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Unfinished tasks of Bharat that is India

Last updated on: August 19, 2010 12:32 IST

We may be free but the tasks before us remain undone. Gopal Krishna offers a checklist

In the 63rd year of British parliament's Indian Independence Act dated July 18, 1947, 'to make provision for the setting up in India of two independent Dominions, to substitute certain provisions of the Government of India Act 1935', it is germane to recollect as to how British parliament gained this role on June 23, 253 years ago, at Plassey, a small village and mango grove between Calcutta and Murshidabad 'by promoting treason and forgery' to promote its business interests.

British rule in India had 'an unsavoury beginning and something of that bitter taste has clung to it ever since,' notes Jawaharlal Nehru in The Discovery of India (1946). But he could do nothing to put the treason and forgery of 1757 and 1857 on trial and ensure accountability for the perpetrators of violence during Partition.

It was the Indian Independence Act of the British legislature that said, 'From the fifteenth day of August, nineteen hundred and forty-seven, two independent dominions shall be set up in India, to be known respectively as India and Pakistan'. This act of the mother legislature and subsequent legal artifacts of Indian Parliament have failed to undo the damage done to Indian landscape and the cognitive costs it entailed.

Against such a backdrop, the prominent unfinished tasks of Bharat that is India merit attention:

Despite seeming independence, policy-makers of India have so far remained so infertile in their imagination that let alone undoing the damage done to the Indian political economy, they have failed to provide even a road map. In 1750 India's share of the world trade was nearly 25 percent. It came down to 0.5 per cent in the 1960s and now stands at around 1.5 pc. European Union today has the largest share of the global trade at 25 pc, it was 23.2 �pc in 1750.

'India in the eighteenth century was a great manufacturing as well as a great agricultural country, and the products of the Indian loom supplied the markets of Asia and Europe.' Independent India failed to fathom the significance of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa in the industrial revolution of Britain and has been found wanting in underlining indigenous agricultural revolution as is appropriate for Indian conditions.

At the time of the British takeover, India was comparable to England in industrial development. �The conqueror industrialised while Indian industry was destroyed by motivated British regulations and interference. �Spurred by the realisation of 'de-industrialisation' by the Britishers, the industrial policy independent India adopted was and remains an act in hurry for it was/has not been made disaster proof and oblivious of intergenerational equity with regard to natural resources due to blind financialisation of the economy with scant regard to non-monetary aspects.

Consequently, about 146.82 million hectare area of the country's total geographical area of 328.60 million hectares is hit by various kinds of soil erosion and land degradation. This is about 45 per cent of the country's total geographical area. This land degradation is due to soil erosion at an average rate of 16.4 tonnes per hectare per annum although the permissible limit (of erosion) is 10 tonnes per hectare per annum. Land degradation of about 9.48 million hectare happens by wind erosion.

A political economy of poverty and deprivation co-exists with the political economy of environmental degradation and engineered landscape in a military-mining-industrial complex. It remains to be undone.

Failure to defeat the politics of English language unleashed by the Britishers in favour of the Common School System as was recommended by a Government of India's high-powered committee under Dr D S Kothari, the then chairman of University Grants Commission has stifled creativity of Indian minds. The Kothari Commission Report on Education (1964-66) is still regarded as the most in-depth study of primary and secondary education in Indian history.

The characteristics of a common school system include: publicly funded schools open to all children irrespective of caste, creed, community, religion, economic condition or social status; no tuition fee is charged and providing free instruction for all in the mother tongue at the primary level, particularly for linguistic minorities; active encouragement of teaching in regional languages at the secondary level and discontinuance of state aid to schools imparting education other than in the medium of mother tongue/ regional language.

The National Education Policies of 1986 and 1992 endorsed the Kothari Commission's recommendation of a common school system across the country. However, the recommendation has so far not been translated into action. In 1990, the apex Central Advisory Board on Education, which appraises the extent to which the National Education Policy is implemented by the central and state governments and other agencies, appointed a committee to review NEP 1986.

CABE's Acharya Ramamurti Committee, which noted that the common school system proposal was not making any headway because of the constitutional protection given to minorities to establish and administer their own educational institutions, is incompatible with a common school system, public schools and privately managed English medium schools, schools charging capitation fees and those offering expensive coaching have proliferated.

Mere insistent and valid criticism on misplaced emphasis on English language is not sufficient. In fact it is sad but it appears to be true that they who know English are the upper castes and those who do not are Dalits. English as a medium of education must be eliminated in favour �the mother tongue but opposing it without advocating a common school system is manifestly insincere and dishonest because no developed or developing country has ever achieved universal elementary education or, for that matter, universal secondary education, without a strong state-funded and state-regulated common school system.

It is indeed an irony that such an equitable public school system has been prevalent in some form or the other in several European countries, USA and Canada but not in India where it is needed the most.

In 2006, the Bihar chief minister called for the common school system to be implemented by the central government in order to ensure quality and non-discriminatory education to all but has failed to implement the recommendations of its own common school system commission's report of June 2007 that called 'for a legislation underpinning the common school system'.

So far Parliament has remained frozen in its passivity and potency. It has failed to assert its authority be it with regard to the sovereignty of Indian citizens who constitute the Union of India. Its non-functional role is evident in the international affairs ranging from accession to WTO, in making corporations like the Dow Chemicals Company accountable, to recent Free Trade Agreements and its lack of oversight over intelligence agencies. This creates a compelling necessity to restructure Indian civil (Administrative) service to make it citizen friendly and not be subservient to interests of entities like the British East India Company and its new incarnations in various shapes and sizes.

Corporate funding of political parties makes India a property democracy in the absence of state funding for elections as was recommended by a parliamentary committee headed by Indrajit Gupta.�

The State loses its legitimacy for existence if its fails to provide universal public distribution system for food, universal health care and universal public transport system.� The five years plans framed, executed and monitored by the Planning Commission is in its 11th five year plan. Since the 1st Plan (1951-56) wherein nearly 45 pc of the resources were designated for agriculture and 4.9 pc for industry, it has come a long way and is now focused on the objective of increasing GDP growth to 10 pc and agricultural GDP growth to 4 pc per year so that its benefit "trickles down" to those who are facing hunger and malnutrition and are without electricity.

It remains inhumanly callous about rising prices of food prices and essential items like vegetables, oil, milk, sugar etc as if it cares only about those who fittest among the citizens who can survive through its motivated domestic policies.

India has an undernourished population of around 231 million (FAO, 2008). But the report refrains from admitting that the current industrial model of development does not appear to be appropriate for both the poor and the environment. Given the fact that India has about 700 million rural population directly dependent on climate sensitive sectors like agriculture, animal husbandry, forests and fisheries and natural resources for their livelihood, the acknowledged impact of industrial pollution on climate is obviously detrimental to food security.

Repeating the mistakes committed in his 1995-96 Budget speech, Dr Manmohan Singh has again focused on a growth rate centric development despite all indicators beneficial to that growth rate having disappeared. Clearly, rate of economic growth does not mean poverty alleviation, else what can explain the abundant and rotting food stocks not reaching the starving citizens? A paper titled 'Food Stocks and Hunger: Causes of Agrarian Distress' by Utsa Patnaik noted how in 2001, the per capita availability of 151 kg food grains per annum was lower than the level in the late 1930s and around the average for the time period corresponding to World War II, which included the Bengal famine of 1934. Due to rising prices and misplaced emphasis on industrialisation and urbanisation, the situation has worsened.

There is need for Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to ascertain the facts about the Battle of 1757, War of 1857 and the Partition of 1947 to diagnose the unprecedented violence, to build remedy and peace in minds where war and violence begins on the basis of evidence that has emerged by now.

When it came to light that British Prime Minister David Cameron's great-great-grandfather William Low was a British cavalryman who helped brutally suppress India's First War Independence in 1857, it drew no response from the prime minister or the chairperson of the Indian National Congress-led alliance or the opposition parties. Such deafening silence cannot hide the faces of collaborators, repenters, beneficiaries. Failure to examine the land distribution pattern and favours garnered after these events sans remedial measures is like a latent spark that can lead to holocaust-like situation in the remote future.

Gopal Krishna