Although the UPA got the benefit of liberalisa-tion carried out by the NDA during 1998-2002 (before fear of the ballot led to a policy slowdown) and saw high rates of growth till 2006, as warned, the period since 2007 has been marked by a return to the Nehru rate of growth, accompanied by harsh taxation, severe penalties and the introduction of laws that potentially render hundreds of millions of citizens liable to arrest with their broad scope and casual drafting, as in the case of the new cyber laws, that mandate imprisonment even when the ?guilty? person is simply the hapless victim of undesirable spam.
Fortunately for India, civil society is at last developing, and doing so strongly. Here, this columnist must make (what for him is an uncharacteristic!) reference to Pakistan, where too a strong civil society has emerged that on occasion can even challenge the closet jehadis who infest the Pakistan army. It was this new force that ensured the exposure of the local antecedents of Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving terrorist of 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai, whose name has been made public by authoritities in India, and it is only this (as yet small) band of democratic moderates who are waging a struggle against the increasing jehadisation of Pakistan. Today, just as more than a fourth of India has come under the control of Maoists, more than a third of Pakistan'sland area has come under the exclusive sway of Taliban-like groups, who have imposed a system of governance that makes any economic or social progress impossible. More than 40 million of Pakistan'syouth are being deprived of education and circumstances needed to ensure their adjustment to the international economy, thus ensuring a substantial flow of recruits into the numerous gangs that carry out terrorist activities, a small detail neglected by Sonia Maino as she ordered the Manmohan Singh government to embrace the Pakistan establishment during the days before the Mumbai attack made this impossible. Why Mumbai? Because for the first time, foreign nationals were targetted, not simply Indians, thus making the incident too grave for the UPA chairperson to ignore.
India'ssecurity hinges on two legs. The first is social cohesion, caused by the introduction of genuine secularism, which would ensure that all citizens be treated equally by the state, and not given a differential treatment, caused by ensuring of school curricula that ensure both pride and knowledge in the unique character of India, a country that belongs to each citizen, irrespective of religion, region or other societal differentiation. Caused by a system that gives even the poorest the chance to rise to the heights of intellectual and material advancement. Caused by a penal system that lays more stress on reform than on retribution, save in the case of heinous offences,and where prison is the exception rather than the rule. Of course, the ?rarest of the rare? crimes?including treason and terrorism?would be given exemplary punishment.
The other is economic development, caused by the lifting of barriers to initiative and enterprise that have been reinforced rather than removed during the Nehru era and most of its successors, especially the present lot. Caused by a tax system that is citizen-friendly, and which ensures that the combined outgo from both direct and indirect taxes does not exceed 50 per cent of income (at present, it is nearly 80 per cent). This columnist has long been in favour of the complete abolition of income-tax on individual citizens, as it is growth rather than rates that cause accretions in revenue. Palaniappan Maino thought otherwise, only to find to his dismay that the faltering economy has meant that even the murderous taxation enforced by him has been unable to prevent a shrivelling-up of receipts,an economy that has faltered precisely because of the former Finance Minister'sfealty to the regime of high interest rates and consumption curbs favoured by his supremo, Sonia. Economic development caused by encouragement to Indian enterpreneurs, in the way that Japanese and South Korean entrepreneurs were enabled to become world-beaters by their respective governments, rather than be held back the way their counterparts in this country have been. Development caused by genuine transparency in governmental operations, marked by a substantial increase in the ambit of the Right to Information Act as well as its extension to the corporate sectors, where shareholders ought to be given the right to information similar to those sought to be enjoyed by citizens in general in the case of governmental operations.
It is a matter of shame that successive governments in India, following in the footsteps of the Mughals and the British, refuse to allow public access even to documents that pertain to events that took place 50 years ago. If India is to become a genuine democracy, all documents that are past that expiry date ought to be made public, unless specifically excluded by a committee that would include the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice and the Leader of the Opposition (in the case of the nation) and their regional counterparts in the case of states, with the reason for each case of exclusion made public.
Although much of the credit for the defeat of the USSR in that friendly neighbour of India'sbelongs to the valour of the Afghan people, who conducted a silent but steady struggle against occupation, the entire credit was taken by the Pakistan army and its jehadis, who became the beneficiaries of the Afghan chaos much the way the followers of Vladimir Lenin took control of Russia in the debris of the Czarist state in 1917, or the takeover of power in Iran by Khomeinists on the back of public anger at Reza Shah Pahlavi'sextravagance and debauchery. As the CIA needed to justify the billions of dollars handed over to the Pakistan army to fuel the Afghan jehad, that organisation had a vested interest in boosting the role of its supposed proteges. In 2001, despite the Taliban, despite the reality that Wahabbi extremists had become one of the principal security challenges facing the US, the CIA and other US agencies did it again.
They ensured that the Pakistan army was given the primary responsibility for waging war against the very groups that the men in uniform in that jehadising state saw as essential to their success against arch foe India, by then a US ally and since 1947 the world'smost populous democracy.
As an error of judgment, this decision by Bush-Cheney (not an entirely surprising outcome, considering their close friendship with Saudi royalty, the principal backers of International Wahabbism) ranks alongside such gems as the decision by the UK'scounter-spy organisation MI6 to make the Soviet agent ?Kim? Philby chief of their anti-Soviet operations. Given such a record of errors, it was hardly surprising that Bush-Cheney crafted the policies and the protection that ensured the speculative shooting-up of commodity prices (principally oil) that impoverished the middle and the lower classes, creating the loss of demand that is behind the present collapse of the world economy. The recession that began in 2006 can therefore be called the ?Bush Recession?, just as the miserably low average growth rates of India (around 2 per cent a year) during the period until the launch of economic reform in 1992 can be called the ?Nehru Rate of Growth?, after its principal cause. It was Jawaharlal Nehru who ensured that the sticky web of colonial-era restrictions on Indian initiative and enterprise not only continued, but were expanded, including by the levying of confiscatory rates of taxation.
There is, despite the passage of six decades since the departure of the British, still no Hind Swaraj. What ?freedom? is there exists only for a small New Class of those who have continued to enrich themselves as a consequence of the dictatorial powers of the state. This absence of control is what has resulted in grave distortions in policy, in directions that are hostile to the national interest, and which are spawned entirely by personal spite.
An example is recent UPA policy towards Russia, a country that has been closely associated to India in the past, and which is needed even today, especially as a technology partner. Consider the circumstances. When the Russian delegation celebrating the Year of Russia in India came a year ago, headed by a Cabinet Minister and including six regional governors, there was no VIP attendance from the Indian side.
State obsequies for the passing away of VP Singh were cited as the excuse for Pranab Mukherjee to cancel even a working lunch with his Moscow counterpart, but the extremes of grief felt by the Kolkata politician on the occasion did not prevent him (on December 3, 2008) from hosting a lunch for Condoleezza Rice. The Year of India in Russia will begin only in June, not January, because ?President Patil finds the Moscow cold too much to ensure?. It is another matter that there is central heating in that city, and that it was Vladimir Putin who opened the Year of Russia in India, in February.
The list of the put-downs of this tested ally of India is long. But what could be the cause? Is it something not mentioned by the ?free? Indian media,that the legal father of one of the politicians in this country was jailed in Russia nearly seventy years ago, and that this leader cannot forgive the Russians for this? Who knows. The Russians will not tell, while we in India are known for our lack of curiosity about the powerful, especially in a regime that makes liberal use of the CBI, the ED and the tax machinery.
It is time for Hind Swaraj. Hopefully, the 2009 elections will usher in such a long-awaited dream.