The worst drag in life is poverty, so Indians must now choose whether they wish to continue living in poverty or sacrifice 135 million people for a gigantic revolution
Hai maujazan ek kulzum-e-khoon, kaash yahi ho. Aata hai abhi dekhiye, kya kya merey aage. (A turbulent sea of blood is before me. But see what is coming ahead.) —Mirza Ghalib
I am in my sunset years (I just crossed 73) and my remaining time will be spent on educating my fellow Indians (including non-resident Indians in America — where I am living at present — who though very good in their technical jobs, are gullible in other respects).
The crux of what I teach is this: There are really two worlds. One is that of the developed, highly industrialised countries like the US, Europe, Japan, Australia and China and second is that of the under-developed countries, including India (which is perhaps the most developed of the underdeveloped nations).
Our national aim must be to transform India from the second world to the first. In other words, from being an under-developed country, we must make it a developed, highly industrialised one. This is necessary if we wish to abolish poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, lack of healthcare and good education and so on. Because only a high-level and widespread industry can generate the wealth needed to provide for the welfare of our people and create millions of jobs to wipe out unemployment.
But how is this to be done ? We no doubt had a limited degree of industrialisation after 1947 but then the process stalled. And of late our economy has tanked; the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has declined to five per cent, there have been massive retrenchments in the auto, Information Technology (IT) and other industries while real estate and power sectors are in the dumps. In fact, it is to divert attention from this economic crisis that the Government has resorted to gimmicks like cow protection, building the Ram temple, Yoga Day, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, abolition of Article 370, Howdy Modi in Houston and so on. But economic slowdowns cannot be wished away by such gimmicks and stunts.
One can win elections on the plank of Hindutva (as happened in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections) but one can’t live off it. One has to eat food and to get food, one must have a job. But jobs are getting less (as the National Sample Survey, a Government of India organisation, admitted recently). Twelve million Indian youth are entering the job market every year but opportunities are drying up (due to manufacturing decline). Consequently many Indian youths will end up as criminals, beggars, hawkers or will end their lives. I submit that the Indian people must now make a choice: Either keep living in their miserable conditions characterised by poverty, unemployment, malnourishment (the highest in the world, with every second Indian child malnourished, as stated by the Global Hunger Index, UNICEF), farmers’ distress and the consequent unabated suicides, poor healthcare and education for the masses, discrimination against minorities, Dalits and so on. Or else, sacrifice about 10 per cent of the 1,350 million population in a gigantic, historical people’s revolution which alone can destroy backwardness, the feudal casteist and communal mindsets and practices among our people. This hydra-headed monster was obstructing any progress and keeping us chained to poverty and other social evils.
Many would say I am presenting a horrible choice between the devil and the deep sea and a cruel prognostication and augury. Do we really want our 135 million men, women and children to rise up and set off a revolution? I am not a bloodthirsty person and I wish this great historical transformation could take place peacefully. But unfortunately that is not how history operates.
Consider the experiences so far. The transformation of feudal Europe of the 16th century to a modern Europe of the 19th century was not accomplished peacefully. It witnessed wars, revolutions, chaos, massacres, social churning, intellectual ferment and so on. It was only after going through that fire that modern society emerged in Europe.
Similarly, after the Chinese Revolution was completed in 1949, the Chinese authorities made an investigation about how many people were killed in this churning (which lasted for a quarter of a century, from 1924 to 1949). It was found that about 10 per cent of the then 550 million Chinese people, which is about 50 million, were killed. Similarly, about four of the then 40 million Vietnamese people were killed in the liberation war in Vietnam, which lasted from 1945 to 1975. So it can be assumed that about 10 per cent of the people are killed in a revolution. For, after all, what is a historical revolution? It is a period when the old society and its values are being uprooted and torn apart but new values have not yet replaced them. Everything is in ferment, in chaos.
Can this be a peaceful affair? Not at all. The reactionary elements in the old order will fiercely oppose any change, as happened in France in the period prior to the 1789 Revolution and even during the one in Vendee in 1793. And many of the ordinary people in society, being conservative by nature, will oppose any fundamental change. In India, most people still have casteist and communal mindsets, and to replace that by modern minds is 10 times more difficult than changing the physical environment.
In India, all our State institutions have collapsed and become hollow and empty shells. We adopted the parliamentary system of democracy but this has degenerated into caste and communal vote banks, as everyone knows. Casteism and communalism are feudal forces, which must be destroyed if India is to progress but parliamentary democracy further entrenches them. So we have to replace parliamentary democracy by another system which enables us to rapidly progress.
Today, India has two of the three pre-requisites to becoming a modern industrial giant, like China, namely a huge pool of technical talent (our IT engineers are manning Silicon Valley, and many Indians are professors in Science, Maths and Engineering Departments in American Universities), and immense natural resources. What it lacks is the third pre-requisite — a modern, patriotic political leadership. Without this, our transformation from the second to the first world is impossible.
Unfortunately, the political leaders in India today rely either on caste or religion for winning elections. Taking advantage of the fact that our society is still semi-feudal, with rampant casteism and communalism, they polarise society further and spread caste and religious hatred to get votes. Being mostly corrupt, they have no idea of how to solve our massive economic problems but are experts in manipulating caste and communal votebanks. Obviously such people are unfit to transform India into a modern, highly industrialised country.
It is only modernist, selfless and patriotic leaders who can solve India’s massive socio-economic problems. Who these movers will be, when will the revolution which they will lead occur, what form it will take is impossible to predict. But about one thing there can be no doubt: The next two decades in our country will be very turbulent and bloody. As the great Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib said, “Aata hai abhi dekhiye kya kya mere aage. (I wonder what lies ahead of me.)”
(The writer is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India)
Thursday, 03 October 2019 | Markandey Katju