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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 34 August 15, 2015

Will India Pioneer a Brave New Path, or Languish as a Poor Imitator

Saturday 15 August 2015, by Bharat Dogra

Any comprehensive understanding of India’s possible pathways in the near future should be linked to a wider understanding of the most essential features of the present-day world. India should of course plan its future in accordance with its needs, but this has to be seen in the wider context of the world’s most serious issues and problems so that the path India chooses in it is in conformity with the world’s most urgently felt needs.

The two most important features of the present-day world are—(i) the deepening of a many-sided ecological crisis in critical ways so that it has now become a survival crisis threatening the life of countless species and endangering even humanity, and (ii) the continuation and even accentuation of many-sided strife made all the more dangerous in a situation of more and more destructive weapons, including thousands of WMDs.

These two problems may appear separate but are related in significant ways, not the least because the kind of united, supranational effort needed to resolve the first listed survival issues will simply not be possible in a situation of increasing strife and violence.

A particularly sinister aspect of the second problem relates to the increasing threat from terrorists, who now also control vast territories and hence have greater chance of assembling nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. It is disturbing indeed that this kind of violence based on narrow religious fundamentalism has become an increasing threat in what is supposed to be an age of science and technology.

In the context of this wider situation of the world, its must pioneer a path which, while solving Its basic problems of poverty and deprivation, should at the same time show the way forward for resolving the most threatening problem of the world. If India can achieve this, it will be a truely historic achievement which will win admiration all over the world, increasing respect for India and leading to demands for a wider role of India in world affairs without it even asking for this. Above all, if India achieves this, then this will be a huge contribution to reduce distress in the world, now and in the future, bringing relief to hundreds of millions of people. Can India achieve this?

For such an achievement to be possible, India should try to establish broad consensus on three overwhelming priorities—(i) reduction of poverty and inequalities, ensuring the basic needs of all; (ii) protection of environment with special emphasis on checking survival-threatening problems such as climate change, water depletion and air pollution, chemical pollution, nitrogen pollution, irreversible hazards and loss of bio-diversity; and (iii) peace and social harmony at all levels while ending all discrimination.

If the government, supported by enthusiastic people’s participation and a broad consensus, can really ensure that the inter-related tasks become topmost priorities, then India can truly pioneer a brave new path which can solve its most pressing problems at the same time as providing important contributions and lesson for resolving the most threatening world-level problems.

With two per cent of the world’s land, one per cent (or less) of oil and gas resources but 17 per cent of the world’s population, India’s quest for meeting the basic needs of its people and providing them satisfactory livelihood on a sustainable basis is a huge challenge. If this can be met while also protecting the environment and keeping down GHG emissions to acceptable levels, this will truly be a very commendable achievement.

India is a nuclear weapons power which shares borders with two other nuclear weapon powers. It has been extremely prone to terrorist attacks from across its borders. It has already fought five wars with neighbouring countries. It has coped with several secessionist movements and insurgencies. Crime rates, not always reflected in official data, are very high in many parts of the country. India has six major religions (plus many sects and adivasi religions), around 6400 castes and 1600 languages.

The much-discussed idea of India is that despite all these outward differences, all people can live without discrimination in India with security and equal opportunities. This is the basis for peace based on equality and justice (as distinguished from peace based on threats and submission). There needs to be an all-encom-passing commitment to peace based on justice, reflected as much in non-discrimination and equality at all levels in India as in attitudes towards neighbouring countries. Of course, national security and borders should be fully and firmly protected. There is no room for any complacency or over-idealism there. But we should remember that the unity of the country based on equality of all can also be our most powerful defence.

Of course, governance reforms including significant reduction of corruption and crimes (and related criminalisation of politics) and improved transparency are essential preconditions for success of this agenda based on justice, equality, harmony and protection of environment.

But what has been happening in recent times is far removed from the real needs of the country. The commitment of the country increasingly appears to be an export-led growth model that ties up the country more closely to inequality and injustice-based globalisation and which is based on giving increasing concessions to big corporations, including some of the world’s most infamous multinational companies. Highly favoured are those MNCs which are known to be very aggressive in trying to dominate the food and seeds sector, using very hazardous technologies. To pave the way for such corporate-led growth, the Planning Commission has been shut down arbitrarily. The environment is threatened more than ever before with aggressively marketed and ecologically destructive projects of the big corporates. The corrupt are getting increasingly aggressive and violent, as the bleeding Vyapam scam and many mining scams show. Powerful criminals are killing witnesses, activists and journalists with hardly any move to check them.

The existing development model is only a pale imitation of the earlier dubious short success of export-led and big business-led growth models. Even at the best of times these cannot go very far. The present times are particularly unsuitable due to the overall low prospects of export growth to industrial countries as well as in other, big markets like China. In addition, the corruption and crime-ridden polity makes it more difficult for this to succeed without scams and crises.

Even in the midst of such grim prospects, it is important to hold high the banner that another path exists—a path that can make India a pioneer in reducing poverty, inequalities, environment-ruin and GHG emissions, while promoting peace and harmony at all levels.

Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.