Atanu Dey On India's Development

The Unbearably Sad Reality of India

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Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reported how the US is pressuring India to (what effectively is) surrender its interests to Pakistan’s whims. “U.S. Aims to Ease India-Pakistan Tension“. Why? Because Pakistan presented to the US administration “a litany of accusations against the Indian government,” and suggested “the U.S. intercede on Pakistan’s behalf.” Which the US is in essence doing.

That little news item doesn’t reveal anything spectacularly new. In practically all matters having to do with Pakistan, the US treats India with barely concealed contempt and makes sure to equate India with — and at times relegate India below — Pakistan. Pakistan whines and the US tells India to “stop it.”

I have seen this happen at the family level. Seven year old girl being seriously bothered by a very bratty five year old brother. Finally she tells him off and he starts crying. Mother comes into the room and gives the girl a beating. Over repeated instances the girl comes to believe that she’s at fault and soon enough learns that she is a girl and has to do what the boy says because the mother will always favor the boy over the girl.

Like all analogies, it is not an exact fit but it is close enough.

India and Pakistan have been dependent on the US for over half a century. India had to go with a begging bowl to the US when starvation stared it in the face. India begs for technology from the US. It begs the US to sell it arms. The US demonstrates who is the boss by withholding favors and then after a great deal of groveling by India, granting them with great fanfare and making sure that they come with strings attached. And to really rub it in, the US cultivates Pakistan as its client state and gives it aid amounting to billions of dollars so that it can continue to limp along and be a dagger at India’s side.

It could have been otherwise. India could have been more powerful than China is today and if that has been so, the US would have treated India with respect, like it does China today. There was nothing in the stars that condemned India to being an irrelevant third world country with delusions of becoming an “economic superpower.” Nothing except the leadership. Starting with Nehru (the Nabob of Cluelessness), and continuing on to his daughter (eventually a dictator who was outsmarted by the Pakis), then on to his grandson, and then to his grandson’s Italian wife — they all have systematically dug a hole so deep for India that it is hard to tell if they or the Pakistanis are the real enemy.

Here’s a post I published on Nov 23, 2009 which is relevant here:

The evil that men do lives after them. That’s Shakespeare’s conjecture. The remaining good bits can be buried in a matchbox. That’s with apologies to Christopher Hitchens.

In 1947, the men who took command of India did many things. Sixty-two years later, what they did lives on. India had great promise. It could have become at least a second world economy (per capita income of over $10,000 per annum) and – given its huge population of over a billion – it could have been a formidable economic force.

Where’s India actually? China and the US are the world’s “two leading powers,” wrote our favourite NYT columnist Thomas L Friedman. How much more blatantly obvious can it be that India does not bat in the big league when even Tom Friedman figures it out.

How irrelevant is India? The US president in a speech delivered recently in Tokyo on US relations in Asia did not even mention India. China matters because China is rich compared to India. The leaders of China figured out that communism leads to poverty and decided to develop their economy. Its leaders chose the right policies and China became the manufacturing superpower of the world. The US goes to China with a begging bowl in its hands. The US knows that the US dollar continues to limp along instead of crashing only at the pleasure of China.

China is powerful. It dictates to the US president whom he can meet and whom he cannot. The Dalai Lama was not welcome to the White House recently – the first time this has happened. But China has been telling the US what to do for a while now. It’s becoming more obvious.

You may recall that Bill Clinton also bowed to the demands of the Chinese leaders when he was the president. He had wanted to make a quick stop in India on his way to visit China. The Chinese told him that he need not bother coming to China if he was going to stop however briefly in India. When you come to China, come to China only, they told him. Clinton said, yes Sir.

When China says jump, the US politely asks how high.

A little later came Clinton’s visit to India. He decided that he will stop by Pakistan on his way back from India. India begged him to not do so. India begged, not demanded. He told India to shove it and stopped in Pakistan.

India is powerless. The Washington Post reports “two missteps” by the US in relation to India. Misstep is a nice – what’s the word that I am looking for – circumlocution. Or maybe euphemism. Whatever. Misstep is when without intending to, you hurt someone’s toe; a couple of tight slaps on the face is not a misstep. Anyone with half a brain can tell it is calculated and deliberate. India has to silently endure the indignity that the US routinely subjects it to.

Why does the US do so to India? I don’t know but it could have something to do with India’s relationship with the US since (India’s) independence. India’s sainted dear leader allied India with the USSR and against the US. The US is unlikely to forget that.

But there’s another reason. India has to suffer indignities because it is poor. India is poor because its policies suck. India has bad policies because it got bad leaders right from the start.

One cannot fault small countries such as say, Burundi or Zambia, for not being a world power. They just don’t have the population, the human capital, the size or the natural resources for that. No one expects small marginal countries to be of any consequence.

But India had (almost) all the necessary components for becoming a nation of some consequence in a few decades after independence. What it did not have was enlightened leadership. The names of those leaders – leaders that through their abysmal stupidity, short-sightedness, arrogance and ignorance made India virtually irrelevant – can be found in the tens thousands of institutions, government schemes, roads, ports, airports and universities named after them in India.

Are those leaders alone to blame? Actually no. Leadership is largely endogenous and reflects the nature of the population. The ultimate cause of poverty of any large group is the group itself.

Sometimes, just by the luck of the draw, some states, large or small, get good leaders. The US had great luck when it became independent in 1776. Intellectual giants – Franklin, Jefferson – guided the nation. Singapore, a tiny nation of absolutely no special promise, got Lee Kuan Yew and became a powerful country. Enlightened leadership makes a difference.

India too got an authoritarian dictator at its independence. What was missing was enlightened leadership.

As an Indian, I feel envious of the power that China has and uses ruthlessly. Even when it was just another extremely poor country, it gave India a drubbing in 1962. China had been provoked by the hubris of Indian leaders. Now that it has trillions of dollars in the bank and has the US kowtowing to it, China can severely damage India. Arunachal Pradesh is as good as gone. China is encircling India. Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan.

What’s depressing is that India could as well have been referred to as one of “the two leading world powers.”

As the American poet John Whittier wrote, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’

India’s leaders are ensuring that it continues to be an irrelevant third-world country by keeping it poor. India suffers indignities, and more can be expected when China overtakes the US as the largest economy in the world in a few years. Poverty is like that – not just injury, it also brings insults in its wake. Those who made India poor did not just condemn hundreds of millions of Indians to lives of extreme deprivation and premature deaths, but they also weakened India externally and internally.

India is so weak externally that even a failed two-bit tinpot Islamic dictatorship can cause immense harm to India. Another failed Islamic state – one which India saved from being butchered further by its Islamic brother and helped it gain independence – routinely sponsors terrorism in India and is engineering a demographic change in India’s eastern states. India responds with weak protests.

India is so weak internally that its citizens die by the hundreds each year from Islamic terrorism and all it can do is to run to the US and complain that Pakistan is being bad to India. India whines and asks the US to declare Pakistan a state that supports terrorism. The US, in response, declares Pakistan to be a frontline ally of the US’s “war on terror.” That’s not a slap on the face of India. That’s a steel-toed military boot shoved deep in the head.

All this need not have been. It could have been different. We all know it but we cannot do anything about it. India has been ruled by the Congress for nearly all of its existence since independence. India has been reduced to a rather pathetic state that its prime minister feels grateful for the little attention that the US administration magnanimously throws his way. He, of all people, should know because the family he serves so loyally is the one that has reduced India to this.

The evil they did lives on. The good is vanishingly small and hence really irrelevant.

  • Varun

    @Oldtimer: “…It’s a pity Sonia won’t post any more. But I’m expecting that Rahul will make a debut pretty soon, followed by Priyanka, and maybe even Indira.”

    Me, too!

  • Chanakya P

    “Arunachal Pradesh is as good as gone.”

    Maybe this deserves a separate post on its own.
    What say you Atanu?

  • Venu

    I feel the other side of the coin is what we as individuals can do to improve the condition of the country.
    Do we have a solution to this 60+ years of mis-governance ? Do we have to live with it forever till the time some John Galt comes and rescues us? My two cents on the whole issue (not that y’all care about it but I will go ahead and clear my head).

    “Why should I get involved in anything related to governance ? ”
    I went to an engineering school. Struggled to get into it but was finally was able to do it. I did engineering because I wanted a job which would pay me well and would help in laying the foundation for my future. Now I have a stable job and I expect (demand) that government provides me with basic amenities to perform my duties. But if the govt. fails to do so, then I can whine/bitch about it but nothing more than that. Why ?
    Because I dint’ sign for it. This is not how I had envisaged my future. But now when the things are so messy (as far as the country is concerned) , would I still keep on ignoring it ? I struggle with this sentiment everyday. Part of me says that if I (we) don’t step up now then things will be in the same condition for ever. Then the other part (which is more dominant as of now) is lets hope there is somebody else who can share this burden. I alone cannot bring the change.

    One more reason which keeps me away from doing anything fruitful is – “From where should I start ?”
    I want to do something to improve the condition of my hometown. Should I just start something with a couple of friends and hope that someday it will bear fruits for the whole community or is there anything better than that ?

    I guess its more of a conscience clearing thing than anything else.

  • Kasi

    Here is another one again … Blame it on the family :-)

    Yet another rant fearing the young leader … and Yet another Zombie after 60-years.

    Kasi

  • Arun Kumar Jha

    Dear Atanu (Author),

    I feel that the real strength of India is its SPIRITUAL strength on account of which it is still a homogeneous country; else, it would also have disintegrated into the likes of the former USSR (Bosnia, Herzegovina, Yugoslavia and other splinter countries).

    There is a great degree of spiritual strength among its people, and I am sure you would have found this in your visits to this (original) nation of yours.

    I am Major Arun Kumar Jha, a 40 yr old serving officer of the Indian Army and you have been aware of these plans (being routed thru me by the grace of HH Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the ‘Art of Living’ fame) since Jul 2002.

    I am presently posted near Patna city in Bihar state in India; and would be ‘retiring’ (getting discharged from service) with Pension by 14 Jul 2012. I have got a Trust Registered in the name of my wife because as per the terms of engagement of my service; I am cannot open one on my name. I plan to launch this effort as a Project of the SRISTI Foundation (www.sristifoundation.org) and just the initial funding amount (of around INR 65,00,000 or USD 1,50,000) is required.

    I am sure that by the time I get discharged from my Military service; I would be able to procure this amount by the grace of Gurudev (HH Sri Sri Ravi Shankar).

    Jai Hind!