Point of View

An Indian on India–from Abroad

Sisir K Majumdar

After 67 years of political independence, Indians continue to suffer from colonial hang-over. Indians need to stand on their own legs. They need to re-discover themselves. Sincereity, commitment and devotion will ensure success. Slavish mentality and imitation of others for short-term gains should be a thing of the past. Creative assimilation of the best from others is the way forward. Compatibility and co-ordination between growth economists and welfare economists are essential to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. Despite many shortcomings India is a vibrant democracy of more than 1.2 billion people—‘a superpower of the 21st century’, not as a colonizer or a neo-colonizer but as a saviour of human civilization.

The rise of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has regenerated a new sense of cultural nationalism and self-confidence. It is essential for national self-respect. It is not a threat to other religions and cultures. India is a multi-religious, multilingual and multicultural country. There was always unity in diversity. The world is changing. Indians must march with the dynamic history of a changing world. But the heart of Indianness must not be lost. In Great Britain (UK), Protestant Christianity is the official state religion and the present monarch is the Head of the Church of England. In practice, all other faiths are free to practice their own with utmost liberty, as one finds it in India. The civil code is uniform for all British citizens or subjects, irrespective of religion, culture or whatever. There are about 11% Muslims, in the UK (total population—58,784,000 [Britannica World Date, 1997, p. 737]). Muslims are obliged to follow British law in marriage, divorce and any matter associated with it. Shariat has no role to play there. If it is acceptable for Muslims living in Great Britain, why is the uniform civil code not acceptable to Muslims in India. Where is the logic or sense, to treat Muslims differently from other Indian citizens? During the last few decades, the ruling Congress Party fiddled with this, amended the Constitution with its brutal majority in the 1980's in order to appease the minority community voters. The religious minorities were misled to believe in that illogical miracle. They must now look to the logic. Religious minorities are the weaving fibres of the very fabric of Indian nation along with the majority within common code, rule, law, tradition, culture and civilization. BJP needs to be fought politically. Blind opposition to BJP convinces no-one and is politically unwise and irrational.

The rump Congress is now a dynastic party with "Raja/Rani" (King/Queen) either on the thorny tirone or grooming in the wings just waiting to take over as and when the time is right; the "Prajas" (Subjects) are the spineless shoe-polishers, opportunists without any self-respect, sycophants, cronies and crooks.

The Congress is up to its neck in numberless corruption scandals. The curtain has still not fallen. Still, there is no end of the chronicle of Congressite corruption.

India always welcomed guests from other lands with open arms. Many spent some years in India, studying the life, culture and intellectual treasures of the land. The Chinese pilgrim, Fa-hien, came to India in the 5th century AD, followed by another famous pilgrim, Hsuan Tsang (Yuan-Chwang), in the 7th century AD Rabindranath Thakur (1861-1941) invited the whole humanity to the sacred shore of the great land in his famous poem ("Bharat thirtha."—"Pilgrimage to India", 1910)

Many stayed life-long and served the land with their genious without any selfish motive and not for material wealth or familial glamour. They were part and parcel of Indian national soul and society.

Sister Nivedita (Miss Elizabeth Margaret Noble [1867-1911]), an Irish woman, came to Calcutta from England in January, 1898, became a disciple of Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), settled in India, took an indirect part in the freedom movement, apart from her saintly service in the Ramakrishna Mission. Annie Wood Besant (1847-1933), the most famous English leader of the Theosophical Society, became the first and only British woman (of Irish origin) to serve as President of the Indian National Congress (1917), and John Burdon Sanderson Haldane (1892-1964), famous British biologist and geneticist, who emigrated to India in 1956 as a protest against the Anglo-Franco-Israeli attcack on the Suez Canal, adopted Indian nationality, worked in Calcutta and Orissa and died at Bhubaneswar, capital of Orissa. Nellie Sengupta (1886-1973) another celebrated British woman was elected President of the Congress in 1933, when it was under a ban. But this widow of the Gandhi family initially undecided and hesitant, if not reluctant to be a naturalized Indian, took about fourteen years to apply for precious Indian citizenship. Too long a time to take such a simple decision.

A sound people-orientated socio-economic programme to make the society really egalitarian should be the top priority. Market forces in a free market economy without morality make social suckers. Nourishment comes from the political establishment. In recent parliamentary elections in Great Britain (May, 1997) and in France (June, 1997) parties of social suckers have been swept away. Currently, ferocious, savage inhumane capitalism is the standard for globalized world trade and prosperity. People are incessantly required to adapt their lives to optimize the performance of the economic machine in a society soaked in inequities and entirely dominated by free-market forces. In such a society, the presence of liberty co-exists with the absence of equality. Though the 15th century Renaissance gave birth to mercantile capitalism in Europe, today cradle-to-grave social welfare is considered to be the hallmark of civilization. Anything different means the end of civilization. In the European Economic Community (EEC), there are 20 million unemployed. The open letter sent by 331 European economists from 14 of the 15 EU member states to Europe's leaders, clearly states: "The peoples of Europe have a right to an economy that serves the interest of human beings." (Time, Vol.149, No.25, June 23, 1997, p.28: "Europe confronts A Widening Credibility Gap" by James Geary)

Global capitalism glorified wealth and focuses on only one particular aspect of liberty—the economic liberty of the capitalist at the expense of an orderly, egalitarian and just society. It is immoral and unethical. It must not happen in India. Priority of the people is "Roti, Kapra and Mokaan" (bread, clothes and shelter). To build the infra-structure for basic necessities of life viz, drinking water, healthy sewage systems, community health, universal education and appropriate family planning are more important than building temples, mosques or churches. The country should not be allowed to be a hunting ground for greedy multi-nationals and a breeding ground for unproductive consurnerisrn and uncaring individualism in the society.

Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which prohibits non-Kashmiris from buying land in the state, demeans the very spirit and philosophy of the Constitution itself as enshrined in its Preamble, adopted and enacted in the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949. It needs to be reviewed and amended because it keeps the Kashmiri Muslims outside the national mainstream, which includes 120 million Muslims in other parts of India. "In point of fact, the article is an extension of a law passed in 1920 by the Maharaja to prevent the alienation of Hindu landed property to prospective Muslim buyers from the Punjab." (Ayesha Jalal: Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia : A Comparative and Historical Perspective. Cambridge University Press, 1997, p.176.) In contemporary India, this legal legacy is totally irrelevant.

North East India, particularly Assam, is a perennial trouble spot. Until the discovery and production of oil in Bombay High during the late 1970's, Assam was the main reservoir of domestic oil in India; it still supplies 60% of India's crude oil production, but it receives less than 3% of the value of the oil as royalties from the Centre. Assam is a resource-rich state, but is debarred by India's federal framework from enjoying the boons of its natural wealth. Over 50% of the tea production in India takes place in Assam, which is also the largest supplier of plywood and has considerable reserves of coal. (Jyotirindra Das Gupta, "Ethnicity, Democracy and Development in India: Assam in a General Perspective", in Atul Kohli (ed.), India's Democracy : an Analysis of Changing State—Society Relations, pp. 157-158, Princeton, 1988.)

Apart from artificial dependency on the Centre, Assam has got other genuine grievances which need to be addressed urgently. Thwarted political and economic aspirations have created an explosive communual dimension and have bred a virulent kind of cultural chauvinism.

India must ensure diplomatically and by other means that brothers and sisters left behind in Pakistan and Bangladesh regain their basic human rights to live in peace in a civilized society. Muslims in India, in spite of their predecessors sup-porting the creation of Pakistan, thereby betraying them, are living as equal citizens in secular and democratic India. Two Muslims became President of the Republic of India over the years. Is there any parallel in Pakistan and Bangladesh? The answer is NO. This attitude needs to be reversed.

Logically, an exchange of population should have followed the artificial partition of India in 1947. India could have easily accommodated the Non-Muslims of old Pakistan on her vast land mass. In fact, it happened in Punjab because of communual riots on both sides. But Pakistan simply did not have the land resources to accommodate the vast number of Muslims from the heartland of India.

The Tamil tragedy in Sri Lanka is a remnant of the British colonial legacy. In Sinhala majority Sri Lanka, the minority Tamils form the majority in the northern province of Jaffna and also in the eastern part (Population—18,318,000: Sinhalese-82.7%; Tamil-8.9%; Srilankan Moor-7.7%; others-0.7%—Britannica World Data, 1997, p.716). "A blatantly chauvinistic policy by the Sinhala majority against the Tamils in the initial years of independence sowed the seeds for bitter conflicts in the late 1970's. (Ayesha Jalal: Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia : A Comparative and Historical Perspective. Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 181.) Too much blood has been spilled on both sides.

Secularism is a way of life. It is a matter of mind. The soul of secularism needs to be ingrained in the social, cultural and civilizational matrix of the country. It is relative. It is not an abstract construct. Secularism in India should be considered within the mosaic of Indianness. It was used as a cheap rhetoric to misguide people and then to swell the vote-bank among India's religious minorities. It degenerated into minorityism. It was counter-productive. Secularism is a bridge of mutual tolerance and respect between different religious communities, again in the framework of Indianness.

Vol. 47, No.11-14, Sep 21 - Oct 18 2014