Intrinsic uncertainty and instability – India

Both India and China suffer from serious internal tension

Updated 13 February, 2014

For India the main sources are:

  • The yet-to-be eradicated caste system – outlawed since independence over 60 years ago
  • The disparity between urban and rural population on the one hand and haves and have not’s resulting in a continuing ‘Maoist’ insurgency,
  • The sub-surface antipathy between extreme Hindus and Christians and, of course, between Hindus and Muslims,
  • The yet-to-be resolved Kashmir issue, leading onto Indo-Pakistan mutual mistrust.

India’s internal tensions

Similar to China, there are three main sources of tensions: economic, social, and ethno-religious. Plus there are political tensions.

Economic tensions

Since 1967 there has been a growing spread of the Naxalite insurgency. The name derives from Naxalbari a village in West Bengal where peasants rose against the authorities. It is based on Maoism. And it has now spread across the so-called Red Corridor, holding sway over 40% of the geographic area. The government regards them as more threatening than the situation in Kashmir. Sometimes they are termed the ‘red Taliban’. The Red Corridor, interestingly, connect the two Communist-ruled states of West Bengal to the north east and Kerala to the south west. Though both governments – until 2011 elections, run by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – disclaim any link with the insurgents who are supported and sponsored by the break-away Communist Party of India (Maoist).

The Naxalites have been credited with several train derailments, the blowing up of rural police stations and attacks on other establishments. With the widespread nature of the insurgency, India cannot easily bring its armed forces to bear and has to rely on local police and paramilitary forces. Like guerilla forces everywhere, when the authorities show up, the rebels melt into the background or, in some cases, the jungle.

The root cause for the continuing strength of the Naxalite movement is the ongoing disparity between the rich and poor, between the urban and rural ‘economies’. Sadly, although there are grand plans, it is not clear how they will be implemented and what the consequences will be.

Early in 2014, some kidnapped village officials have been released under ‘parole’ not to go back to their anti-Maoist activities or else the whole village would suffer.  This is a major change from the killing of such officials and the harassment of the villagers from whence the officials came –

For example, big Indian cities have huge slums, none bigger than Dharavi (of Slum Dog Millionaire fame) in Bombay. It was going to be replaced by a modern metropolis as the land is estimated to be worth $10bn under the Mumbai Slum Rehabilitation Authority. But the plans of the MSRA do not show where and how the c600,000 residents (out of c6m slum dwellers in Bombay) were going to be re-housed! Also, there were no clear plans of what would happen to its industry that contributes an estimated $1bn to the economy.

There is also serious tension between farmers and industries. In 2007 the Nano micro car factory planned by Tata in the outskirts of Calcutta had to be disbanded due to violent demonstrations by farmers. And in 2010, sugarcane farmers demanded a sugar factory be handed over to them. There have also been disputes over water, such as over-exploitation by Coca Cola factories. Although quite different on the surface, all three incidents (and there are many more) are about compensation, about fair land valuation and usage of scarce resources. Worse still, with uncertain monsoons and uncertain commodity prices, exacerbated by debt at often extortionate rates, suicides amongst Indian farmers is causing the authorities to examine the problems of rural life.

Last, but not least, of the economic tensions is the excruciatingly slow improvement to infrastructure, be it transport, water, power, etc. India needs to focus on these investments if it is ever to lift its poor as much as China has done. And part of the problem is the high and pervasive corruption that not only diverts investments but coupled with trenchant bureaucracy, hinders development. Matters have got to such a state that some larger private companies are developing local infrastructure to cater for its employees. For example, Mahindra and Infosys have joined forces to build a 1,500 acre city 50km south of Chennai to house up to 100,000 workers with a third living in a 325 acre residential zone.  This city will be modern provided with utilities up to first-world standard, including power station, hospitals, roads, railway station, schools and sewage plant. The state government has been given 10% stake which has helped to secure licences and other approvals. A second city near Jaipur that is twice a big has started.

Social tensions

In the previous pages we have covered India’s continuing problems due to the ingrained caste system which although outlawed since independence over 60 years ago is still in place, particularly in rural areas. Three things are causing this to be a lessening problem:

1.   Continuation of various public affirmative action such as reserved places in higher education and government for lower caste and c180 million out-caste people (Dalits). This has led to some castes wanting to be downgraded as lower than traditionally structured to obtain access to better quotas; a ‘race to the bottom’ if you will.

2.   Avoidance of caste differences in many large companies and in urban environment. This is partially good in that a lower caste or Dalit can work in, say, IT in Bangalore without any discrimination.  But the moment he steps off a train or bus at his local town or village, he is back where his ancestors were thousands of years ago. For instance, he cannot marry a woman in a higher caste without endangering them both and possibly their families. In many rural areas, police turn a blind eye to murders over these love affairs or marriages. For Hindus, caste is timeless and irrevocable.

3.   Conversion at a steady rate to Buddhism by Dalits continues. An estimated 10 million Buddhists practice in India, a steady increase. There is also some conversion to Christianity, but for many Christianity is ‘foreign’ whereas Buddhism is ‘native’.

As we have mentioned before, Mayawati, the self-styled ‘queen of Dalits’ is fighting a political battle for Dalits as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s most populous states and also one of the most prejudiced.

Nevertheless, Hindu extremists take this as an affront; and some Hindu-based political parties stir up caste issues to gain political advantage.

China is often accused of human rights infringements. In the opinion of this author, India’s treatment (de facto if not de jure) of its Dalits and other tribal/aboriginal peoples is far worse.

Ethno-religious tensions

India continues to experience periodic sectarian violence: Hindu vs Muslim, Hindu vs Christian, and upper vs lower castes. Sometimes it takes a traffic accident involving several members of one religion to start a major riot as happened in 2007 in Agra, city of Taj Mahal after 4 Muslims were killed by a lorry. At other times a murder of a prominent person of one religion purportedly by someone from another can trigger major riots as happened in 2008 when 60 churches were burnt after the murder of the Hindu leader Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati, along with four other activists from the hard-line Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) party. The VHP originally claimed Christians were to blame for the deaths, but Maoist guerrillas have since claimed responsibility.

If marriage between people of different castes causes violence in villages, then inter-religion marriages can cause whole villages to be burnt to the ground.

After independence in 1947 and since 1950, some 18 new states have been established; mainly due to untenable tensions between different language/ethnic groups in the older larger states. See –

Political tensions

As India becomes more affluent, it is also becoming more dissatisfied with how things work, especially in the political arena. The growing middle class, mostly urban, feels it is marginalised by the rural poor who seem to carry the most votes. As one commentator said: the state is not about what it can do for me; but rather what can I do in spite of the state The middle class regards politicians with contempt, and government is seen as an obstacle for getting things done. The imbalance is that for politician, the cities are sources of income while the villages are the sources of power. This situation will not last for long. Sooner rather than later, the middle class will revolt.

Related article

Indian vote shakes Gandhi dynasty | The Times

India’s external tensions

As detailed in other pages, there have been several Indo-Pakistani Wars:

•          1947: Pakistan occupies one third of Kashmir (which India claims as its territory).

•          1965: India attacks Pakistan on all fronts after attempts by Pakistani troops to infiltrate into Indian controlled Kashmir.

•          1971: India decisively defeats Pakistan resulting in the independence of Bangladesh

•          1999: Kashmiri insurgents backed by Pakistani troops capture Indian army posts. Indian Army retaliates and recaptures the posts.

And as we said on the preceding page the border dispute with China, which resulted in a war in 1962, has not been resolved.

There was also a period of tension with Sri Lanka when the Indian army supported the Tamil Tigers. But with the defeat and practical annihilation of the Tigers, this tension has been diffused.

In summary, despite the short-looking list of external tensions, India’s external tension with Pakistan especially over Kashmir, is on a par with its internal tensions.

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