Monday, December 14, 2009

My Grandpa and the great Telengana predicament ...

My Grandpa, a fierce freedom fighter and an erstwhile member of the dreaded revolutionary group - the Anushilani Samiti of undivided Bengal, gave up his radical ways after getting influenced by the Gandhian philosophy of earning sovereignty through peaceful means and 'satyagraha'. In fact my Grandpa told me that the process of introspection had started much before. He was an ardent follower of Sri Aurobindo Ghosh and was in fact deeply moved by his renunciation of politics during early years of the 20th century.

The most endearing memories of my Grandpa revolves around his ever readiness to tell stories, those from his life as also from Hindu mythology and contemporary literary classics. I heard stories of the relentless and hazardous fights of the revolutionaries, the exploits, trials and tribulations of the young members of the Samiti. My Grandpa, an avid reader that he was, kept narrating stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as well. My personal favourite ofcourse were those moments when I could see his eyes lit up with passion while his voice registered a distinct spring, whenever he read out to me and my cousins, excerpts from Bankim's 'Ananda Math' and 'Devi Chaudhurani'.

Even as a kid I used to get thoroughly besotted by the fervour that most of those tales exuded, and silently promised myself to uphold the hard earned sovereignty of this country and to fight unto death against any power or entity that tried to take away our freedom or dared to maul our national unity. Strategies were drawn out and plans were discussed with my cousins, mulling over revolutionary tactics against any impending foreign threat, while enjoying home-made freshly puffed rice (muri) and green chillies. Our young indulgent home tutor usually joined us during those fiery rendezvous. He never seemed too eager to sweat it out during an extended power-cut with the ever confusing Algebra and a bunch of thoroughly mischievous and truant set of kids. The yellow light of a meagre lantern added to the suspense and thrill. Hardly did we realise that three decades later the greatest threat to our unity would come not from external forces but from our very own people.

A complete mayhem has been unleashed after Sonia Gandhi assured the TRS Chief of a resolution on a separate Telengana state. Many a push have come to a shove since then and various insurgent groups have renewed their pledge and demand for separate states to be carved out from the existing ones, within the Indian federation, supposedly to uphold and cater to the interests of the ethnic population represented by these ethnic leaders.

Gorkhaland, Harit Pradesh, Purvanchal, Vidarbha, Sourastra, Maru Pradesh, Coorg, Bodoland are only few of the many new states being demanded by the separatists in various parts of the country. And the methods of support to their causes are varied from peaceful hunger strikes to deadly clandestine suicide attacks and damage to peoples' lives and property. So what do you do? Accept the demands and create more states and invariably add to the challenges experienced by the Central Government in handling so many states already, along with the constant inter-state rivalry that hardly promotes the national cause or that of a people (consider the case of Cauvery river water distribution issue)? Or do you thwart every possible separatist attempt on the part of these ethnic groups with sheer administrative and judicial forces, with the risk of keeping the fire of discontentment amongst the ethnic groups shimmering forever? Or do you create more effective and inclusive platforms for dialogues and formulate policies and find solutions, those aim to serve the purposes of the nation, the states and the tiniest but by no means insignificant ethnic groups?

Prior to the Partition, there were myriad numbers of Princely states those were not annexed to the Indian union under the British - those who had complete internal administrative autonomy. But once the British gave up their suzerainty, these states had the choice of merging themselves with either of India or Pakistan, or maintain their independence. The last of such incorporations happened in the year 1975, in the form of Sikkim, following an overwhelming public referendum there. India thus transformed into a complete democratic republic with no role for the Rajas, Nawabs or Nizams of these princely states in public administration.

India, since then have seen disintegration of existing states resulting in formation of new states as well as conversion of Union Territories into full-fledged states, and have been constantly living with the fear and scary possibility of the whole Union falling apart into innumerable smaller states representing the identities and interests of the smallest ethnic groups - cultural, linguistic, religious, economic, etc.!

I know my Grandpa would have questioned the very feasibility of this narrow divisive regional and ethnic politics and the credibility of the leaders propagating them, if he would have been alive and kicking. He always said, this country's greatest strength lied in the fact that in spite of the fabric of this country being a complex composite of a huge number of very different ethnic communities, people always managed to come together, to share dreams and goals, to form and put forward a united front against a common enemy. No doubt, the freedom struggle against our colonial rulers helped him form his opinion and come to this conclusion about our inherent strength as a nation. But he never told us how we could stay united and share common goals, in absence of a common enemy. Or is there in fact an invisible common enemy that we are failing to see or sense upfront?

Pics courtesy: SanAtana Dharma

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Obama-Singh Joint Press Conference and an impoverished democracy: National integration and the radical groups - Part II

The nation waited with bated breath in anticipation of a historic press conference to be addressed by the first officially visiting Constitutional Head of a country during the tenure of President Obama. To the disappointment of many, there wasn’t any apparent expression or demonstration on the part of either of the Statesmen to prove that was any major breakthrough or spectacular understanding, except for the fact that Dr. Singh put it in so many words, during the joint statement session, that he was ‘satisfied’ with the outcome of his discussions with the President of USA, and that Obama termed India a natural ally in the war against terrorism.

Whether Dr. Singh was able to remove the bottlenecks created by the Obama administration to the nuclear deal and hasten up the process was unclear. Neither was it apparent whether President Obama could pressurise India enough to bend to the demands of the developed nations related to the signing of the nuclear NPT or agreeing to the emission standards to prevent climate change. It seemed as if the entire media hype surrounding the summit came a cropper.
But, one statement made by President Obama got me thinking. He mentioned during his address that America has quite a few things to learn from India and took the example of India's story of being a food sufficient nation. Pride is the natural feeling that I should have experienced immediately. On the contrary I was engulfed by a strange feeling of helplessness and sorrow. Can you beat the gaping paradox, staring right at our face, that in a statistically food sufficient country like ours, nearly 400 million is languishing in severe poverty, barely surviving on a meal a day, earning much less than a dollar a day worth income?

We are spending billions on research and developing technologies to try and search for the ever-evasive, yet-to-be-detected ‘life’ on extra-terrestrial locations when we have not being able to protect or improve lives of our own very real people in our own very real, very independent country, right here, right now. I have nothing against lunar missions or nuclear energy. But I am certainly not ok with the pretentious stances taken by our statesmen and myopic politicians, while proclaiming the huge successes of the 5-Year Plans and path-breaking economic measures taken by successive governments, for complete eradication of poverty.

Even after more than 50 years of Independence India still has the world's largest number of poor people in a single country. It’s like the proverbial albatross, the noose around the neck that the world’s largest democracy is doomed to live with, forever. An extremely powerful ex-Prime Minister of this country had once famously admitted that post independence, we have faltered as a nation, in three primary areas – food, healthcare, education. Three decades later, the situation hasn’t changed much. Or has it? This is a no-brainer.

Our equity markets are buzzing with bullish sentiments and activities, more than ever before. FIIs never get tired listening to the India story and keep coming in hoards, even during phases when the rest of the world’s economies were facing crippling credit crisis scenarios.

The world’s pretty much convinced ... India is the next big thing! But are we, in reality? If yes, then at what cost? I would like to understand the true meaning of economic prowess? Is it the ability of few of the large industrial conglomerates to make mind-boggling multi-billion dollar global acquisitions or is it the nation’s ability to provide food, shelter, adequate healthcare, qualitative education, employment, social security and empowerment to all its subjects?

Ensuring national energy sufficiency is important, no doubt. But equally important, if not more so, is eradication of impoverishment plaguing hundreds of millions. Do we want to build our growth story on extremely weak socio-economic foundations?

Going by the projections recently provided by the United Nations, over a billion people are hungry, worldwide. And it’s incredible a fact that India accounts to nearly 40% of that figure. Doesn’t it sound like a farce, when our politicians proclaim India as the next economic superpower or Nobel-winning American President wishes to learn the tricks of being food grain sufficient and independent from the Indian economists and policy makers, while 400 million of our countrymen cannot generate enough income to meet their basic needs of food, shelter, healthcare and education?

Poverty rarely receives any lip service from the self proclaimed socio-political crusaders (aka political leaders and activists), nor do they get any footage in media platforms – ‘poverty’ is hardly a glamorous subject or spectacle for the ‘revolutionary’ Indian media in comparison to say a failed lunar mission, or the news related to the inability of the Indian bureaucrats to drive the nuclear deal through the Obama administration. As a nation we are obsessed with “Breaking News” ... and ‘poverty’ doesn’t qualify!

Pics courtesy: Mangalore Today