Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The idea of India? Or is it ideas?

Yesterday, I got home quite late. And realised I did not have access to the internet because I had forgotten to pay. Might I add, that I cannot get to sleep unless I read something. And, I did what people have done for centuries before the advent of the internet. I took out a book, yes, a real book. For those who have forgotten what that looks like, it is mde of paper and bound together with glue. ;-)

The book I got out to read was entitled, "L'Idée de l'Inde" by renowned Indian sociologist, Sunil Khilnani. As I read bits and pieces, I desperately wished I had the English version, that I had so intelligently left in my cupboard back home in India. However, the book was too interesting to ditch. I did not get through the book, indeed I did not read even one page, because my thoughts were drawn towards another, in my opinion, more interesting book on the same subject. This one is "India: From Midnight to the Millennium" by Shashi Tharoor.

I was reading the introduction when I found myself wondering what Tharoor would have to say today, on the same subjects. If he were to rewrite the book, how would it change? He enumerates four major issues that confronted India at the dawn of the new millennium. The bread-vs-freedom debate, the centralisation-vs-federalism debate, the pluralism-vs-fundamentalism debate and the coca-colonisation debate.

Now...this sets me thinking, not about the questions themselves, but about whether these questions continue to be relevant 7 years hence. Let's first take the bread-freedom debate. Honestly, do we really set that much store by freedom, as it stands? The generation that knew an enslaved India is slowly disappearing. We, the citizens of the future have never known how it is to not be free. Indeed, the GenX does not even know how life was pre-internet. So, do we really care about losing freedom? Is it even possible? Why would any other country want to politically conquer India and thus take charge of its billion-strong population? Surely, it makes no sense any more.

Next, is the centralisation-federalism debate. Is it even a debate any more? I thought India was inexorably and irreversibly on its way to becoming a federal state. Devolution of power is not a debate any more. It is a necessity. Especially since we are a billion in number. Third, the pluralism question. Many may argue that the rise of the BJP is in fact a sign of the rise of fundamentalism. But, I beg to differ. India is plural. No one political party, or even a group of parties, or even still the people of India themselves, can change that. The fact remains that, as Tharoor clearly demonstrates, India can only be spoken of in the plural. It has always been, and will remain as far as I can envisage, a plural country. What more can you expect of a country with 18 official languages and thousands of dialects? Then, is the question of globalisation. It is not even a question any more. While globalisation in India has been gradual, it is far from stagnant. India has too much to lose from protectionism and a lot to gain from liberalisation.

Having said that, I think the real challenges come from within. India must sustain the astounding 9% growth rate it has experienced over the last few year. It must tackle the major problems of poverty, AIDS and population growth to achieve this. It must drastically improve its Human Development Index ranking from an abysmal 126 in 2006. These are what will give India the respect it deserves in the International community and not rhetoric. India is definitely a rising power, but to become a developed nation, more needs to be done.

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