Updated 26 March 2013
Over 25 years anything can happen. So, on this and the previous pages we are going to do our best to highlight political pitfalls that could seriously impact the future.
India, by contrast to China, is relatively stable. However there are some serious challenges that could render India unstable. The challenges we envisage are:
- The continuing ability of the Indian National Congress Party to either hold its majority or to be able to govern with a workable coalition.
- The patience of Indian ‘have nots’, especially the militant dissidents in tolerating the rich and government officials in their ‘unfair’ share of wealth, often through corruption.
- The ability of the Indian central government to continue to hold the country together, against the desire of some states to declare UDI.
- The shaky relationship of India with Pakistan, especially over Kashmir, leading to an indigenous Indian Muslim insurgency.
- The success with which genuine democracy becomes accepted practice in India.
We will address each of these in turn.
Although the Indian National Congress Party has been in power for most of the 60 years since Independence, it seldom enjoyed an absolute majority. Fortunately, there are many more parties than in the US or UK, so Congress ends up being on top. But with increasing literacy and a growing middle class, the status quo may not remain.
The patience of Indian ‘have nots’, especially the militant dissidents in tolerating the rich and government officials in their ‘unfair’ share of wealth, often through corruption
In her book, Broken Republic, Arundhati Roy, warns against the rising anger amongst tribal groups amongst whom live the Maoists. In theory, the positive discrimination that India has practised since Independence has helped the Dalits to a large extent, but has not been of much use to the tribal population as the legislation is more about removing barriers than about providing support either financial or material. Now with growing demand for minerals, Indian mining firms and the government are finding both tribals and Maoists in their way. The same conflict applies when new dams are proposed for either irrigation or power purposes. There is no happy scenario ahead.
The problem with corruption in India is that it is pervasive. It does not only affect major contracts – common to many developing nations, but down to everyday transactions such as obtaining a marriage licence or a tax refund. The latest attempt to curb corruption is proposed legislation to make only accepting or soliciting bribes illegal. That gives the briber some incentive to report incidents, whereas at present both the giver and taker are subject to criminal action, deterring anyone from reporting bribery.
On 16 August, 2011, protesters in several major cities clashed with police over the arrest of the leader of the biggest anti-corruption movement – Anna Hazare. Many commentators in the leading papers sided with Mr Hazare, one even declaring that the PM Manmohan Singh had disgraced himself by allowing this to happen. Curiously, Arundhati Roy (see above para) has taken a contrary view and sees setting up a corruption ombudsman as adding to the problem rather than solving it, on the basis that it will be yet another non-democratic institution. Nevertheless on 29 August, government agreed to Shri Hazare’s demands and will initiate legislation that will include an Ombudsman, covering all levels of government, both civil servants and MPs at both federal and regional levels, and have a means for citizens to air their grievances without retribution.
The ability of the Indian central government to continue to hold the country together, against the desire of some north east border states seeking to secede
Some eight new states were split from existing states after Independence. There are other ethnic groups still fighting for recognition, such as Gorkhaland in northern West Bengal. Each split was justified on a case-by-case basis. But the more splits that are approved, the more other minorities clamour for autonomy. The worst case are the four recently-created border states seceded from Assam in the north east, including Arunachal Pradesh which is partly occupied by China since the 1962 border conflict. Many of the people in these states have closer resemblance to Tibetans and Chinese than to Indians.
The tension between some states, especially those on the borders as well as those where the Naxalite Marxists hold sway poses a serious problem to the central government.
The shaky relationship of India with Pakistan, especially over Kashmir, leading to indigenous Indian Muslim terrorist groups
Enough has been said and written about India, Pakistan and Kashmir. The worrying factor that has recently raised its ugly head is the emergence of an indigenous Indian Mujahedeen that is suspected of the July 2011 Mumbai bombings.
The success with which genuine democracy becomes accepted practice in India
There are at least two India’s: one that sits with its peers in the UN, Commonwealth of Nations, ASEAN and other international august bodies; the other very local and traditional and pseudo-feudal. Most villages and villagers, especially in the north of India, pay lip service to national and state laws. They practice, instead, age-old law of the village council, khap panchayat. Unelected village elders, often belonging to families of landlords and money-lenders dictate on matters as dispirit as marriages and land disputes. Khap leaders contend they provide cohesion and stability. Central government sees them as holding back modernity and progress. So-called honour killings for marriages or elopements that have not been approved is a case in point. And these often are caused by breaking of traditional caste rules, which themselves have been outlawed since 1947! Some khap panchayats have tried to ban women from having mobile phones as they see it is one way to be independent of the men-folk.
Note: khap panchayats are self-established entities that seek to reinforce caste practices and are not to be confused with gram panchayats, set up by edict after Independence to foster village self-rule, a sub-division of district which is a sub-division of state.
Earlier, we pointed out that voting in many villages is often unanimous, directly by the elders. This partly because of the power of the elders and also because of low literacy which causes the farmers to look to the elders for direction. This phenomenon is separate from the issues of khap panchayat. Such is not real democracy.
Finally, the growing middle class if finally awakening to the fact that politicians use them and the urban wealth for resources but count on the villagers for power. So far this has led to grumbling in coffee shops. But sometime in the foreseeable future, the patience will break and politics will not be the same again in India.