Tuesday, June 26, 2012

'Six fatal mistakes of free India' - N.A. Palkhivala



N.A. Palkhivala

Those of us who have lived through the earlier days of free India, when the entire nation was looking forward with zeal and fervour and with a feeling of national pride to the future, cannot but look upon the present times with deep anguish and distress.

Tall men dominated the scene, fifty-five years ago, in place of the pygmies who strut and fret their hour upon the stage today. After the passing away of those outstanding leaders, India became an orphan. I look upon those fifty years as the lost decades and at the end of fifty years, we are nowhere near the other Asian countries which started with us at the same level and are today ahead of us economically and politically.

May I enumerate the six fatal mistakes in the past fifty-five years which have brought us to this sorry state.

First, our greatest initial mistake was to start with adult franchise. No democracy has ever paid, all things considered, a heavier price for adult franchise than India. I am not aware of any great democracy which started as a republic on the basis of adult franchise; all of them started with a more restricted system and then graduated to adult franchise. Two of our greatest statesmen of the earlier years were C. Rajagopalachari and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. When the Constituent Assembly was in session, both those stalwarts recommended that we should not start with adult franchise but educate our people first to make them worthy of discharging their duties as citizens of a great democracy, but they were outvoted.

The second fatal mistake was to let the population nearly treble, in the absence of any sensible or sound family planning measures and policies. Today the problem has become so acute that whatever gains we achieve on the economic front are negatived by the unbridled population growth.

Thirdly, our most disastrous mistake was not to educate our burgeoning population and make them worthy of their right to vote. Value-based education has no political sex appeal. Our politicians gave the least importance to education, unlike Lee Kuan Yew who vowed to make education the priority of priorities in Singapore. To my mind, it is an unmitigated disgrace that in the Golden Jubilee year of India's independence more than half of our population is literally illiterate. Official statistics give a more comforting figure, but that is only because according to the official measure of literacy, any person who can write or sign his name, is considered to be literate. Education can only be a long-term programme for the uplift of our nation. Professor Amartya Sen has bluntly said that India will be the only country in the world to enter the twenty-first century with half her population illiterate; and that successive State governments have demonstrated 'incredible irresponsibility' with regard to primary education.

This is the one area where the Central and State governments have totally failed the people over the five decades despite the injunction of Article 45 of the Constitution that the state shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of the Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.

The fourth major mistake of our Central and State governments was to completely insulate the people from our ancient culture and keep them totally ignorant of the priceless heritage which has never been equaled by any other country.

The fifth mistake, of which we have yet to face the consequences, was not to inculcate among our people a sense of national identity. Indians find themselves totally rudderless, with the nagging question which will not go away – Is India a collection of communities or is it a nation; or, is India a state without a nation? The greatest curse of India is casteism – the scourge which has spread across the country more dangerously than any plague ever did.

The sixth, and the most unforgivable omission of the politicians, has been to let the people think that they are entitled to freedom without a sense of duty and responsibility. By definition, Indians lack discipline and a sense of national dedication. The reason why some other countries, despite their huge population, are able to govern themselves admirably, is that they have a sense of order and discipline. Do we need the emergency to make us realize the paramount importance of discipline? Without such values, can we ever hope to transform India into a great nation?

May I repeat what I said a few years ago? Democracy has become so degraded and depraved that people may yearn for a change. The Indian people may lose their freedom again, or alternatively, the country may suffer disintegration. This is the exact opposite of what I wish but it is a sad apprehension of what can happen if the present decline is allowed to continue.

In the more liberalized climate now prevalent, we stand on the threshold of an exciting future – not without its costs, its challenges, and its risks. We must face up to the real world, and measure up to these demanding times if we are to make a crucial contribution.

And at the end of fifty years, we are nowhere near the other Asian countries which started with us at the same level and are today ahead of us economically and politically.
'The spindle in Gandhi's hand became sharepr than the sword. The simple white sheet wrapping Gandhi's body was an armour plate which guns from the fleets of the master of the seas could not pierce and the goat of Gandhi became stronger than the British lion.
– Milhail Noema
(the Arab Poet)