Wednesday 20 January 2021, 03:51 AM
Looking beyond 2020
By D.C. PATHAK | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 12/27/2020 6:39:59 PM
Looking beyond 2020

As the year draws to a close, the thinking citizens are left wondering what lies ahead -- considering the numerous impediments to progress that Indian democracy faced through 2020. Covid took its toll affecting more than ten million people, disrupting many businesses and creating huge unemployment. The mortality rate, however, was less than 1.5 per cent as the awareness of prophylactic treatment had spread rapidly, thanks to the extensive messaging done by the medical community and the health administration of the Centre.

The initial lockdowns appeared harsh and long -- they did result in the tragic saga of thousands of migrant labour losing their jobs and travelling hundreds of kilometres on foot with their children to reach home in a do or die situation. The closures did, however, highlight the national crisis that the pandemic had created for India and brought out the deep sense of engagement that the central leadership led by Prime Minister Modi showed in dealing with the ongoing health disaster. The clarity of approach demonstrated by the Centre -- policy ambiguities evident in many developed countries, including the US, provided a contrast -- was laudable and gave reasons to believe that India will pull out of the crisis sooner than later. The fact that the Prime Minister himself was reaching out to the Chief Ministers for planning in detail the production and distribution of the new vaccine is an assuring example of dedication and concern shown at the highest level of the country's governance.

The country's economy took a hit because of the pandemic -- witnessing a substantial decline of GDP, loss of millions of jobs in the MSME and unorganised sectors and a shrinking of demand across the market. It goes to the credit of enterprising Indians, who retained their optimism, that they launched efforts to revive trade and commerce bottom up, taking advantage of the strength of indigenous economy of India that had rescued this country even during the global economic downturn of 2008. The Prime Minister's perceptive call of 'vocal for local' is producing results as the crisis also underscores the importance of partnership, collaboration and diversification within a proximate setting of the city, state or the country. Businesses have quickly realised that instead of firing off employees, it was better to try to retain them with reduced perks as this would yield a long-term advantage in terms of enhancing their organisational loyalty.

Globalisation worked only for a few major players particularly those in online retail business but with the resumption of local supply chains linking producers with customers, the markets are springing back to life. The pandemic has produced two lasting consequences, both positive -- working from home is now becoming a built-in mechanism for making businesses cost effective and online education will stay across the spectrum even when institutions became functional like before. In fact, reopening of schools and colleges would be the real test of normalcy. In the new year the Indian economy, and hence employment, is expected to enlarge substantially. It is important, however, that the democratic state turns into a welfare state as well during the interregnum so that there is political stability.

The passing year has, for a variety of reasons, marked the return of agitational politics as the instrument of mobilising numbers against the regime in a situation where the opposition cannot do much inside the Parliament. This trend will stay. The formidable farmers' agitation, whipped up by the agriculturists of Punjab and Haryana against the triple laws brought in by the Centre for 'reforming' the sector, became the hub for a sustained stir that drew in political forces of the opposition, the left liberal lobby and the radicals who opposed the Modi government's 'nationalist' agenda. The agitation has seen near blocking of the road entries into the national capital for weeks and attracted headlines in India and abroad.

The Supreme Court has intervened to uphold the right to protest -- without causing harm to property or inconvenience to the public -- on one hand and appoint a committee under its oversight to find a negotiated settlement between the government and farmers, on the other. The laws had whittled down the exploitative hold of big agriculturists and financiers on the average farmers through the traditional 'mandis' and provided an alternate direct access to the farmers for businesses. The agitation was initially sparked off by these vested interests. The laws did not specifically carry an assurance that MSP would continue to be in place till the new arrangements proved to be viable and this became a core issue for the agitators. Clearly, a programme of direct contact with farmers by the ruling party to explain the potential benefit during the run-up to the intended legislation might have been of help. Against the backdrop of the Congress-led March to the President on December 24, the stir is likely to continue in the new year as a test of attrition between the opposition and the Modi government.

The domestic situation has been a matter of concern from the angle of internal security. The farmers' agitation carries the potential danger of anti-India forces exploiting it for causing alienation of Sikhs particularly the youth of the community. Intelligence has reportedly indicated how there are attempts by Pak proxies to play up 'Khalistan' sentiment in Punjab and in countries like the US, Canada and UK. It is also seen how left extremists and radicalised elements had been a part of planned campaigns to project the Modi regime as an autocratic rule and how the minority card had become the chief factor guiding the opposition on most political issues. The country is witnessing a deepening communal divide as a result. The average Muslim, like any other citizen, is preoccupied with concerns of livelihood but political leadership of the minority community is in the hands of the communal elite and Ulema -- and they foment the divide. With the decline of the Congress as an all-India party, there is a likelihood of regional politics -- that has a history in this country -- cropping up more strongly and challenging the ruling party as its main opposition, at least in some states.

The attempt to cast the Modi government as a promoter of 'majoritarianism', anti-minority bias and ultra-nationalism will continue -- the legal initiative to block inter-faith marriage for preventing conversion of Hindu girls to Islam and the renewed trend of cow slaughter issues precipitating public violence are likely to affect the domestic environ and will call for greater vigilance. Finally, a problem that requires deep examination is the falling performance of the states in the sphere of law and order -- this has the potential for disrupting the federal strength of India that has a Constitution weighing in favour of the Centre and adversely affecting the image of India abroad with consequences for investment and economic growth. It is necessary that the Centre has an effective say in the drawing up of the panels of IAS and IPS officers for the selection of Chief Secretary and DGP of the states -- this would have the blessing of the Supreme Court as evident from its 2019 order barring the appointment of an 'officiating DGP' in Jharkhand.

The international scene has toughened for India in the new year with the change of Presidency in the United States, emergence of Sino-Pak axis as a major security threat for this country and the continuing rise of radical Islam within the Muslim world making South Asia vulnerable to destabilisation on that count. Under President Donald Trump, India-US convergence had touched a new high in all matters of global concern. This year's Presidential contest in the US revolved round domestic issues so much so that the new President-elect is still deeply caught in sorting out internal political conflicts and controversies on such fundamental issues as bringing the election result itself to closure, combating the Corona pandemic and restoring socio-cultural unity of Americans deeply disturbed by the course of 'Black Lives Matter' movement.

The foreign policy agenda of Joe Biden is still not clear. It seems that the advances made by India and the US in the spheres of economy and defence may hold but in the area of international relations, India may have to watch out for shifts in American policy on some matters that are of vital strategic interest to India. Democrats have the legacy of not calling faith-based terror of Islamic radicals in their bid to be 'politically correct' -- this accusation was openly hurled by Trump on Hillary Clinton in 2016 election to his advantage -- and also of tending to hyphenate India with Pakistan. Some of it may show up again -- the induction of a man like John Kerry in a position where he had a say in security matters should be noted as he was the only senior US functionary who had visited Mumbai following 26/11 and pronounced before the press that the unprecedented attack was the doing of 'non state actors' of Pakistan without any kind of involvement of the Pak army. What is more, he made the then government meekly accept that view. The Biden regime may heavily bank on Pakistan's 'goodwill' in the US effort to establish peace in Afghanistan and may be not as harsh towards China as Trump was on issues other than the security of the Indo-Pacific. The alliance between Pakistan and China is irreversible after the completion of CPEC infrastructure by China on the territory in POK bartered away by Pakistan to its new ally. India, therefore, will have to deal with the Sino-Pak aggressiveness on our borders on its own although its active participation in QUAD will remain valuable for the US -- for India too this is important since it is part of our defence of the Indian Ocean.

While Indian experts have traditionally been devoting to the study of China, it is also necessary now to track the developments in the Islamic world that strengthen the hands of Pakistan against India. Radicalisation remains a persistent threat to internal security and calls for a multi-pronged strategy to prevent its spread here. Radicalisation digs in deeper amongst youth whose only exposure to education was at a free madrassa that taught exclusivism of faith and the rejection of other belief systems. At the centenary function of AMU, Prime Minister Modi, in his address as the chief guest, praised the university for its role in the education and empowerment of Muslim women, emphasised that in India there was development of all regardless of caste, creed or gender and appreciated the national character of the institution, calling it a 'mini India'. In what was a timely reminder, he called for a drive to spread modern education beyond traditional teaching. The Centre should plan to draw the children of poor families, particularly of minorities, to such an education imparted free at the school level. A certain uniformity of education makes for national unity and progress.

It is thus clear that the coming year brings with it both external threats to India's security as well as perceptible dangers to our internal stability and national integrity. There is need to constantly spread out the message to our citizens as well as the world outside that Indian democracy stood on a strong footing as it worked for development for all and an equal protection of law for every citizen regardless of caste, creed or region. The Centre has to find a way of ensuring that states measured up to their primary responsibility of maintaining law and order since this was necessary for both development and national security. Many states were failing on this front and hurting the image of India as a nation. Reforms in this regard must get a priority in the new year.

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