The Significance of the Nehru-Gandhi Nexus

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Dynastic politics has come across sharp criticism from all sections of the society. It leads to the dynasty assuming a ‘holier than thou’ attitude and contributes to stagnation of growth and prominence of the country’s other leaders and intelligentsia. Something the country has been experiencing incessantly over the decades. It is this phenomenon which has fueled the anti-incumbency of the present UPA regime. India has seen three Prime Ministers from this family and will unfortunately see more. However, it wasn’t like this always.

I have seldom come across a person who endorsed Gandhi’s decision of choosing Nehru over Sardar for the top job. I myself had always been a staunch critic of this verdict of Gandhi. In hindsight, however, I’ve come to view the situation differently. At the time of independence, the Indian National Congress was the sole significant political representative of the people of India. There was no ideological opponent and the INC was the nation’s only hope. Nehru, who ascended the throne in 1947 and continued till 1964, was one of the best peace-time leaders of the country. To guide the country through war, chaos, economic uncertainties etc., required a man with courage. His economic and industrial policies kick started the growth process. Looking back, we realize how tough a job it may have been and to imagine the ascendance of another person is unimaginable, to say the least. He guided the country into an era of peace and his Non-Alignment Policy (of which I’m not a supporter) was quite exceptional.

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Upon his death, we saw the coming and going of Lal Bahadur Shastri whose stay was brief. Upon his death, the party was split as most Congress leaders opposed Indira’s anointment. In retrospection, Indira’s appointment by the leaders of the Syndicate was a political masterpiece. Indira was quite inexperienced when she became the Prime Minister and her sole qualification was her relation with Nehru. Indira was decisive and not afraid to take a stand. The nationalization of banks led to a banking revolution as banking facilities were opened to the rural sector as well. Although her declaration of Emergency was the nail in the coffin but the way she emerged after that says something about her. In the brief change in government, we saw a loose coalition of the Janata Party which could not last long and had no set objectives or defined principles. It was the declaration of Emergency by Indira which led to the development of stringent political opponents with various ideologies.

Upon her death, came Rajiv Gandhi. Again nominated based on the same logic that Indira was. He was seen as a youth leader with revolutionary ideas and vision. However, it was his appointment and subsequent death which reveals how the Congress Party was a loose coalition and could never have sustained without a top leadership who were looked upon by the rest with pure admiration because of their genetic superiority. Actually, the party that ran the world’s biggest democracy was a monarchy itself and still remains one. Therefore, at the time of independence and up until the early 80’s, there was no significant opposition and the Congress party wasn’t able to function unless it was ruled by The Family.

Instances of this can be seen in the government of Narsimha Rao when the party was teeming with jealous and ambitious individuals. It can also be seen when two major party patriarchs, Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram, left the party in search of greener pastures when the top leadership either collapsed or was unsuitable as per their imaginations.

Nevertheless, we have now entered a time when significant opposition exists and is capable of forming a stable front, as displayed by Vajpayee. The Congress has become a much more cohesive group but still may go for a tailspin if The Family were to desert the party. The MPs are always vying for closeness to the Gandhis as they run the party with a firm hand. Even today, no leader can claim the Prime Minister’s job unless he/she represents a different party or he/she is ready to become the acting and/or a pseudo-leader of the country under the Gandhi family. Congress may not have officially declared its Prime Ministerial candidate but if by some minute chance they form a government, there are no doubts in anyone’s mind as to who will take control of the THRONE!

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Kashmir Conflict

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Kashmir, the valley with unparalleled beauty in the entire subcontinent, was often referred to as the Switzerland of the East by its last ruler Hari Singh. As the name suggests, Hari Singh was the Hindu ruler of Kashmir, ruling over a vastly predominant Muslim populace. Like many other princely states existing at the time of partition, Kashmir too refused to sign the Instrument of Accession to India and instead chose to remain independent. Pakistan nevertheless, was keen on securing this key state after losses of Hyderabad and Junagadh to India. Even after several persuasive attempts by the last Viceroy Mountbatten, Kashmir’s accession was never a done deal.

Hari Singh’s wish was to project Kashmir as a politically neutral and independent state. Kashmir’s beauty and the King’s ideology were both in sync with Switzerland. However, that was not to be. Pakistan believed that the Kashmiri Muslim would be in favour of acceding to Pakistan instead of India. Unlike Pakistan, India was established on secular lines and the fact that Kashmir composed mainly of Muslims was irrelevant to India. Under such circumstances, post-independence, Pakistan-backed tribals launched a guerilla attack on Kashmir which could not be countered by the erstwhile King. A dejected Hari Singh decided to ask for Indian military intervention on the condition that he would sign the Instrument of Accession. India grabbed the opportunity with both hands and soon an onslaught by the Indian army and local Kashmiri fighters pushed back the guerillas. Kashmir was on course to become a whole and sole part of the Indian Union but Nehru decided to seek UN intervention. As expected, the UN called for a ceasefire and a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the Kashmiri populace. Its conditions were that Pakistan must back off from the region while India should REDUCE military presence in the region. Pakistan categorically denied to roll back its army and decided to hold on to the territory for India hadn’t pulled back its troops. It then blamed India for not being able to conduct a plebiscite.

The extent to which India pushed back these rebels is today known as the Line of Control (LOC). Today, Kashmir is divided into 3 parts, most of which is administered by India, a part falls under Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) and a minute area called Aksai Chin belonging to China. So who can claim Kashmir today? Legally, India has the right to the whole of Kashmir, administered by the erstwhile ruler Hari Singh as India holds Kashmir’s Instrument of Accession. Pakistan can perpetrate all kinds of violence it wishes to but the fact is India actually has the right to POK as well.

However, that said, are we morally or ethically justified in bringing Kashmir under our control? Even after the rulers of Junagadh and Hyderabad were ousted, a plebiscite was conducted. In Junagadh, the plebiscite was one-sided, in favour of India while in Hyderabad, it was not required seeing the massive support the Indian army received after ousting the Nizam. Why not apply the same rationale in Kashmir as well? We can argue all we want that the King decided to accede to the India Union however, a referendum is important to judge where the people stand. While we have constant military deployment in the region under AFSPA, we never seemed to care about the wishes of the Kashmiri. But the time for such a referendum is long gone. The Kashmir issue is here to stay and India must accept the fact that it has erred on several grounds. Like the BJP, many Indians are against conducting such a plebiscite and prominent lawyer Prashant Bhushan, in favour of a referendum, is often criticized for such views.

India’s basic argument for not conducting a plebiscite was that Pakistan never vacated the territory it occupied. Though technically true, it doesn’t matter much as even our army stayed back in huge numbers. Nehru erred while taking the dispute to the UN which took a highly humanitarian view. In light of Indian (and even Kashmiri interests) the issue would have been best settled once the rebels were completely driven out and then a referendum was conducted. The argument that the Security Council tried to overcompensate against its Muslim biases is baseless. Fact of the matter is that even though we can legally lay claim on Kashmir, it isn’t ours in humanitarian terms. Overtime, anti-Indian sentiments have built up in parts of Kashmir. ISI backed terrorists have reduced but insurgency still remains as a major issue and it is finally the Kashmiri that suffers. The onus now lies on India to maintain peace and thwart all Pakistani attempts aimed at disruption and insurgency. Maintaining status quo is important and working towards abrogation of Article 370 is imperative.

The Inception of India

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At the outset, I’d like to state this; India, as a country, is based on a faulty idea. The existence of India as a united nation should’ve been unimaginable. The people of the country were not united by a common tongue, religion or ideals. From ancient times, India had been divided into small territories ruled by resident dynasties and feudal lords. Although most of the northern part was under Mughal rule before the arrival of the British, rest of the country was reined by regional dynasties, much like the regional parties that rule these states even today. The only reason why we exist was because the British ruled the land completely and before leaving decided to brand us under a common flag.

Most countries are united by a common language. This is how Europe was divided and fought wars. People with the same mother tongue were assumed to be part of the same country. But when we look at India this is simply not the case. While we pride ourselves in the fact that we have 18 official languages, it is this difference which leads to discord. One cannot impose Hindi on Tamils nor can a Marathi expect to live in Kolkata without basic knowledge of Bengali. Hindi is the mode of communication in cosmopolitan areas and with the advent of English, language barriers are being diminished however this was not the case during independence. How could one expect a Gujarati and Bihari to unite under the same flag? Even though the language barriers were many, our founding fathers decided to unite all of us under the same banner.

Countries are also based on the basic ideal of religion. We needn’t go far for an evidence of this fact. Our very own nemesis, Pakistan is the best example. Most countries established on religious lines are Islamic. Nepal remains the sole Hindu nation of the world. Due to our backwardness and illiteracy, establishing a secular society should’ve been a humongous challenge and it remains so even today. While religious riots abound in our own backyard, our politicians happily wear the mask of secularism. Caste and creed is another line which divides the Indians into barbaric brutes even today. Even people with the same language and religion looked down upon their comrades as untouchables.

Probably the best evidence of the defective nature of our survival was the First War of Independence in 1857. Fought by the rebel British Army consisting of Indian soldiers, this war failed to realize its true potential due to the limited numbers and the uncoordinated nature of the uprising. How could a small European nation thousands of miles away defeat a nation as vast as ours (in terms of population)? Lack of unity comes to mind. Even after this, while most of India united under Mahatma Gandhi, rebels like Bhagat Singh and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose were still around, trying to pull the country in different directions, ideologically.

One might argue that how the United States with its diversity manages to do better than us on most fronts? A country like US was based on unified ideals and opened its doors to immigrants only after achieving relative stability. The issue of race led to a Civil War there too which denotes how the human race is incapable of accepting other individuals as equals.

On almost all counts, the people of India are diverse. We do not understand the culture of other states. We fail to grasp their language. When India gained independence, political analysts worldwide lamented the possibility of having another country which would soon descend into anarchy and military dictatorship. Democracy wasn’t the way of life for Indians during independence and it still isn’t the right choice of government. What we required was an authoritarian government at the outset. Not a dictatorship but a totalitarian regime. Indians should not have been allowed the kinds of freedom they were with the kind of education and background that they had. Indira Gandhi’s emergency was actually commendable for its governance record, albeit it should be condemned for its unethical implementation.

So why are we still the largest democracy and hold free and fair elections, the biggest exercise on earth, every five years successfully? There is no answer to this. We have proved wrong all those forecasters who wrote us off. The neighbouring Pakistan which was established on common lines had up until recently never had a government completing its full term in office and descended in military dictatorship quite often. What unites a Dravidian with a Punjabi is unknown. Why have we not descended into anarchy is not quite answerable. But the fact is, by some margin, we are one of the most diverse countries on this planet. We may eat, pray, talk, live and vote differently but we still sing the same anthem, worship the same flag and get buried in the same soil. We may have nothing in common but we still fight for the same nation on the borders when external forces threaten our existence. So although we weren’t supposed to be united as long as we have been, we continue to prove the rest of the world wrong and in a subtle way we corroborate the statement, “Unity in Diversity”.

India-The Economic Powerhouse or Underdog?

It is only post 1991 that the Indian economy was taken seriously by the rest of the world. The economy’s honeymoon period began soon enough with the growth of the service sector. Growth rates took off and suddenly India found itself among the world’s fastest growing economies. Under the policies of the Narsimha Rao led government and the able financial expertise of Manmohan Singh, the economic turnaround was successfully overseen. Then came the Vajpayee led NDA which practically did wonders for the economy. Vajpayee’s national highway project was lauded throughout the nation and created the kind of infrastructure that the Indian economy needed.

The economic sanctions after the Pokhran tests hurt India quite a bit. However, the country bounced back on the back of pro-privatization reforms pushed through by Vajpayee. Then, in 2004, a change in government brought the Congress-led UPA to power. This was the Indian economy’s honeymoon period. Growth reached a staggering 9 % and it was balle-balle for the Indian economy. However, it wasn’t entirely due to the policies of Congress. This government had the advantage of an economist Prime Minister and they were riding high on the seeds sown by the Vajpayee government. Growth did reach record highs but the infrastructure was put forth by Vajpayee’s vision. The erstwhile government had to merely steer the economy along the right paths.

In 2008, just a year before the general elections, the global economic meltdown began with the Lehamnn brothers bankruptcy. India survived the worst stage and people thought we were on our merry way again. However, that was not to be. As the Congress-led UPA got re-elected, the economic doldrums began. It exposed UPA-1’s lack of policy review and a subsidy-rich regime which had its effects on the exchequer. The farm-loan waiver scheme, brought forth as an election sop, has had lasting effects on the fiscal deficit.

Slowly but steadily, India’s image as the poster boy collapsed. With a rising fiscal deficit and a sky-rocketing current account deficit (CAD), the Rupee tumbled to record lows. Since then, growth has slumped and in 2013, the finance ministry found it hard to tackle the CAD crisis. Sensex and Nifty were also affected by the downturn as India was declared behind nations like Pakistan and Nigeria on the Ease of Doing Business Index. A weak finance ministry and a feeble Prime Minister’s Office were unable to tide the country over the downturn. It was only after the Congress top brass realized that the subsequent elections would be fought on economical basis and provision of jobs; its archaic license-raj measures were eased. Despite having an economist Prime Minister (perhaps the most able economist considering the 1991 reforms), the Congress led UPA converted the economy to the global underdog.

Recently, on the back of favourable predictions for BJP’s business friendly Modi, the Sensex and Nifty have climbed to record highs. Even the Rupee has become South Asia’s best performing currency with foreign inflows. Foreign investors have shown an optimistic approach towards the economy which in 2013 was downgraded by prominent rating agencies. What India needs though, is a stable government, first of all. Secondly, one that is business friendly, arguable the current BJP. The subsidy regime must be ended with high expenditure on the Food Security Bill and the subsidy on LPG cylinders. The next government must realise that jobs entice the public more and dearer than subsidies. The best way to earn votes in the current scenario is ensuring growth and jobs for the youth. Good Economics is indeed Good Politics!

Naxalite Movement – India’s Homegrown Terror

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Although, modern day India is highly capitalist in nature, it wasn’t so until before 1991 when socialism prevailed. However, India’s socialism never really took off as lives of peasants and landless labourers were nothing less than nightmares. Under the erstwhile government, India’s peasantry suffered. This led to formation of hardcore communist parties under Mao Zedong’s ideologies. Ultimately, giving rise to what is today known as the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency.

This movement originated and took a violent turn in West Bengal’s village Naxalbari. The militants fought for rights of landless and tribal farmers who were exploited frequently. Various factions of Communist Party of India were formed with a huge support base among villagers and peasants. They ambushed policemen, government servants and anyone and everyone who exploited the landless locals.

Slowly and steadily, they grew in number and the movement became violent. The Naxal movement originated in West Bengal but soon spread to nearby states of Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, Chattisgarh and even as far as Andhra Pradesh and Karantaka. Naxals demanded right for the farmers, through violent methods. Some of their deadliest attacks include the slaughter of 76 CRPF jawans in 2010 and their daring attack on the Congress leaders of Chattisgarh in 2013. One of their most recent attacks was on March 11, 2014 when they ambushed and killed around 15 CRPF men.

What has the government done to tackle this situation? It introduced the ‘Integrated Plan of Action’ to fight the Naxals, which was successfully implemented in Karantaka. It included proper development and police funding in backward areas of the state. The government has also announced pardons to Naxal cadre who surrender. However, this hasn’t taken off as the fight of the Naxals is for equality and development, which cannot be guaranteed by surrendering. Naxalite movement is still quite strong in Chattisgarh. Naxals engage in guerilla warfare and the backward and forest regions of Chattisgarh provide them perfect cover. Government has deployed the CRPF to fight this insurgency however, success has been limited. India has alleged that neighbouring Pakistan and China have supported this movement by provision of arms and ammo.

So far, government’s success on the Naxals has been quite limited and requires sustained efforts. The slaughter of CRPF men in ambushes is nothing new. The country is reeling with caste discrimination and inequality. Tribal farmers are neglected and exploited often. The aim of the government must not be to fight and kill the insurgents; it should be to provide social development and upliftment of these sections of the society. India’s progress would be deterred unless it is inclusive in nature. Unrelenting efforts must be made to engage the Naxals in peace-talks and to ensure and promise growth in regions like Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar to tackle the insurgents. The onus is on the government to solve the problem non-violently.

Indo-China Conundrum

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India and China share a relationship, which has continued since time immemorial. Our two nations were even connected by the Silk Road. Lately, however, the media has presented this relationship as quite rocky. What we Indians must understand is that quite like India, even Chinese history was imperialistic and tyrannical in nature. The Indians have been quite wary of the Red Dragon’s rise, economic and military in nature.

Probably the first major conflict was the Sino-Indian war of 1962 under Nehru. It was on the backdrop of Nehru’s Panchsheel agreement, to ensure safety from border disputes. However, Nehru’s approach towards boundary demarcation was quite nonchalant and India’s support for Tibet’s independence cost us dearly. After a comprehensive defeat, the slogan of “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” was lost forever. Quite a few border skirmishes followed and continue even today. China is widely perceived as Asia’a big bully as, by the power of its might, it deters other countries to explore oil in the South China Sea (international waters). Even China and Japan have major disputes mostly due to bad blood. Owing to all this, India has seriously considered increasing its military might and army deployment on the LAC (Line of Actual Control). However, our indigenous weapons development is negligible and our economy is subdued due to vast trade imbalances with China. India doesn’t possess enough militaristic superiority to argue its position in terms of Aksai Chin. China, however, openly claims Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet. For India, it is important that status-quo is maintained. We cannot sustain an arms race with China and nor should we engage in one. Why?

Most people in China are not even aware about a Sino-Indian conflict or about tense border relations. Even popular Chinese dailies have spoken against a possible Indo-China conflict. An Indo-China conflict is highly unlikely as it may have the potential to start a World War and due to a significant military arsenal of both countries. However, what concerns Indians the most is the friendly relations of China and Pakistan. It is of course a worry that if Pakistan finds a trade and military ally in China, it would ring bells in India. China has recently helped Pakistan build infrastructure around 10km from the LoC. Also, China has a good influence on our neighbours like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. India must therefore tread carefully. But by creating a monster out of China, we are depriving ourselves an economic opportunity. Transfer of technology from China and greater trade relations are to India’s advantage as China has been a contender for the top spot in world politics for quite some time, currently acquired by the US which is on a shaky ground. We would do ourselves a favour by engaging in trade with China.