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Affirmative action more important than the Arihant

August 18, 2009 15:16 IST

As a military and strategic affairs writer, I was overjoyed seeing the launching of INS Arihant. My heart filled with pride imagining that by 2025; 3-5 SSBN's submerged deep under the Indian Ocean, ready to launch debilitating 2nd or 3rd strikes will act as the greatest deterrent against any aggressor.

India is one of the very few countries that will continue investing men and material into becoming one of the most powerful nations under the sun. SSBN's, Akulas, aircraft carriers, stealth ships, Tupolev bombers, UCAV's, Poseidon's, Su-30 MKI's and ICBM's are just the beginning steps in the ascendancy of India as a global power.

India will also continue growing economically for the simple reason, there is still a lot left to be built both on the social and infrastructure fronts.

However, a disproportionate portion of the population is still below the poverty line, Education has only recently become a 'fundamental right' and healthcare is still not the best especially in semi urban/rural areas.

Part of the problem is political since vested interests within the Indian democratic system have to have problems. If all the problems vanish, what is the need for politicians, they say. This neglect of all round development and the borrowed philosophy of divide and rule keep most of the political parties in limelight.

But for a country to grow unhindered, weaknesses and enemies (both internal and external) have to be overcome.

Externally, India has to be very careful in dealing with Pakistan whose existence is dependent on whipping up passions against a so called Hindu India. The recent statement at Sharm al Sheikh by the honorable PM delinking terrorism and the composite dialogue is a national shame. Whatever diplomatic gains were made via international pressure on Pakistan after 26/11 was squandered by a monumental folly.

The 4 C's; Corruption, Communist inspired Naxalism, Communalism or Hindu-Muslim disunity and Caste-based feudal practices are India's biggest internal problems. While corruption and Naxalism can be dealt via the carrot and stick approach, there is really no clear solution to the Hindu-Muslim problem except for continued dialogue between the two religions.  

That leaves the biggest thorn in India's flesh -- the feudal caste system. Though India is rapidly changing today and caste is nothing but the differentiation between haves and have nots, semi urban and rural India is still very feudal and divided on caste lines.

Urban India may not fully experience these caste fissures but rural India that constitutes most of the voting masses still suffers from age old prejudices and continues to live in ancient times.  And politicians thrive in these divided demographics.

Here is where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has a unique opportunity to once and for all put the caste system under the bonfire. Not by trying to become a A B Vajpayee-like statesman but by apologising to Dalits, tribals and all other economically/socially weaker sections of the Indian society on behalf of the Indian government.

And, if he does this along with all political leaders united besides him, this bi-partisan apology will go a long way in healing centuries of pain and suffering and will lay a very strong foundation for modern India.

Some may say does an apology help?  Some may say what does an apology do without actions? Some may say that this is appeasement for electoral gains but the bottom-line is that though symbolic in nature, this will put to rest one of the least addressed problems of Indian society… lower caste anger against upper caste and vice versa.

After all, the Aussies have already apologised to the aborigines and the Americans have done it by electing their first black President in 235 years.

A democracy can only thrive when there is real unity based on common identity. India is still more than 85 percent Hindu and unless there is renaissance in Hindu society and peace between Hindus and Muslims, India cannot exploit its creative and intellectual strengths.

The only reason INS Arihant came out against all odds after 20 years of military isolation was because the scientists did not think of who belonged to which caste or community… all they thought was to unite and build a deterrent that could destroy all our enemies… and thus the name Arihant.

Pramod Kumar Buravalli