It is also moment in a life of a nation to ponder over the years gone by and prepare for a new inning. If one goes by some of the Hindu traditional beliefs human being starts a new life after sixty.
Much before the country turned sixty it has started a new life. It made a significant departure from the Nehruvian world view and took a direction which has not only unleashed new potentialities but also accentuated vast disparities in the country.
Social scientist and the author Christophe Jaffrelot says in his recent book “Religion, Caste and Politics in India” that “the 1990s,appear as major turning point in India’s post Independence history”.
It is during this time he says that the “the Nehruvian model” which “relied on four pillars”, like state controlled economy, secularism, conservative democracy and non alignment in foreign policy came to be “revisited in one way or other”.
India made its first formal tryst with market economy in 1991 when in response to a severe economic crisis dismantled the old license permit regime, it divested Planning Commission of some of the “major prerogatives”, liberalized import and export quotas and facilitated the Foreign Direct Investment(FDI) in the country,something which was unprecedented.
The liberalization turned around a sick economy into a robust one with 7-8 percent annual growth. It is on the wave of this liberalization a new middle class has emerged in India who are the mainstay of this new economy. Journalist Sagarika Ghose says that “money becomes not only a legitimate aspiration, but for the first time in Independent India,making money or openly aspiring to make money became morally acceptable”. If Nehru through his policy and vision aroused optimism of a new nation-state the New Economic policy awakened a new hope and unleashed an aspiration to be a dominant player in the world politics.
If economy took turn so is democracy. Eighties and nineties also witnessed what Jaffrelot says “plebianization of politics”. The electoral democracy dominated by the Congress had kept the power confined largely in the hands of the elite class. The implementation of the Mandal Commission report in the late 1980s proved to be “a turning point in terms of democratization of Indian politics” as it for the first time the lower castes(OBCs) challenged the political supremacy of the upper castes. Mulayam Singh Yadav In Uttar Pradesh and Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar symbolized a new resistance against the dominance of elite in politics. It is the success of these plebeian politics that made the elitist Congress and upper caste dominated BJP to incorporate the lower castes.
Further democratization of politics took place with the coming of a party like, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which for the first time gave political power to Dalits. The historically untouchable castes, which have always been at the margin of society and politics, asserted themselves electorally and assumed the mantle of UP, the largest state in India and registered their political presence in the consciousness of the nation.
While democracy has been expanding its base since 1990s it’s however at the same time being challenged by the Hindu rightist parties. Demolition of the Babri Masjid was a great symbolic attack on secularism of the country and an attempt to turn the direction of the country into a majoritarian state. For the first time the Hindu rightist Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) came to power in New Delhi and started a systematic saffronisation of education and democracy. The alleged state sponsored riots by the BJP chief Minister, Narendra Modi in Gujrat in 2002 was the first major attempt to communalize democracy and “reactivate the politics of fear among the Hindus” says Jaffrelot and “reduce certain religious minorities to the status of a second class citizen”.
Another anomaly that crept in the system,particularly, after liberalization, was widening social inequality and “regional disparities within states and between states”. While southern and western Indian states are the main beneficiaries of the the liberalization process the eastern and the northern regions have remained laggards.
The rising backwardness has reflected in the spread of Naxalism in great part of eastern states and some part of western and southern states. Naxalism is serious threat to internal security”, as the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh says, it is, however,a biggest blot on our success story. The mythology of success cannot be completed unless the government addresses the reality of inequality.
India’s transition to a new era of polity and economy coincided with the collapse of the old world order divided into two poles. The end of the Cold War necessitated the need for a rethink on the country’s strategic and economic engagement with immediate neighbours and nations in different parts of the world. Compulsion of a new Economic policy combined with the disintegration of the Soviet Russia brought India closer to the US led blocs and distanced it from its traditional allies. The new reality has given New Delhi an opportunity to play its cards according to its national interest rather than bogged down by any ideological affiliation.
In the new world order India’s proximity with Tel Aviv increased and separation from the Palestinian cause got accentuated. The nuclear civil energy deal with the US made New Delhi almost a strategic partner of Washington. Both the countries have never been as close as they are now-a major departure form the Nehruvian foreign policy At the same time in the light of improved standing of India in the world order the South Asian democracy is also aligning with the non -US blocs, like BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China grouping) and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Therefore, much has changed in India since 1947. Jaffrelot writes that from 1990 onwards the plebeiaization of politics, the ethnicization of democracy, liberalization (cum inequalities) and the rapprochement with the US-these four developments have transformed India in less than 20 years as substantially as the Nehruvian system in the previous four or five decades”.
Is this transformation helping us to “redeem our pledge,” that Nehru talked about in 1947 “at the the stroke of the midnight”-the pledge to rid the country of hunger and poverty “not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially”.
However, at 65 India is not an old country it’s a new one with fresh aspirations and urges. In Hindu tradition an individual at 65 would be just five year old and ready to enter a new world with the wisdom of sixty years of experience.
The country is also brimming with youth, with the wisdom of six decades of democracy. India’s march to future depends not only how it taps the awakened aspirations of youth but also how it liberates the suppressed masses that has so far remained a footnote in this narrative of success. It is only then India can keep its tryst with destiny.
Sanjay Kumar is a New Delhi-based journalist, who covers national and international politics and trends. The view expressed in the article is his personal.