And so India celebrated yet another Independence Day.
The flurry of articles, TV shows, and deep voiced commentators giving their view of the India of today and tomorrow are drowned in history and soon to be archived.
Life must move on and with every new dawn there is a new topic, a new hot issue to be covered, and a new "recent high" for the Index.
But the joys and frustrations of Independence still remain - even if they are not "topical" to make it to the front pages or to the prime time slots.
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Is Independence a Victory?
At the stroke of that midnight hour which ushered in August 15, 1947 it is true that India did awake to freedom.
Years of battling a colonial power led to a victory.
A victory that was had with the principles of non-violence as the core of the battle.
Many have reminded us that we enjoyed the victory of Independence because of the nature of the enemy. We were rued by and fought the British, not Hitler.
How long would a conversation between the "naked fakir" (as Winston Churchill described Mahatma Gandhi) and Hitler have lasted.
The "civilised" British conceded defeat with probably less bloodshed than if that same policy of non-violence was used on Hitler's armies.
In that sense, history - for all our grievances - was kind to us.
But, after many strokes of many midnights how victorious can we be?
Don't get me wrong, I love our freedom and would not trade it for anything.
But why do we have to even believe that we have to choose between two extremes: Freedom to be in poverty (India) or Controls but wealth (China).
Why could we not achieve the dual joy of freedom and wealth as many have achieved in the Anglo Saxon world, despite their debt-financed consumption binge of the past decade? And yet maintained our dignity as an "Asian" culture.
Independence was the starting point
While I happily quote the wonderful statistics of wealth creation that we all read about as we plan our long term investments, I cannot ignore the poverty around us.
The poverty of being poor is all around us even though it may have been shipped out of the streets of the capital city of New Delhi. But there is also the poverty of a society that seems less caring, less respectful, and in a rush to "grow" towards the Anglo Saxon wealth that I referred to but without any thought of the consequences. Without any recognition of the mistakes and the blunders made by the US or by the UK - and they have made many.
If economic policy is an indicator of the definition and objectives of an Independent India, then there have been some pretty dramatic shifts - each with their own un-intended consequences.
In the 1950's Nehruvian Socialism took us to the "commanding heights" of state ownership along side the investments made by the private sector. But the faster growth of investments by the government and the growing bureaucracy gave birth to a slow response system - too many layers of decision making probably added to a growing disconnect between what people wanted (food, clothing, shelter) and what the government was building (a massive industrial complex covering steel, power, and shipping to name a few heavy industries).
From there we moved to the recognition that basics like food and water mattered, as did a proper defence against the troublesome neighbours. So this led to era of "jai kissan, jai jawan". The focus was back on agriculture and the farmlands. In the 1970's this was enhanced to "roti, kapda, aur makaan" with an effort to control the growth in population via a "hum do, humare do" campaign.
Furthermore, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, went one step ahead of her father's "commanding heights" and took control of the banks, the insurance companies, and the airlines. To further ensure that Madam was the undisputed Boss, the taxation rates in India no longer incentivised the creation of wealth. The unintended consequence of these economic blunders - and the forced sterilisation program - was an economic stagnation and near bankruptcy of the economy over the next decade.
In July 1991 we began to recognise that there is, indeed, a global economy out there and we had more to focus on than maintaining the integrity of the borders with Pakistan - by itself a huge problem. Ironically, the same Dream Team that was busy pedalling us towards Socialism and their worship for Madam Gandhi now had the distinction of being told by the IMF how to get us out of the mess they had helped us into. So, now we are into "opening up" mode and anchoring our role in the Indian century. The unintended consequences - actually, they now look like very intentional and I-don't give-a-hoot consequences - of this "liberalisation" are a disconnect between what India needs and what Indian policy makers believe India wants.
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So, the Special Economic Zone policies are brought into play to help create large industrial complexes like they did in China. Not a bad objective, but China can bulldoze its way to do whatever it wishes to on anyone's land. Can you dislocate villages in Raigad, or West Bengal, or UP and not have a riot on your hands? The government sold its soul to industrialists and did not get a fair price for the only asset - land - that many have in their fight against poverty. Wake up, New Delhi, India is not China - but if you keep at it we will all be draped in the Red Maoist flags.
And the desire to build roads and encourage the use of automobiles? Don't the planners and politicians read about the oil crisis and how the US and China are both doomed to be locked in geopolitical wars to access oil? When was the last time Germany went to war - and it is one of largest exporters. Maybe they worry less about gas and oil and taking over Iraq or Africa because they use energy more efficiently and have built a public transportation system. But keep up all the car ownership plans and road building plans and we will have to beg for oil and gas. Unfortunately, we cannot go to war to secure our energy needs because most of our bullet-proof vests, guns, and planes may not work as promised.
Because, over the decades, corruption has seeped into every nook and corner of the Indian system.
The act of corruption is a daily religious duty performed by everyone, everywhere, at any time.
From the individual who bribes the traffic policeman to the tycoon who bribes a Minister for re-zoning farm land for building a township.
We tried to outdo China by hosting the Commonwealth Games and look what we have got - the corruption without the end result of dependable stadiums. The worst possible outcome.
Independence was not an objective in itself, just as being a teenager eligible to drive or vote is not an end in itself.
Being Independent was the starting point - of taking responsibility for where we wish to end up.
Instead, like a teenager, drunk with the power of "now I am able to", we were obsessed with our rights and lost sight of our responsibilities.
Yes, the Independence Day celebrations are over, the speeches are made.
It is back to wasting many more strokes of the midnight hour.
It is back to "liberalisation" which is, in many cases, nothing but "crony capitalism".
The kind they practice in Wall Street, Russia, and China - our new role models.
And Tagore's prayer "into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake" will remain an elusive dream.
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