By Arunabha Bagchi
August 22, 2017
There have been many changes in India during the 70 years since Independence. Our efforts to develop a liberal, open, pluralistic democracy have relapsed into traditional Hindu obscurantism, characterised by casteism, communalism and bigotry.
Our politics changed from initial idealism to one of mere opportunism and money-grabbing entrepreneurship. Our economy flirted with pseudo-socialism before reverting to full-scale neo-liberalism, dominated unabashedly by big capital.
Our novel foreign policy of non-alignment was abandoned by first tilting towards the Soviet Union due to exigencies of circumstances, and then embracing the United States for the personal benefit of our businessmen, bureaucrats and politicians. Our alarming brain drain is now being eulogised as brain gain. In the middle of all these fluxes, there has been one constant throughout our post-Independence history. It is our Pakistan obsession.
Pakistan’s obsession with India is understandable. Pakistan has been struggling with its identity ever since its inception. Its soil is where the Vedic civilisation, the basis of Hinduism, flourished in ancient times. Pakistanis believe that the Hindus never forgave them for dismembering their ‘holy’ land by creating Pakistan. They also never accepted the status of Kashmir. India also had reasons in the beginning to be obsessed with Pakistan.
First, there was the issue of the partition of the country based on religion. Pakistan kept reminding Hindus of thousand years of Muslim rule of ‘foreign invaders.’ Then there was the mass killing of thousands of people on both sides, and ten million refugees going in both directions as the direct consequence of Partition.
This was soon followed by the 1948 war on Kashmir due to massive infiltration of the regular Pakistani army disguised as tribal rebels. Then there was the indecisive 1965 war that gave us some moral boost after our disastrous border war with China in 1962.
But I thought that our decisive victory against Pakistan in 1971 and the dismemberment of Pakistan with the creation of Bangladesh would put us psychologically on a different plane from Pakistan and we would be finally free of our Pakistan obsession.
Amazingly enough this did not happen. Decades after the Bangladesh war, the South Asia expert Stephen Cohen of the United States wondered: “One of the most important puzzles of India Pakistan relations is not why the smaller Pakistan feels encircled and threatened, but why the larger India does. It would seem that India, seven times more populous than Pakistan and five times its size, and which defeated Pakistan in 1971, would feel more secure.
This has not been the case and Pakistan remains deeply embedded in Indian thinking. There are historical, strategic, ideological, and domestic reasons why Pakistan remains the central obsession of much of the Indian strategic community, just as India remains Pakistan’s.” Our Pakistan obsession has pulled us down to the level of Pakistan in all spheres: economic, social and political.
Despite our much proclaimed sterling growth rates, our per capita GDP was $1701 compared to $1468 of Pakistan in 2016. The difference is not something to write home about.
On the human development index, we are ranked 131 among 188 countries, as opposed to the rank 147 for Pakistan. Finally, Zia-ul-Haq made Pakistan officially an Islamic State, while our present disposition is busy making India a de-facto Hindu Rashtra.
Given our size and potential, our real obsession should have been China. The hype of our growth rate being a fraction of a percentage higher than China’s, and that too after changing the base year for calculating the GDP growth, is just a feel-good factor for our ordinary people. China experienced a consistent growth rate of more than 10 per cent for thirty years.
We are still struggling to attain a growth rate of 7.5 per cent. After 1971 we could have ignored Pakistan, and become obsessed with China. After all we should have looked at China as our real competitor in Asia, given our similar population sizes and economic levels in the early Seventies. It could have been a healthy competition and not a hostile confrontation. Instead, we were the silent spectators as China surged ahead of us economically from the late Seventies.
First the Chinese industrialists from the nearby Asian countries, the so-called Asian Tigers, moved their factories to China. Their success induced Western companies to shift their factories on a massive scale to China.
Today China is the factory of the world producing all goods the Western consumers demand. Our trade with China sky-rocketed in this century with huge trade surplus in China’s favour. We can only sell raw materials to China, and the trade relation is that of a developed country with an underdeveloped one.
Still we do not have a national outcry to develop a truly industrial economy. What happened to our “Make In India” campaign? It seems that our current rulers are more interested in protecting cows, forcing people to sing Vande Mataram and asking us to take a pledge for getting rid of poverty, terrorism, casteism and communalism in five years that has eluded us for the past five millenniums.
China has leveraged its huge population to build tech behemoths Baidu and Alibaba, something we have singularly failed to achieve.
The presence of innumerable foreign companies helped China to strengthen its technological base with Chinese companies now competing with the western, Japanese and South Korean companies in high-end consumer products.
China’s massive military machine is based largely on domestically produced hardware. We, by contrast still import most of our sophisticated military requirements. China is already challenging the US interests in the South China Sea, while we rush to Washington to complain every time Pakistan does something sinister to us, or China maintains its intransigence against our interests.
Let us hope that, in lieu of impractical populist pledges and forced show of patriotism in this year’s Independence Day celebration, our Prime Minister would urge us to take a new pledge at the end of the 70th year of our Independence on 15 August 2018 that states, “We’ll catch up with China before the end of this Century.”