lot of Dalits. However, Mr Kanshi Ram is politically perceptive on his objective that it is not important for Dalits to share power at the Centre and in the states, but they should develop a distinct political consciousness and identity in Indian polity.
education, awareness and economic empowerment, the Dalit
identity is bound to assert itself more and more in the
country. Unless the upper castes and the intermediary
backward classes, who are no less hostile towards the
Dalit community, change their social outlook, there will
be no peace and social amity.
in American destiny
IT is its demography which will determine the final destiny of America. The same can be true of India. They have much in common, and much more to learn from each other.
America and India are nations of immigrants. They still keep going to America at the rate of a million a year. It is this continuing immigration which will re-shape America more profoundly than its trade and technology.
America, says Emerson, is an asylum of all nations. He called it the melting pot. Out of it, it was hoped, a new human being an American would emerge. This was a myth. It never happened. In fact, time proved that people do not change their history except under great distress. They remained what they were British, French, German, Irish or whatever.
So, today, the melting pot is out, and multi-culturalism is in. And America is a vast medley of ethnicities each wanting to preserve its identity in some way or other, and being held together by the lure of getting it rich quick.
The multi-culturalists maintain that the melting pot was a code word for forced assimilation. They oppose force. But they are in favour of a large chunk of ethnicity to remain intact. For example, the Anglo-Americans, who determine the life of America. It is they who guide the destiny of the country. But it can change.
In India, the process of integrating is still on. It is by no means complete. We are not only integration the minor but also the backward peoples. The process is painful and prolonged. It can fail. A true Indian is still not easily met with. But their number is growing fast. It is they who will one day shape the destiny of this country. But we must speed up this process.
In the 1950 census, America was 89 per cent white and 10 per cent black. Other races and colours hardly mattered then. Now Latinos (Hispanics), who are considered inferior, account for 12 per cent. They will overtake the blacks in another five years and will become the largest minority. In another fifty years, the Latinos, with little democratic tradition, will have a 25 per cent share in the 400 million population. If the Asians and the blacks are added to the Latino share, they will constitute about 40 per cent of the American population. This is when the course of American history can change. The hold of the Anglo Americans can begin to wane. But America can postpone this evil day.
About 300,000 immigrants enter America illegally each year. America does not expel them because without them the domestic life of the American middle class will fall apart. In short, without them the country will grind itself to a halt. Illegal immigration is thus on the rise.
One country, one culture and one language this was the old dream of America. It is no more tenable. As for India, it is held as an ideal by some. But we are past that ideal. India is today a country of the greatest diversity. We should, therefore, make diversity itself the guiding principle of our nation.
Sheltered by its high mountain and nourished by its great rivers, India was a haven to all peoples of Euro-Asia. The Aryans and Dravidians were perhaps the first to enter India. (Let us leave the other theory to prove itself.) Then came the Scythians and Pahlavis, Sakas and Greeks, Caucassians and Tartars, Kushanas and Huns, Mongols and Turks, Arabs and Persians, Usbeks and Afghans and, of course, the European peoples. No such moisaic ever existed anywhere else in the world. The only one to rival India is the USA. And that from the last century only.
Some of the tribes which entered India merged with the mainstream and lost their identity. But they gained a country. Some tried to preserve elements of their identity. To that extent, they remain separate. In America, the Latinos and blacks were slow to take to American ways. For example, to education, and have thus remained backward. The same can be said of the Muslims in India. To take full advantage, one must be in the vanguard and not at the rear.
In the last two centuries, the world has seen vast migrations. Particularly, after World War II. In 1965, there were 75 millions migrants all over the world. The figure has gone up to 120 million. Of them, 20 million are Indians. These migrants are different. They refuse to give up their identity.
This explains the shift in America from the policy of melting pot to multi-culturalism. We are yet to accept such a change. In India, some of the ethnic groups entered India as conquerors or were brought under the Indian empire by the British. We have here a different situation and a different psychology to deal with.
America has a somewhat schizophrenic attitude to the immigrants. Most of the polls show that two-thirds of the population will like to reduce immigration. But they seem to forget that the USA still draws its energy from the youthful immigrants who continue to pour in.
And America is doing all it can to attract the best human capital. (The human capital has never been so valued as today.) Apart from this, the USA has a programme of investment in foreign graduate students in the sciences and engineering through scholarships, which tap into the exceptionally talented. They are doubly screened, first by a local body and then by US specialists. It is such policies which have helped the USA to maintain its technological leadership. Foreign born Ph.Ds are heavily employed in the R & D departments of US computer, electronic, chemical and pharmaceutical companies. They account for 40 per cent of the scientific manpower in these companies.
Of course, the US graduate programmes, which are among the best in the world attract the best foreign students to do their Ph.Ds in America. And 70 per cent of those who come stay back. America can thus replenish its vitality regularly. But at a price. It can change the entire demographic pattern of the country.
However, two Americas are emerging one of whites and the other of the rest. About 147 out of Americas 271 metro areas are at least 80 per cent white. In these areas foreign immigrants are seldom allowed. Only whites from predominantly coloured areas migrate to those regions. In the other America, we have Silicon Valley, where the whites are in minority. There is Detroit, which boasts of being the Arab capital of America. Miami is home to 150 nationalities. Such a polarisation is divisive. It can have dangerous consequences.
Today, bilingualism has become an accepted norm. The native tolerate these tendencies. Take, for example, Miami. Here, the official language is Spanish, not English. Even the form of administration is alien to American ways.
Another example. The Mexican Americans can vote in the USA and back home, that is Mexico. They can also hold two passports. (That is why we should have readily given in to the demand for dual nationality by the NRIs.)
Today, emigration is encouraged by developing countries as a way out of exploding populations and by developed countries because they are short of hands in certain type of jobs. And migration are controlled more often by criminals. The consequences of these migrations have hardly been gone into. Prof. Bikhu Parekh of Hull University (UK) who has done some study on the subject, writes: There is little sign that we have even begun to grasp the enormity of the problem before us, let alone explore ways of tackling it. A sombre reflection on the kind of world leadership we have today.
We used to think that as the gap between the rich and poor nations closed (this is always the promise), there will be less migrations. But a new divide the digital divide has widened the gap between the rich and poor. So, migration has increased.
Migration is not the only way to progress. The Chinese seldom migrate to Europe or America. They stay at home, and concentrate on producing high quality export products and thus benefit the country.
Thus, demography can
bring about unexpected dangers to both the USA and India.
But while the USA can avoid them for a long time to come,
one is not sure how long India can continue to neglect
the crucial decisions that it has postponed.
INDUSTRIAL education is not well organised in the Punjab. There are no institutions sufficient to admit a decent number of students who are anxious to be benefited by such education and there is no definite plan or programme according to which increasing facilities can be provided from year to year.
There are a few industrial institutes but very few students are attracted to them and accommodation is very insufficient.
There is some scheme of giving vocational training to students in addition to the usual primary and secondary standards of education.
But even here there is nothing like method and it is stated that such education is under the control of three different authorities and very often the instructors do not know what to do.
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