Home > News > Columnists > Rajeev Srinivasan
The Summer of Our Discontent
May 19, 2004
I must admit that the taste of humble pie eaten cold is particularly bracing to the soul. I was wrong; no, I was comprehensively wrong about the outcome of Election 2004. Fortunately, every other member of the chatterati, including the die-hard Old Left windbags who are now preening, also had accepted as a fait accompli the return of the NDA to power. But that's cold comfort.
I had certainly expected the NDA to scrape through with perhaps a reduced margin. The magnitude of the setback has astonished and utterly saddened me, for this has come at an extremely inopportune time, for three reasons: the economic angle, foreign affairs/national security, and the idea of India. This is the mother of all missed opportunities.
But there is no time to waste on mourning. I remember Edward Kennedy's brilliant speech conceding defeat at the Democratic Convention in 1980: 'For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.'
Yes, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die. For all of us -- and I have been getting anguished e-mails from many -- need to keep fighting the good fight. We who care about that great nation, we who understand the greatness of that civilisation, we whose hearts are as one, like red earth and pouring rain, with the very soil of that Holy Land. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, we have a dream, and in the end, we shall overcome.
For all of us who have this dream, this is but a temporary setback; for we will eventually build that city on a hill, our millennial just society, much like what we had in ages past before invasions laid waste to the land. The enigmatic spirit of the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation, the oldest, the largest in area of all classical civilisations, the most peaceful, the most creative, lives on as a flame in our hearts. This civilisation has lasted for millennia because it has evolved organically with the land, and it has so much to offer to all of us.
Swami Vivekananda once said that if he but a hundred committed youths, he would work miracles: and those committed youths exist now, both in India and in the Diaspora, and they will never give up.
Yet, I look back at history and wonder why India seems so adept at fumbling its future. Is it because of Kali Yuga that India persistently shoots itself in the foot? Although there is a difference in scale and impact, I am forced to think of opportunities lost when India's wise men and women did not think of building the Great Wall of India to keep out the barbarians; when Prithviraj Chauhan let a defeated Mahmud Ghori go free; when Indians allowed Dara Shikoh to be murdered by Aurangazeb; when Indian fought fellow-Indian and permitted the wily European to bleed the nation dry.
And more recently when Indians allowed themselves to be brainwashed by an appalling and eminently stupid Stalinist ideology that prevented the nation from reaching the heights it could so easily have scaled. In 1997, as the Asian meltdown happened, India went into political instability mode, instead of standing firm as a safe harbor for any stray capital fleeing risk in Southeast and East Asia.
In 2004, India has been standing on the brink of a historic moment, for, finally, the world at large has begun to realize that far from being a land of poverty, India is a land blessed with a civilisational inheritance of intellectual power, and all the potential to be a leader.
Alas, that damned word, potential. As some wit once said of Brazil, that country is forever condemned to have potential. Is India condemned, similarly, to always be the country about which one has to say, 'if only…'? I hope not, but in the aftermath of the election results, I wonder. If only Indians had stayed the course in economics that the NDA followed! If only Indians had showed the world that they have their act together! The optimistic Goldman Sachs projections could have been more than met if only…
For we stand at the cusp of a new economic cycle and realignment. Despite the problems America is facing in Iraq, the US economy is beginning to show signs of growth, so much so that the Federal Reserve is signaling an imminent rise in interest rates to clamp down on inflation. This locomotive economy may be back on track. Meanwhile, an overheated China is likely to go in for a hard landing, throwing neighboring Asian economies into turmoil, with the singular exception of India whose exposure to China is minimal.
Given the way India has shone over the last year or two, with its dramatic across-the-board growth, the eminently successful divestment activity, the large investment in high-leverage infrastructure like highways, and the movement of service jobs to India, foreign institutional investment and foreign direct investment had perked up. Coupled with this, and the strong showing in manufacturing sectors where India had almost been written off, India was really looking up.
All the momentum is lost now with the Congress coming back into power, along with assorted hangers-on from the self-proclaimed 'secular', 'progressive' fringe parties. Unbridled Nehruvian Stalinism and the License Raj will reappear, along with dynasty sycophancy and groupthink. In particular, the ideologues of the Old Left will pack all the institutions of the State with their cronies, so that their impact can last for a long time.
All the achievements of the last few years will be reversed. Forecasting this, foreign institutional money has been deserting India in droves recently; these people are not sentimental, and they can read the writing on the wall: confusion, populism, subsidies, infighting, disaster. I wrote this before the massive drops on Dalal Street, which have now wiped out several billion dollars: losers include the small investor, as well as the Government of India, as public sector units stocks took a particular beating.
What is likely to happen now is the following: larceny on a large-scale by a motley crew consisting of everyone from uncouth China-loving Old Leftists to agents of Semitic religious extremists to Judases accepting foreign money to spike India's missile and space programs. They will ruin the economy, plenty of capital will flee the country and end up in numbered overseas accounts, and within about two years, the rascals will be fighting amongst themselves so badly that there will be another general election. In other words, the very antithesis of a stable, purposeful plan for growth.
There are a number of things that India needs now to continue on a growth path: continued privatisation; labor reforms; fiscal discipline via reducing populist subsidies and the pension burden; measures to attract FDI into several sectors like telecom, power, aviation, ports, roads, insurance and retail; a major focus on agriculture, treating it as a priority sector. Not one of them is likely to proceed with the Marxists hanging over the economy like so many succubi.
Interestingly, these same Maxists will never accept that their glittering China is beginning to look shaky, because of the problems with the banking system. They are attempting to cut down on rampant over-investment in unproductive sectors, and their growth rate will necessarily come down. Analysts are voicing their concerns: here are some links thanks to readers Dinesh and Ram, from the Economic Times, 'India Eclipses China as Asia's Star', from the Boston Globe, 'A Democratic India is overtaking China', from the Financial Times 'India Emerges the Star of Asia: Democracy and Growth', Stratfor, 'Euphoria, Meltdown and China's Economy.' This is partly why India has had a golden opportunity to outshine arch-foe China which is likely to fumble shortly.
And then the Indian voter goes and does this. Vinaasha kale vipareetha buddhi, I suppose. Why, I don't know. There may be complex answers, but all I can think of is anti-incumbency and the lack of an overriding supra-ordinate issue such as an external enemy. Since I don't understand the complexities of political life in North India, I tend to focus on the South, and there it appears to be simple anti-incumbency.
- Kerala, the ruling Congress lost every seat in the Lok Sabha election. The Marxists swept 18 out of 20 seats, and the NDA got one.
- Tamil Nadu, the ruling AIADMK lost every seat in the Lok Sabha election.
- Andhra Pradesh, the ruling TDP lost all but five seats in the Lok Sabha election, and lost power in the state election.
- Karnataka, the ruling Congress lost a majority of the seats in the Lok Sabha election, and lost power in the state election.
Similarly, in several other states where the incumbent government has been in power for some time, the vote was against them, except perhaps in Bihar and West Bengal, which are special cases because of general breakdown in governance in the former and cadre-based entrenchment of Marxists in the latter. There is the damning comment made by someone about a democracy bringing Stalinists to power: 'One man, one vote, one time.' Yes, you get to vote just that once, you will not have that troublesome chore ever again.
The impact on national security and foreign affairs of a Congress-Marxist government is rather frightening, especially if you are a nationalist. I found it quite instructive to read the editorials in the Western media. There was plenty of gloating about the fact that the white woman, darling of the West, had beaten the hated 'Hindu nationalists.' The New York Times euologised Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but found fault with him for the nuclear tests. The Guardian was happy that the NDA with its 'nationalism and divisiveness' was out.
This gives an indication of the West's calculations. The fact that the NDA had dared to stand up to their pressure on the nuclear issue is considered unforgivable. They expect the Congress to be far more susceptible to pressure than the NDA. The West cannot accept a nationalistic India, for that India would challenge them in every possible way sooner or later. They have continually contained India: for instance using Pakistan and China to box the country into a 'South Asia' ghetto.
The West -- which has assiduously supported the Nehru Dynasty in the recent past -- is quite certain that it will be able to influence them. They are expecting a volte-face from the shrill anti-Western Nehruvian rhetoric of the past. It is not entirely clear what makes the West so certain of this change of heart, and there may be a lot behind the scenes that we shall never know. But they are certain that they don't want a Hindu nationalistic bunch running India.
And that leads to the idea of India. There is an India of the imagination, the once and future India, the one that we have caught a few glimpses of in the recent past, the one that has suddenly appeared on the scene as an object of Western fear and concern, based on its intellectual capability. This is the idea of India that the nationalists share.
This is the India of the ages, the one that inspired a generation of freedom fighters to sacrifice everything; the India that in both its spiritual and intellectual achievements, is by far the greatest civilisation that has ever existed. This India has lain hidden under the detritus of a millennium of degradation, but its rhythms have survived in the hearts and minds and habits of its children. It survives in our remarkable acceptance of pluralism, in our willingness to question, in our openness to ideas from anywhere.
This India survives in the fact that the great religions that have come out of India are the only ones that are truly inclusive. It survives in such mundane matters as the fact if you climb in an auto anywhere in India, and the driver is a Hindu, his dashboard will have icons honoring Hindu deities, as well as Christian and Muslim objects; the reverse is never true. In the long run, this spirit of pluralism and respect for others will remain; and that deserves to survive.
This is the India over which European colonists carefully constructed a façade, claiming as theirs everything that came out of the genius of this nation: including our myths, our science, our astronomy, our mathematics. And in return they manufactured a history of India as a slave nation. The Nehruvian Stalinists and Marxists, for their own reasons, perpetuated this abominable lie, convincing large numbers of Indians that their nation and civilisation were worthless, echoing Macaulay's ignorant prejudices.
One of the most important things that the NDA managed to do was to challenge this conventional wisdom, even though Macalay's spiritual children continue to infest the halls of academia. And the process is about to begin again: recent reports quote one Eduardo Faleiro, a putative education minister in the Congress-Marxist coalition government, who wants to bring back Macaulayite and Marxist fabrications. For there is no better way to enslave a population than through mis-education, as in the brainwashed, who are Indian only in color, but enslaved shadows of foreigners in their hearts.
The most obvious attack on the idea of India has been the attempt to install Sonia Gandhi, a white woman with no particular accomplishment to her name, as the prime minister. As I write this, there is an uproar amongst various sections of the people against her elevation to this post -- demonstrations, petitions and legal challenges. There is also a well-orchestrated charade at her residence. She ruled herself out of contention, and 'distraught' Congress workers urged her to assume the position. I hope that some politicians will suddenly discover a backbone. Hope springs eternal.
Of course, the idea of India would survive a white woman becoming prime minister, but it would be damaged. It will take Indians much longer to fight the uphill battle for dignity. And I know -- and I speak for quite a few Indians -- that I would be embarrassed that India had to outsource its governance to a foreigner, and that too one with embarrassingly few qualifications. Indians would be laughed at, and deservedly so.
It is this idea of India, and a certain national pride (fortunately far removed from the jingoism prevalent in the US or Europe or China) that make it difficult for me to swallow the insult of a white foreigner ruling the nation. The Christian colonialists were even more destructive than the Muslims, and that's saying a lot. But at least the Muslims planned to stay, whereas the Christians intend only to loot. And loot they did: I have not made further progress with my analysis of white thievery, but the figure of $10 trillion is clearly not far off the mark.
From all these perspectives, the current dispensation of a Congress-led government supported by Marxists is a disaster for the nation. But the dream shall live on. We have to fight the good fight, not for ourselves, but for all those millions whose lives will improve if and only if a confident India boldly goes forth and claims its place at the high table. No shrinking, no inferiority complex, no aggression either, Indians just need to know that they deserve and can demand the best.
To that just society of our imagined India, I raise a toast; and we shall live to fight for it another day. Today's debacle is merely the first step towards a victory. Nothing concentrates the mind better than a disaster.
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