Archive for ‘Caste’


‘War’ and India PM Modi’s muscular strongman image

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he speaks during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) "Sankalp" rally in Patna in the Indian eastern state of Bihar on March 3, 2019.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionMr Modi is accused of exploiting India-Pakistan hostilities for political gain

A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth, American political journalist Michael Kinsley said.

Last week, a prominent leader of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appeared to have done exactly that. BS Yeddyurappa said the armed aerial hostilities between India and Pakistan would help his party win some two dozen seats in the upcoming general election.

The remark by Mr Yeddyurappa, former chief minister of Karnataka, was remarkable in its candour. Not surprisingly, it was immediately seized upon by opposition parties. They said it was a brazen admission of the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party was mining the tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals ahead of general elections, which are barely a month away. Mr Modi’s party is looking at a second term in power.

Mr Yeddyurappa’s plain-spokenness appeared to have embarrassed even the BJP. Federal minister VK Singh issued a statement, saying the government’s decision to carry out air strikes in Pakistan last week was to “safeguard our nation and ensure safety of our citizens, not to win a few seats”. No political party can afford to concede that it was exploiting a near war for electoral gains.

A billboard displaying an image of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding a rifle is seen on a roadside in Ahmedabad on March 3, 2019.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe BJP has put up election posters of Mr Modi posing with guns

Even as tensions between India and Pakistan ratcheted up last week, Mr Modi went on with business as usual. Hours after the Indian attack in Pakistan’s Balakot region, he told a packed election meeting that the country was in safe hands and would “no longer be helpless in the face of terror”. Next morning, Pakistan retaliated and captured an Indian pilot who ejected from a downed fighter jet. Two days later, Pakistan returned the pilot to India.

Mr Modi then told a gathering of scientists that India’s aerial strikes were merely a “pilot project” and hinted there was more to come. Elsewhere, his party chief Amit Shah said India had killed more than 250 militants in the Balakot attack even as senior defence officials said they didn’t know how many had died. Gaudy BJP posters showing Mr Modi holding guns and flanked by soldiers, fighter jets and orange explosions have been put up in parts of the country. “Really uncomfortable with pictures of soldiers on election posters and podiums. This should be banned. Surely the uniform is sullied by vote gathering in its name,” tweeted Barkha Dutt, an Indian television journalist and author.

Mr Modi has appealed to the opposition to refrain from politicising the hostilities. The opposition parties are peeved because they believe Mr Modi has not kept his word. Last week, they issued a statement saying “national security must transcend narrow political considerations”.

‘Petty political gain’

But can the recent conflict fetch more votes for Mr Modi? In other words, can national security become a campaign plank?

Many believe Mr Modi is likely to make national security the pivot of his campaign. Before last month’s suicide attack – claimed by Pakistan-based militants – killed more than 40 Indian paramilitaries in Kashmir, Mr Modi was looking a little vulnerable. His party had lost three state elections on the trot to the Congress party. Looming farm and jobs crises were threatening to hurt the BJP’s prospects.

Now, many believe, Mr Modi’s chances look brighter as he positions himself as a “muscular” protector of the country’s borders. “This is one of the worst attempts to use war to win [an] election, and to use national security as petty political gain. But I don’t know whether it will succeed or not,” says Yogendra Yadav, a politician and psephologist.

Indian people feed sweets to a poster of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they celebrate the Indian Air Force"s air strike across the Line of Control (LoC) near the international border with PakistanImage copyrightEPA
Image captionMany Indians have celebrated India’s strike in Pakistani territory

Evidence is mixed on whether national security helps ruling parties win elections in India. Ashutosh Varshney, a professor of political science at Brown University in the US, says previous national security disruptions in India were “distant from the national elections”.

The wars in 1962 (against China) and 1971 (against Pakistan) broke out after general elections. Elections were still two years away when India and Pakistan fought a war in 1965. The 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that brought the two countries to the brink of war happened two years after a general election. The Mumbai attacks in 2008 took place five months before the elections in 2009 – and the then ruling Congress party won without making national security a campaign plank.

Things may be different this time. Professor Varshney says the suicide attack in Kashmir on 14 February and last week’s hostilities are “more electorally significant than the earlier security episodes”.

For one, he says, it comes just weeks ahead of a general election in a highly polarised country. The vast expansion of the urban middle class means that national security has a larger constituency. And most importantly, according to Dr Varshney, “the nature of the regime in Delhi” is an important variable. “Hindu nationalists have always been tougher on national security than the Congress. And with rare exceptions, national security does not dominate the horizons of regional parties, governed as they are by caste and regional identities.”

Presentational grey line

Read more from Soutik Biswas

Presentational grey line

Bhanu Joshi, a political scientist also at Brown University, believes Mr Modi’s adoption of a muscular and robust foreign policy and his frequent international trips to meet foreign leaders may have touched a chord with a section of voters. “During my work in northern India, people would continuously invoke the improvement in India’s stature in the international arena. These perceptions get reinforced with an event like [the] Balakot strikes and form impressions which I think voters, particularly on a bipolar contest of India and Pakistan, care about,” says Mr Joshi.

Others like Milan Vaishnav, senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, echo a similar sentiment. He told me that although foreign policy has never been a “mass” issue in India’s domestic politics, “given the proximity of the conflict to the elections, the salience of Pakistan, and the ability of the Modi government to claim credit for striking back hard, I expect it will become an important part of the campaign”.

But Dr Vaishnav believes it will not displace the economy and farm distress as an issue, especially in village communities. “Where it will help the BJP most is among swing voters, especially in urban constituencies. If there were fence-sitters unsure of how to vote in 2019, this emotive issue might compel them to stick with the incumbent.”

How the opposition counters Mr Modi’s agenda-setting on national security will be interesting to watch. Even if the hostilities end up giving a slight bump to BJP prospects in the crucial bellwether states in the north, it could help take the party over the winning line. But then even a week is a long time in politics.

Source: The BBC


Why are millions of Indians marching in silence? – BBC News

It is a unique protest: the silent marchers have no leaders; and they include the peasant and the professional. Women lead many of the marches; and politicians are not allowed to seize them. It is a sound of silence, says a commentator, that India can ill afford to ignore.

The protesters belong to the Maratha caste, one of India’s proudest – the warrior king Shivaji was one of them. Mostly farmers, they comprise more than a third of one of the population of Maharashtra, a relatively prosperous state, which is home, on one hand to Bollywood, thriving factories and farms and on the other, malnourished children and neglected tribespeople living in abject poverty.

Huge protests

The rape of a teenage Maratha girl allegedly by three low caste Dalit men triggered the silent marches in July. Then the protests expanded to include a demand for quotas in college seats and government jobs and a review of a 27-year-old federal law that protects Dalits and tribespeople from caste-related atrocities.

What is India’s caste system?

Why India’s farm communities are angryAfter more than 20 such rallies, the silent marchers – who call themselves the Maratha Revolutionary Silent Rallies – are expected to gather in the western Indian state capital, Mumbai, at the end of October. More than 10 million people are expected to participate in what could turn out to be one of largest protests in India in recent memory.

The upper-caste, largely land-owning Marathas have a handful of grumbles.

For one, they have turned their ire on the Dalits and tribespeople, alleging that the law to protect them has become a pretext to target the upper caste community, and lodge false cases against them. (The victims also get state compensation for as many as 47 offences against them.)

Image copyright VAISHALI GALIM

But this may not be an entirely truthful claim. Although dalits and tribespeople – India’s wretched of the earth – comprise 19% of Maharashtra’s population, but only 1% of the police complaints were filed by them last year, according to one report. Also the federal law was applicable in less than 40% of the complaints.

Social unrest

Clearly this disingenuous grievance masks a longer-standing demand: caste quotas in government jobs and seats in educational institutions. India’s Supreme Court has put a 50% cap on caste quotas, a limit that has already been reached in Maharashtra. Any concessions to the Marathas will mean that they will have to be officially labelled backward or less-privileged and the quotas will have to come at the expense of those for the less privileged castes. This could potentially trigger off bloody caste wars in the state.

The silent marchers of Maharashtra point to a host of structural infirmities afflicting India, which, if not resolved in time, could stoke widespread social unrest.

Growing inequity and decades of flagrant cronyism has meant that power and wealth continue to belong to a few.

The majority of colleges, cooperative banks and sugar factories in Maharashtra, for example, are owned by a clutch of politicians. According to one estimate, 3,000 families own more than 70% of all the farms in the state. The majority of the state’s 18 chief ministers have been Marathas. Half of its lawmakers belong to the community as well.

Image copyright MANSI THAPLIYAL Maratha farmers have taken their lives after they failed to repay debts

But caste and class don’t often coalesce in India, and the Marathas, like other upper caste communities have mixed fortunes: they are the educated elite and the rich farmers, but they are also the struggling small and landless farmers and farm workers. More than a third of Marathas are landless, according to one estimate.

It is the “lower and middle-rung Marathas who feel isolated, neglected, marginalised in the job market and denied opportunities in higher education,” in a fast-changing country, as commentator Kumar Ketkar points out in this perceptive essay on the ongoing protests.

The silent marches also shine a spotlight on its looming farm crisis as farmer incomes plummet due to expensive feedstuff, fertiliser, labour and erratic crop prices.


Plot sizes have also shrunk, making farming unrewarding. Most of India’s farms are rain fed, and irregular weather changes are playing havoc with crops as rivers are drying up, and drought is common. Farmers are often left to fend for themselves and have no skills for jobs in India’s services-based economy. Aspiration is turning into frustration.

The Maratha protests also point to how India is veering towards what sociologist Andre Beteille called a “populist democracy” where social and political life are influenced by group identities and loyalties. “Problems arise when the loyalties of kinship and community are allowed to distort and override the demands of constitutional government,” wrote Professor Beteille.

Image copyright MANSI THAPLIYAL Farming is becoming an unrewarding profession

Many believe India’s quotas for seats and jobs are in a sordid mess of its own making.

It is indisputable that affirmative action is essential for communities like dalits and tribespeople who have been historically wronged. But extending it to other castes recklessly can distort matters.

How much burden of quotas can a state bear without being weakened irreparably? India needs jobs – and fast – and skills training if it has to avoid the social unrest that could blight a developing nation. Otherwise, the marchers of Maharashtra may not remain silent for long.

Source: Why are millions of Indians marching in silence? – BBC News


India Police Probe Trade in Human Organs – India Real Time – WSJ

Police in India’s capital Delhi have uncovered a complex network illegally trading in kidneys. Suryatapa Bhattacharya report.

Earlier this month, a woman marched into a police station in India’s capital to file a domestic-abuse complaint and then made another allegation: that her husband was involved in illegal organ-trafficking.

Police said that accusation sparked a probe that had yielded 12 arrests as of Tuesday after authorities said they uncovered a complex nationwide network that was illegally trading in kidneys.

Donors, mostly poor residents of rural areas, were paid about $6,000 to give their kidneys to wealthier people in need of transplants, police said. The recipients paid more than $37,000. Traffickers produced counterfeit documents to make it appear as though the donors and recipients were related, police said. A 1994 law outlawed organ sales but permitted donations between family members.

The suspects—including five middlemen and four people who allegedly sold their own kidneys—were held on suspicion of trafficking in human organs and forgery, police said. They were in custody and couldn’t be reached for comment. It was unclear if they had legal representation.

Most countries prohibit organ selling, in part because of fears the poor and sick will be exploited by unscrupulous brokers.

Source: India Police Probe Trade in Human Organs – India Real Time – WSJ


For young Indian urbanites, caste is no longer a marital consideration – but Mummy and Papa are

Caste and language are losing significance in urban India, at least as far as marriage is concerned, according to a survey of more than 400 single adults in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. But other social traditions are not being forgotten: adults between the ages of 20 and 35 say the most important thing is that their partner respects elders and treats their spouse’s family just as they do their own.

More than half of the participants in the survey conducted by Floh, a forum for singles to meet and interact online and offline, said they would take the decision of whom to marry jointly with their parents. Only 22% believed that they could marry someone their parents did not entirely approve of. The respondents all came from similar socio-economic background, with at least an undergraduate degree and earning more than Rs 40,000 per month.

Floh founder Siddharth Mangharam believes that the survey shows that India treads its own path when it comes to social interactions. “We are not following some Western ideology, just 20 or 30 years behind,” he said.

Young urban Indians – and parents, who were also interviewed – seem to have unshakable faith in the idea that humans fall in love at first sight. When asked, 71% of single adults and 62% of parents said they were convinced the phenomenon existed. Most respondents’ main reason for being single was that they had not found the “right one”.

via – News. Politics. Culture..


Why caste still matters in India | The Economist

INDIA’S general election will take place before May. The front-runner to be the next prime minister is Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party, currently chief minister of Gujarat. A former tea-seller, he has previously attacked leaders of the ruling Congress party as elitist, corrupt and out of touch. Now he is emphasising his humble caste origins. In a speech in January he said “high caste” Congress leaders were scared of taking on a rival from “a backward caste”. If Mr Modi does win, he would be the first prime minister drawn from the “other backward classes”, or OBC, group. He is not the only politician to see electoral advantage in bringing up the subject: caste still matters enormously to most Indians.

The country’s great, liberal constitution was supposed to end the millennia-old obsession with the idea that your place in life, including your occupation, is set at birth. It abolished “untouchability”—the practice whereby others in society exclude so-called untouchables, or Dalits, as polluting—which has now mostly disappeared from Indian society. Various laws forbid discrimination by caste. At the same time (it is somewhat contradictory) official schemes push “positive” discrimination by caste, reserving quotas of places in higher education, plus jobs in government, to help groups deemed backward or deprived. In turn, some politicians have excelled at appealing to voters by caste, promising them ever more goodies. For example Mayawati, formerly chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state (population: over 200m) and just possibly a future prime minister, leads a Dalit party. In another northern state, Bihar, parties jostle to build coalitions of caste groups. Everywhere voters can be swayed by the caste of candidates.

But don’t blame politicians alone. Strong social actors—such as leaders of “khap panchayats” (all-male, unelected village councils) or doughty family elders—do much more to keep caste-identity going. Consider marriages. In rural areas it can be fatal to disregard social rules and marry someone of a different, especially if lower caste. Haryana, a socially conservative state in north India, is notorious for frequent murders of young men and women who transgress. Even in town, caste is an important criterion when marriages are arranged. Look at matrimonial ads in any newspaper, or try registering for a dating site, and intricate details on caste and sub-caste are explicitly listed and sought (“Brahmin seeks Brahmin”, “Mahar looking for Mahar”) along with those on religion, education, qualifications, earning power and looks. Studies of such sites suggest that only a quarter of participants state that “caste is no bar”. Such attitudes also reflect the anxieties of parents, who are keen for children to marry within the same group, because marriages bring extended families intimately together.

As long as marriages are mostly within the same caste, therefore, don’t expect any law or public effort to wipe away the persistent obsession with it. That seems set to continue for a long time: a survey in 2005 found that only 11% of women in India had married outside their caste, for example. What is changing for the better, if too slowly, is the importance of caste in determining what jobs, wealth, education and other opportunities are available to an average person. No caste exists for a call-centre worker, computer programmer or English teacher, for example. The more of those jobs that are created, and the more people escape India’s repressive villages, the quicker progress can come.

via The Economist explains: Why caste still matters in India | The Economist.

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Fandry puts a harsh spotlight on India’s caste system – Reuters

Nagraj Manjule grew up as a Dalit, an untouchable, scorned by a caste system that he says never lets you forget how low you are. The short-film director channeled the shame and the ridicule of his childhood into his first feature film, “Fandry” (“Pig”) which won the Jury Grand Prize at the Mumbai Film Festival last month.

The movie is about a Dalit schoolboy named Jabya (Somnath Awghade) who  lives on the outskirts of a village and struggles against the caste system by daring to dream, and eventually rebelling against the perpetrators of that system.

He harbours a crush on a fair-skinned, Brahmin class-mate, dreams of buying fancy new blue jeans, and uses talcum powder to try to make his dusky face fair. Through scenes with his father, his best friend and the village maverick who becomes friends with Jabya, Manjule tells the audience that little has changed. The powerful climax gives the audience a glimpse into Jabya’s insecurities, his reluctance to accept his identity, before he finally snaps, retaliating against those ridiculing him and his family.

“You are constantly told you are no good, and never will be. In some way or the other, there is so much humiliation, that after a while you begin to believe that what is being said about you is true,” Manjule said in an interview.

His childhood was much like Jabya’s. One difference was his father, who, unlike Jabya’s somewhat tyrannical father, wanted him to study. Manjule devoured books, reading Marathi and English literature whenever he got a chance. His ticket to a better life came when he left his village to study Marathi literature at the University of Pune.

via India Insight.


Photo gallery: A walk through Mayawati’s Dalit park | India Insight

On a hot Tuesday afternoon, I walked into the recently reopened Dalit park in Noida, outside New Delhi. This is the park built by Mayawati, the 57-year-old former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, as a memorial to the class of people long known in India as “untouchables.” A Dalit herself, Mayawati is a symbol of what traditionally oppressed classes and castes in India can do with their lives.

Of course, Mayawati has been accused by her political opponents of wasting money — lots of it. She seems like an easy target, especially when she has commissioned statues of herself. For a senior Congress politician, erecting one’s own statue was an act of ‘megalomania’. But the symbolism that this structure seeks to attach itself with — asserting Dalit identity and acknowledging “sacrifices” made by people of backward classes — is hard to miss.

The high central chamber of the Dalit park, which is a short drive into Uttar Pradesh from Delhi, draws heavily on Buddhist architecture. It houses statues of B. R. Ambedkar, who helped draft India’s Constitution; Kanshi Ram, founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party that Mayawati now heads; and the former chief minister herself with her ubiquitous handbag, an uncommon thing for a living politician to do.

The 40-metre-high structure is surrounded by 20 sculptures of elephants, 10 on either side. The remaining complex, built at a cost of nearly 7 billion rupees ($113 million), includes bronze statues of Ambedkar and other “pioneers of social transformation,” and replicas of the Ashoka Chakra.

“The Dalits fought like anybody else in the struggle against the British. She is underscoring it that it is this part of history that you have not talked about for the last 65 years,” said Sohail Hashmi, a Delhi-based historian.

The park was inaugurated by Mayawati two years ago. But when the Samajwadi Party came to power last year, led by Akhilesh Yadav, a probe was ordered into alleged irregularities in its construction. The investigation is still on but Yadav threw open the park on Oct. 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, a decision that caused controversy of its own.

Spread over some 80 acres, the “Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal” (or the national Dalit memorial)  is located on the banks of the Yamuna river.

One of the 4,000 visitors to visit the park in the week since it was reopened was Rajiv Prasad.

“I wanted to witness the history and achievements of our people. The history of the oppressed people that has been written gives us self-confidence. If money has been spent on this, it’s good,” said the college principal from Bihar, born in Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh.

Neeraja Choudhury, a political analyst, said there probably are better ways to assert the identity of India’s so-called backward classes.“If I were to do it, I would certainly go in for Dalit education because the largest group of illiterates in the world is Dalit girls. Seven hundred crores would have gone a long way in building those high quality institutions to bring about educational revolution for Dalits.”

via Photo gallery: A walk through Mayawati’s Dalit park | India Insight.

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Uncertain Times in India, but Not for a Deity

NY Times: “As this year’s monsoon season receded, onions were selling for an eye-popping 58 cents a pound, and inflation had accelerated to a six-month high. It has been a period of belt-tightening in India’s financial capital, a slow but sure blunting of hopes.

But you would hardly have known that if you were standing under a 25-foot, gemstone-encrusted statue of the elephant-headed god Ganesh, who is believed to have the power to remove obstacles.

The idol, necklaces cascading from its neck, was unloaded at the edge of the Arabian Sea on Wednesday to be submerged in the water alongside its brethren: the Ganesh laden with 145 pounds of gold ornaments; the Ganesh that was fitted with a new satin loincloth each day of the 10-day festival marking his birthday; the Ganesh lounging under strobe lights and crystal chandeliers, one plump foot resting on a gold-dusted globe.

This year’s crop of Ganeshes — about 13,000 of them, according to the evening news — stood out for its gaudiness.

Narendra Dahibawkar, who heads an umbrella organization overseeing the city’s idol-producing groups, said spending on this year’s Ganeshes was up 10 percent over 2012. The number of visitors during the festival had reportedly risen between 10 percent and 30 percent across the city, with five- and six-hour waits to make a wish. Mr. Dahibawkar said he thought the underlying reason was worry.

“People are coming because they are insecure — about rising prices, about the way ladies are treated,” Mr. Dahibawkar said. “The government is not just to them. Only God.”

At midafternoon, the idols began trundling past the graceful, derelict facades of Marine Drive, past the King of Kings Printers, to the edge of the sea. Prancing beside them were men and women dusted with vermilion powder, so they looked like red ghosts.

Nikita Trevedi, 27, a pharmacist, watched dreamily as boys poled a raft heavy with idols out to the open sea and slid them below the surface of the water. It was a grander display than she had seen growing up in the 1980s.

“Belief is growing,” she said happily. “It’s like going back in time.”

The annual immersion of Ganesh became popular in the early 20th century as part of the Indian independence movement. It provided a way to bridge the gap between castes, and it served as a pretext for gathering without the interference of British forces.”

via Uncertain Times in India, but Not for a Deity –

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* In search of a dream

As usual, The Economist has encapsulated India’s dilemma superbly. India is at a crossroads between a welfare oriented approach that has not really worked for 60+ years and a growth driven approach that has been of great service to China for the past two decades. But are Indians ready to make a paradigm shift? Only future history will tell.

The Economist: “When India won independence 65 years ago, its leaders had a vision for the country’s future. In part, their dream was admirable and rare for Asia: liberal democracy. Thanks to them, Indians mostly enjoy the freedom to protest, speak up, vote, travel and pray however and wherever they want to; and those liberties have ensured that elected civilians, not generals, spies, religious leaders or self-selecting partymen, are in charge. If only their counterparts in China, Russia, Pakistan and beyond could say the same.

But the economic part of the vision was a failure. Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the independence movement, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, and his daughter, Indira Gandhi, left the country with a reverence for poverty, a belief in self-reliance and an overweening state that together condemned the country to a dismal 3-4% increase in annual GDP—known as the “Hindu rate of growth”—for the best part of half a century.

That led to a balance-of-payments crisis 21 years ago which forced India to change. Guided by Manmohan Singh, then finance minister, the government liberalised the economy, scrapping licensing and opening up to traders and investors. The results, in time, were spectacular. A flourishing services industry spawned world-class companies. The economy boomed. Wealth and social gains followed, literacy soared, life-expectancy and incomes rose, and gradually Indians started decamping from villages to towns.

But reforms have not gone far enough (see our special report). Indian policy still discourages foreign investment and discriminates in favour of small, inefficient firms and against large, efficient ones. The state controls too much of the economy and subsidies distort prices. The damage is felt in both the private and the public sectors. Although India’s service industries employ millions of skilled people, the country has failed to create the vast manufacturing base that in China has drawn unskilled workers into the productive economy. Corruption in the public sector acts as a drag on business, while the state fails to fulfil basic functions in health and education. Many more people are therefore condemned to poverty in India than in China, and their prospects are deteriorating with India’s economic outlook. Growth is falling and inflation and the government’s deficit are rising.

Modest changes, big fuss

To ease the immediate problems and to raise the country’s growth rate, more reforms are needed. Labour laws that help make Indian workers as costly to employers as much better-paid Chinese ones need to be scrapped. Foreign-investment rules need to be loosened to raise standards in finance, higher education and infrastructure. The state’s role in power, coal, railways and air travel needs to shrink. Archaic, British-era rules on buying land need to be changed.

Among economists, there is a widespread consensus about the necessary policy measures. Among politicians, there is great resistance to them. Look at the storm that erupted over welcome but modest reformist tinkering earlier this month. Mr Singh’s government lost its biggest coalition ally for daring to lift the price of subsidised diesel and to let in foreign supermarkets, under tight conditions.

Democracy, some say, is the problem, because governments that risk being tipped out of power are especially unwilling to impose pain on their people. That’s not so. Plenty of democracies—from Brazil through Sweden to Poland—have pushed through difficult reforms. The fault lies, rather, with India’s political elite. If the country’s voters are not sold on the idea of reform, it is because its politicians have presented it to them as unpleasant medicine necessary to fend off economic illness rather than as a means of fulfilling a dream.

Another time, another place

In many ways, India looks strikingly like America in the late 19th century. It is huge, diverse, secular (though its people are religious), materialistic, largely tolerant and proudly democratic. Its constitution balances the central government’s authority with considerable state-level powers. Rapid social change is coming with urban growth, more education and the rise of big companies. Robber barons with immense riches and poor taste may be shamed into becoming legitimate political donors, philanthropists and promoters of education. As the country’s wealth grows, so does its influence abroad.

For India to fulfil its promise, it needs its own version of America’s dream. It must commit itself not just to political and civic freedoms, but also to the economic liberalism that will allow it to build a productive, competitive and open economy, and give every Indian a greater chance of prosperity. That does not mean shrinking government everywhere, but it does mean that the state should pull out of sectors it has no business to be in. And where it is needed—to organise investment in infrastructure, for instance, and to regulate markets—it needs to become more open in its dealings.

India’s politicians need to espouse this vision and articulate it to the voters. Mr Singh has done his best; but he turned 80 on September 26th, and is anyway a bureaucrat at heart, not a leader. The remnants of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, to whom many Indians still naturally turn, are providing no leadership either— maybe because they do not have it in them, maybe because they have too much at stake to abandon the old, failed vision. Sonia Gandhi, Nehru’s grand-daughter-in-law and Congress’s shadowy president, shows enthusiasm for welfare schemes, usually named after a relative, but not for job-creating reforms. If her son Rahul, the heir apparent to lead Congress, understands the need for a dynamic economy, there’s no way of knowing it, for he never says anything much.

These people are hindering India’s progress, not helping it. It is time to shake off the past and dump them. The country needs politicians who see the direction it should take, understand the difficult steps required, and can persuade their countrymen that the journey is worthwhile. If it finds such leaders, there is no limit to how far India might go.”


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