Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Independent Republic

January 28, 2006
Vasu Reddy from Chicago

Indian finance minister Mr. Chidambaram proudly points out that the Indian GDP is growing at 7%, and could possibly go to 8%. A sustainable growth of 7% to 8% GDP will definitely influence the Indian economic might globally. The Indian politicians in power are making statements that imply the current government policies are influencing the excellent but sustainable GDP growth. The current government is less than two years old, and it is practically impossible to influence a GDP turnaround in that short span of time. The real architects of the forward looking economic policies; Dr. Man Mohan Singh and Mr. Chidambaram who originally were in the early 1990s government of Mr. Rao, today run the country and its finances. The growth in GDP should be attributed to the long term and positive influence of the then progressive looking government, and the good fortune to have the same leadership back in power after fifteen years to enhance the opportunity to extend the economic benefits.

Independent India after getting rid of the British rule was governed under the leadership that felt that we were a country of poor people, who needed basics to live. To a large degree the first three leaders of the independent India were simply trying to deal with the aftereffects of India’s independence from the British, and tried a combination of democracy and Marxism to rule the independent India. Many a noble men and women who sacrificed their entire life to gain Indian independence from the British were freedom fighters, not politicians nor trained administrators to handle the enormous list of issues an independent India faced. The people themselves did not appreciate the value of democracy, as they perhaps did not have a feel for democratic thinking for hundreds of years under the divide and conquer rule of foreigners. The leaders of Independent India invested their entire thought process into achieving an independent republic, and perhaps never had the time to think of governing an independent country. When we finally became independent, we lost the father of the nation quickly to one of our own, and perhaps Mahatma was the best non-office seeking politician we ever had. His loss also set independent thinking amongst the freedom fighters turned politicians to frame their own agendas for the independent India. The magic of being independent India lasted for at leas the first couple of decades and perhaps Mr. Nehru and Mr. Shastri, and then the government of Mrs. Gandhi.

Mrs. Gandhi when she came into power after her illustrious father and a short span as prime minister by Mr. Shastri, was also perhaps the first leader of the Indian republic to face the reality of Independent India’s list of problems and she could not avoid them in her tenure as her predecessors did. She enjoyed the benefit of her father’s goodwill and her astute observations of the governing of India, and also understood the psychology of the Indian people before she came into power.

Mrs. Gandhi’s real challenges did not come until the 1970s. She was jubilant with war with Pakistan and supporting the separation of East Pakistan that became Bangla Desh. Although India helped Bangla Desh become independent, the long term political relationship with the neighbor has not been positive. Our relationship with Pakistan only went from bad to worse and no immediate plan to sort out the Kashmir issue. The controlled areas of Kashmir by Pakistan and China seem to be under their control for good, and the land grabbing by the neighbors seem to be OK with the international community, which clearly is undecided about the position that Kashmir belongs to India. The policies that allowed the occupation of Kashmir by the Chinese and the Pakistanis is simply lack of aggression and global astuteness of the Indian politicians. Granted that they were more concerned about how to take care of the newly independent India, but they for sure were not capable of laying claims to the land that belonged to India and keeping it as a part of India.

Ignoring the challenges of our neighbors the country’s ever growing population put a lot of demand for food and basic necessities. Hunger and poverty are the biggest diseases humans can get in contact with and India with its ever-expanding population suddenly found itself very independent and very hungry. Political parties and dissent in the congress forced the emergency rule. There were a lot of terrible decisions made by the government to keep the political power, but all said and done history tells us the Janata Party and other offshoots came into power, quickly lost it, as they did not have any better solutions, except a lot of rhetoric.

When Mrs. Gandhi came back to power she continued to be confronted with the massive problems of the huge population that was expanding faster than what was politically possible to solve. Mrs. Gandhi also made small strategic errors such as attacking Golden Temple, and believing that she was in control. Her killing was unfortunate, instead of voting her out. But again the country had already tried another government, but it was not a good option for the people. When Rajiv Gandhi became the prime minister after the death of his illustrious mother, he did bring fresh outlook into politics. I believe Rajiv Gandhi was truly forced into the leadership of a country that believed in dynasty rule. Remember that the 2006 Congress plenary in Hyderabad is demanding Rahul Gandhi to take over. Going back to Rajiv Gandhi, once he was thrown into the leadership of a vast country that needed everything, he did make great progress with policies. He hired great support cast and was open to changing the way the political structure behaved to the country’s needs. I believe he was the first leader of the post independent India to take necessary steps to meet the demands of the country. Rajiv Gandhi was surrounded with intelligent people who made some good decisions to make the country market driven. They started to take into account the reality of the resources available to the nation and what can be done to meet the needs. Although Rajiv Gandhi survived for several years, and then lost elections and then eventually assassinated by Tamil zealots, he was in my opinion the first leader of the independent India to make decisions and enforce policies that started to bring India into market economy, and move away from “Jaribi Hatavo” slogan and start doing something about removing poverty.

In any case the eventual political turmoil after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, and the coalition government of Mr. Narasimha Rao, is what I believe that started the economic powering of India that is happening today. Toady we speak of Tata acquiring companies in USA, or people from other countries hired to word in India, BPO boom, IT dominance and a host of foreign investments in every imaginable area in India. I worked in the time when India was easing restrictions on foreign investments, currency conversion and communications. Today’s Congress leaders were a part of that government and they were reformists then who promoted progress. Those policies of the early 1990s helped to create the IT and communications boom, that helped every other industry, and in turn made India grow at a rapid pace. The GDP growth over the past 15 years has been more than double that of the rest of the world, and only the Chinese may be growing at the same pace. Our current leadership is capable of driving extraordinary growth of the country.

Great countries grow over decades of extraordinary management of their policies and politics. I believe India can do the same. The politicians continue to banter about the things that are wrong but no one from the opposition seem to recognize the achievements of the Indian industry and commerce. They are simply finding faults on a personal basis, or complain of wrongdoing of people who are dead. I think the country should separate the political grandstanding and become independent of the personalized politics. A leader should become popular for what great policies and achievements on his or resume, not because of what the last name is, or what caste he belongs to or who he is associated with. Let the country’s politicians believe that they must continue to earn the right to govern the country, and not believe that they are the rulers of a country. Our democratic land has always been keen on politics and preserving the right to vote, as we did even with Mrs. Gandhi and voted her out of power when we no longer could deal with the autocratic rule. India today is independent and growing and becoming its own within the global community. Indians are smart, intelligent and politically very astute. The people in power most times are behaving well and taking notice of the needs of the people. The opposition parties by and large are focusing on the past wrongs of the dead leaders, or simply opposing the current leaders on every project or initiative. All said and done sustaining the growth of the country needs continued fiscal management and clear thinking. Politically and economically, the leaders of the independent India must continue to be progressive. The country doesn’t have time to think of the past, but look forward to the future of prosperity. We as a nation have always been world travelers with the intelligence to keep doing the right things to help our family and country.

Our independent republic slowly has been taking charge of its own destiny and the politicians who are given the opportunity can be as independent as the people who put them in power. Make independent and forward looking decisions, and make India the best place in the world to live and work. The beauty of independence is that it has a mind of its own, and nothing can stop independent thinking from progress.

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