As India enters the 65th year of Independence, it is grappling with some serious problems that have been dogging it since long. However, it has several blessings to count. The country’s pace of growth in the era of globalisation has been second only to that of China, which embarked upon the path of liberalisation 13 years earlier than India and is now believed to be the world’s second largest economy.
Industrialisation was high on the agenda of successive Indian governments. Latest statistical data indicate that the country has entered the post-industrial phase with the service sector contributing 55.3 per cent of the gross domestic product last year as against the industrial sector’s share of 28.6 per cent and the agriculture sector’s 16.1 per cent.
Per capita income has recorded a phenomenal increase — from Rs1,126.9 in 1950-51 to Rs54,227 in 2010-11. The flip side of the economic story is that about 40 per cent of Indians are below the poverty line.
At the time of Independence, agriculture contributed more than 55 per cent of the GDP. While the rise in agricultural production made possible by the Green Revolution put an end to the chronic shortage of grains a large section of the population lacks access to food.
This fact points to skewed development. The cases of farmers’ suicide reported from different parts of the country even as the economy booms testifies to the growth of inequalities despite efforts by Central and state governments to provide relief to the affected sections.
At the moment, the country’s main worry is high inflation, estimated last year at 8.72 per cent. Official measures to curb the money in circulation have pushed up interest rates to levels that could slow down the economy.
The Constitution, which came into force in the third year of Independence, gives primacy to “justice — social, economic and political.” The test of the nation’s success, therefore, lies not in the GDP figures but in the extent to which it has progressed towards the proclaimed goal.
India takes legitimate pride in that, unless China, it has achieved economic progress under a democratic political system. Unlike other democratic societies, it is highly heterogeneous and has been the scene of contention between sectarian forces in all its history.
The banning of “Aarakshan,” a Hindi movie dealing with the contentious issue of reservation in schools and in government service, by three states following scattered protests is a reminder that the problem of social inequality is still alive. The caste census now under way may provide a clear picture of the current status of the various communities and help reorganise the reservation system on a realistic basis.
In one sense, the terror problem the country faces is a mutated form of communal animosities in the subcontinent which intensified under Britain’s ‘divide and rule’ policy. The National Investigation Agency, set up specifically to deal with terrorism cases, registered its first success with a court handing down multiple life terms for two accused last week.
The internal dimension of India’s terror problem is no less important than the external one. When Mumbai, which has borne the brunt of terrorism in the country came under attack again this year, official agencies attributed it to local elements aligned with foreign groups. However, they have not been able to produce any credible evidence so far.
The enforcement of resurrected colonial laws which gives impunity to armed forces units posted in some border states and the fake encounters reported from different parts of the country from time to time reveal that the democratic system remains highly deficient. A few days ago a Supreme Court bench observed that those responsible for fake encounters must be given the death penalty. It is a welcome if belated acknowledgement by the apex court that custodial killing is cold-blooded murder which deserves no mercy.
The judiciary has earned much praise for its contribution to the deepening of democracy by ensuring that the basic freedoms are available to all citizens. However, the high cost of the judicial process severely limits the poor’s access to it.
A glaring weakness of the constitutional system has been its inability to deal effectively with corruption at the higher levels in all limbs of the state. On Tuesday Anna Hazare, social activist from Maharashtra, who has been leading a national campaign for a tough anti-corruption law, will go on a fast to force the government’s hands in this regard. The outcome of this campaign may determine the course of Indian democracy at least in the short run.