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    South Asia
     Jan 31, 2013

India at 64: A struggling democracy
By Sunil Kumar

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

India last Saturday celebrated its 64th year of being republic. This is a ripe old age for a human being, but what about nations? Do these also mature as time passes?

It isn't entirely fair to equate a human's life cycle with an entity as grand as a nation. But another question is - has 64 years been long enough for Indian to develop a system that ensures basic human freedoms are available to all citizens, irrespective of their status?

The 'Rainbow Republic'
In 1950, the Republic of India started a journey full with hopes

imbued by its long struggle for freedom. The process started with a number of firsts. One was universal adult suffrage - even nations like United States of America achieved this quite late in the day.

India then struggled in its first few decades with the grim issue of poverty. However, with assistance from science, it has now achieved a great degree of self-sufficiency for its huge population. As India marches ahead in scientific advancements and innovation, diversity has also been hailed as a special strength of the country.

Leaders like the first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, deliberated in detail on the rich and diverse historical and cultural heritage of the nation in his tome Discovery of India. Mahatma Gandhi also discussed in simple argumentative style the advantages of Indian civilization and the strength it possesses over the comfort-seeking adventure of Western capitalist structure and industrial process in his work Hind-Swaraj.

Such unique thoughts and ideas by illustrious Indians challenged deep-set assumptions and are truly integrative in their conception. These works are a guiding light for the young generation of India in the 21st century. However, India appears to be caught in a storm of protests and the very idea of India is facing perhaps its severest test of strength. What ails the biggest democracy in the world?

Unattended scars and injuries
It is not difficult to identify the cracks. The need of the hour is to address with a sense of urgency the festering sores of caste-based violence, communal hatred and crumbling governance machinery.

Reforms need to be ushered in policing, to make the nation feel safe for its women and children. This must be the first priority of government.

Meanwhile, infrastructure has to be created for the educational needs of poor children. The Right to Education Act, 2009, was passed very late in the day, and efforts must not stop at that.

Laws are only a part of the solution. It has to be felt that the destiny of the nation is tied to each child who attends school. Visions of a safe, healthy and a country free of violence must always inform and influence the leadership. Be it governance, social welfare measures or ensuring supremacy of "rule of law", necessary reforms must not be delayed.

Social reform movements against many social evils were also carried out by illustrious personalities in pre-independence days, and India is still not free from every social ill. This should be a lesson that a reform delayed today becomes a societal menace tomorrow.

Challenges to Indian democracy
Corruption in public office is eating away at the republic. Public anger has started spilling onto the streets. As regional power centers demand more autonomy and the federal structure suffers, the political thicket is dampening the genuine leadership opportunities for young blood from not-so-wealthy backgrounds.

The fact that descendants of erstwhile princely states still flourish in the political and movie-making world with ease cannot escape the mind of an astute political observer. There is a need to redistribute political opportunities.

However, one can argue that if opportunity knocks at each man's door it is up to him to answer. To be an enlightened participant in the democratic affairs of a nation, an educated young person from a humble background needs more than just luck.

Natural resources also need to be redistributed equitably among the people. As opined by the Supreme Court of India in numerous judgments, resources such as rivers and forests are held by mankind in "trust". Exclusive control over them cannot be given to individuals and organizations, and benefits arising from them are for the enjoyment of each citizen.

The idea of power is often misleading. Power does not lie in subduing your opponent by physical strength, but making him respect you for your noble deeds and inner strength. India can overcome the challenges of the 21st century. But it needs to look deeply once again into the grand and noble vision envisaged by the constitution of India signed in 1950, and work sincerely towards making this a reality.

Sunil Kumar is a Research Fellow with the India Institute, an independent, not-for-profit public policy research and advocacy organization based in New Delhi, India. He can be reached at skreative@rediffmail.com.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

(Copyright 2013 Sunil Kumar)

India's middle class comes of political age (Jan 29, '13)



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