A Moment For Reflection
It is certainly a moment for reflection when we are bidding adieu, albeit on a note of optimism, to one of the most difficult years in the human history. World has handled this pandemic far better than similar deadly outbreaks in the past. Prospects of universal vaccination, which has already commenced in many developed countries, offers hope of taming the disease. However, there is no guarantee that some other calamity may not his us soon, catching us off guard once again.
Covid-19 could have claimed more casualties but for the strong resolve shown by large sections of our people, especially those in the medical fraternity, essential services, social work and philanthropy. Still the mankind could have handled the crises much better and protected more lives and livelihood, only if some people in position of power and authority had acted with greater sagacity and empathy. Opaque and unaccounted regime of China, which initially suppressed information, exposed very large number of people all over the world to such deadly disease. So did many of their capitalist backers from the Western world, who continue to kowtow Chinese position, even to the detriment of wellbeing of people in their own countries and beyond. These have certainly exposed the downside of open market in a globalized world.
To cover up its crimes against humanity, China has launched a full-scale border stand-off with India in the Himalaya, citing its national unity. This is a subterfuge to capture the Buddhist regions on Northern fringes of India that have perennially enjoyed a strong connection with the erstwhile independent of State of Tibet that was otherwise culturally and civilizationally far closer to India than the Han China. China has already usurped Tibet in almost entirety, through deception, treachery and coercion. It has been exploiting the vast natural resources of the erstwhile Himalayan kingdom to sustain an expansive consumption pattern of its Han population. Despite hosting His Holiness Dalai Lama, India has been somewhat tentative on Tibet but the capitalist dominated West has largely kept quiet more in deference to its commercial interests in China.
Significance of India
Despite all round asymmetry of power in favour of China, Indian troops have responded resolutely on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the ongoing confrontation. It has to be seen, how India restructures its internal governance-security institutions, from this point onwards, to effectively pursue its national security priorities and bridge power asymmetry with China. It needs to deter its two nuclear armed hostile neighbours, from pursuing various shades of their subversive agenda, alongside military threats, to clandestinely attack India’s internal security and stability. China has appeared particularly determined to hold India back and cripple its growth aspirations to eliminate possibility of any challenge to its hegemony in the region and beyond. However, it is more important to strengthen domestic governance institutions and their credibility rather than blame China and Pakistan for all our woes. Indian state has, so far, also shown insufficient resolve to destroy capacity of Pakistani ruling syndicate to wage and sustain an undeclared covert war against India. Lax criminal justice system, rampant corruption and inefficiency in large sections of India’s bureaucracy provide a favourable ecosystem to its its external adversaries to sustain such war. India needs to go beyond a tactical approach to address challenges in this direction.
India’s response to even Covid-19 has appeared better than expected, especially after the initial jerky reactions. Government doctors and their support staff, large sections of public officials, and members of civil society, especially Sikh Gurudwaras, rose to the occasion with a degree of resilience typical of Indian response to crises. These only demonstrate that Indian social values and ethos have retained their strong humanist orientation despite all their flaws and distortions. While it was a sad spectacle to see thousands of internal migrant labour, forced to walk hundreds of miles with their families, after losing their livelihood and shelter, subsequent response of both Indian state and civil society contained the damage. They together ensured reasonable relief and rehabilitation to the affected population.
Nevertheless, situation is not ideal. State capacity to handle such unexpected disasters remains inadequate. Many private hospitals, doctors, labs and pharmacist attempted to exploit the health calamity through a variety of means that can be considered commercially prudent and yet appear socially unethical. There were ugly scenes on streets with many policemen assaulting hapless citizens, amidst many examples of several men and women in Khaki going way beyond the call of duty to help people in distress with everything possible at their end. A large number of Indian farmers have been camping on borders of the national capital to protest a few controversial Farm Acts that were passed by the government in a jiffy. They fear such Acts were aimed at helping mega corporates to make big profits by controlling agricultural produce and hoarding essential items. Farmers feared that the Acts could convert them into labourers on their own fields. Initially the government and their political supporters rubbished the protesting farmers as anti-nationals and agent provocateurs of external enemies. Subsequently, sanity descended and the language of incumbents of the state changed. The government is believed to be negotiating with the agitating farmers. It is expected that the two sides could soon find an amicable solution.
At the end of 2020, it would not be outlandish to argue that, in its long and chequered history, India is once again at crossroads. Domestic political discords, amidst poorly regulated political competition, is believed to be the sole factor behind fragility of institutions and subversion of rule of law. These are manifest in its lackadaisical performance on most parameters of governance and national security, especially compared to its northern neighbour. Optimists still believe that despite enormity of governance challenges and institutional constraints, the world’s largest democracy with the highest number of poor still holds the key to credibility and desirability of democracy at a global stage. However, any substantial progress in this direction requires the quality of efforts that would stretch the intellectual and leadership attributes of not only political class but nearly all stakeholders in all section Indian society.
Need To Go Beyond Westminster Model
A formidable India with a better output on Human Development Index (HDI), as well as a sturdy and sustainable national security architecture, could be the biggest antidote to both Islamic radicalism and opaque authoritarianism. It could also lend the requisite stability to the global geopolitical equilibrium, especially in the context of continued ascendance of China and increasing unsustainability of the world-wide influence of the United States. However, India may have to re-configure many of its existing democratic-governance principles and practices by refining these and not diluting their inclusive, transparent and humanist character. India may have to go beyond the existing structures and processes of Westminster model of representative government, which appears incapable of pursuing the ambitious agenda of transformation that Indian people aspire or India needs at this juncture for optimizing its comprehensive national capacity.
Governance-security priorities and challenges of Indian democracy were different from its counterparts in the developed Western world in 1947 and remain so even now. Nevertheless, the first generation of leaders of independent India, in their sagacity and wisdom, found the Westminster model of governance, with multiple innovations, as the best option. Emerging from centuries of external invasions, domestic turmoil and colonial occupation, this was probably the best option available to them. This has not done too badly but remains inadequate to give wings to aspirations of younger India.
We must remember that no major state or civilisation, in the entire history mankind, has attained extra-ordinary transformation towards greatness by riding an imported political-governance apparatus that has emerged and evolved in a different political-social context in response to needs of people in those conditions. Despite innovations and indigenisation, Westminster model of representative democracy appears oblivious of some of the major governance challenges and priorities indian as well as the social and economic realities facing the world’s largest democracy at this stage. It is time to review efficacy of some of the existing political-governance institutions of India as well as its commercial – social practices in the prevailing context. This would be critical for re-evaluating our governance-security priorities and exploring most effective instruments to pursue these. (To be continued)