WASHINGTON DC, Aug 4, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Indian girls look for clothes in a garbage dump near Bombay August 3: Reuters Photo

Is India a Super Power or a Failing State

By Mohan Guruswamy

NEW DELHI, August 4: The term "failed state" entered our lexicon, initially, in the context of Somalia, Afghanistan, and now, increasingly, for Iraq. State authority and power are often confused as being the same.

Authority derives from constitutional legitimacy and respect for the institutions such as the judiciary, Parliament, permanent bureaucracy, and the press, whereas power is really the power to coerce and enforce the will of the State. Authority is abstract while power is physical.

This is not to say that in a failed state the power to coerce or enforce does not exist. In Somalia, there are more guns in the hands of the various warring clans than a legitimately constituted state would have ever required. Ditto for Afghanistan. Ditto for Iraq.

In these countries, the symbols of statehood are much in evidence. There is a currency and people trade with each other. Goods are imported and exported. Services like electricity, water, and transport are still available. Schools and courts function. There is even foreign representation. Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq have embassies in New Delhi.

Yet, we call them failed States because the people who call the shots, or more often fire the shots, are without any constitutional, legal, moral, divine, or civilisational authority. They are in a state in which societies existed before the advent of the modern state. That they are nationalities or even States is not in doubt, but the point is that they have failed to be states where constitutional authority reigns and power does not grow from the barrel of a gun.

In mediaeval times, the State mainly existed to enrich the king and the durbar, and increase their power and area of domination. Not so the modern State, implicit in which is that the State is tasked with not only providing order, but also improving living standards and transform society.

Thus, while the ability to provide order is important, to judge whether a state has failed or only partially passed, one has to judge it by the other broad parameters. India is certainly not in the Somalia league. It is not even in the Pakistan league, where the internal situation is so appalling that many western observers have taken to calling it a failed State.

Yet our own performance is not something we can be proud of. Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, and significant parts of Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh are anarchic.

Even in the states where we consider there is some order, what is the record of the police? Recorded crime in Delhi was up by 55 per cent last year. In Mumbai and Delhi, the police have had to resort to extralegal methods, euphemistically called "encounters", to curb criminals.

The press and society, generally, laud this, not realizing that such activities have a tendency to go out of hand and start devouring the innocent. Instead of exposing the essential criminality of a Rajbir Singh of the Delhi Police or Daya Naik in Mumbai, the media entertains us with stories of their unidirectional close encounters. We never hear of a policeman getting even a scratch in these encounters.

Only about a third of major crimes like murder and dacoity are solved, and less than 10 per cent end with convictions. On a more mundane level, not many people stop at red lights anymore. At the half-year point, nearly 800 persons have perished in Delhi from automobile-related accidents. It has been a steep descent from Sardar Patel I to Sardar Patel II, and then some more now.

The institutions from which our State should derive authority are in a poor way. The quality of justice, particularly in our lower courts, is suspect.

Cases are routinely rigged. There is the case of Sanjay Dutt, a man caught with two AK-47 assault rifles, and he is set to be excused because his late father wanted it. More importantly, Shiv Sena boss Bal Thackeray wanted it.

In Kashmir or Manipur, just the possession of such lethal weapons will invite an "encounter". Not just this, Sanjay Dutt gets to have dinner with former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in New York.

The "party with a difference" had as a Member of Parliament (MP) a person who has been "acquitted" of the (unsolvable) murder of the husband of the woman he now openly lives with. Another Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP has been known to be an associate of the Dawood Ibrahim gang that set off the Mumbai bomb blasts.

One cannot turn to the courts for justice, although there is a growing tendency to do so. Several million cases clog the higher courts, which has had a devastating impact on orderly civil and commercial transactions. Delays in justice routinely lead to broken contracts and agreements. Even the State has joined in exploiting this.

Witness the manner in which government departments and companies routinely hang on to properties where the leases have long expired. In fact, it is so accepted a practice that not to do it is to invite suspicion. We have created a system which encourages distrust. It is small wonder, then, that after politics, law is the most lucrative profession.

A friend who lives in Haryana was recently relating a harrowing story of how he had to pay an inspector of police to get a case of theft registered. It is not surprising that common people without the wherewithal to get expensive and slow justice seek other avenues.

In Mumbai, they go to godfathers like Arun Gawli Member of the Legislative Assembly; in western UP, they go to the caste panchayat; in Bihar, they go the caste mafia leader; and in Telangana and Bastar, they go to the Peoples War. The supreme irony is that more often the quality of justice delivered by the informal system is considered to be superior to that offered by the Constitutional legal system. Even policemen seem to prefer them.

Corruption is so well entrenched and accepted that one is not required to dwell upon it. The phrase "to enjoy power" has acquired an entirely different dimension. The critical thing is that no action of the State, however highly placed the decision-maker, escapes suspicion.

Corruption, as Indira Gandhi once self-servingly pointed out, is a worldwide phenomenon. Compared to the scale on which the Suharto, Marcos, and Bhutto families prospered, the activities of the Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee families, real or adopted, were small change. They can even be condoned as inevitable and a small price to pay in a country where sycophancy and flexible notions of morality are inherent cultural traits.

But the record of the Indian State in improving the living standards of the majority of its people is abysmal. India languishes among the bottom five of the World Bank's annual Development Report. Almost 70 per cent of the Indian nation lives below a poverty line that would factor in balanced diet, shelter, access to education and healthcare, and basic civic amenities.

Nearly 60 per cent of Indians are illiterate. Infant mortality is 137 per 1,000 births. On all infrastructure indices we are well below — forget China — even Pakistan! The Central government earmarks less for health and education than the cumulative pay raise the bureaucracy got last year — Rs 90 billion.

The State spends much more on the bureaucracy — a whopping Rs 1700 billion for all Central and state government employees each year. That is a good 10 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product and is growing. The service sector is doing so well because public administration is growing at 11 per cent each year.

If we remove this growth from the annual growth of 5-6 per cent, about which all our sarkari and pink paper economists crow, you will get a real growth much closer to the Hindu growth rate of 3 per cent we used to deride.

The bureaucracy has a self-serving methodology to determine poverty — 2,200 and 2,400 calories, respectively, for urban and rural areas. Given the rise in food grains production and the State's ability to make much smaller food subsidy investments, every successive regime is able to crow that poverty levels are coming down.

In Dr Manmohan Singh's last year as finance minister, the government reported that poverty was down to 19 per cent, and tried to make us believe that its industrial liberalization policies were percolating down.

An Oxfam report and studies by leading economists like Suresh Tendulkar revealed that due to inflation and contraction of the economy in the initial years of "liberalization", simple economic logic says that poverty levels actually went up.

At that time, the BJP said that it would use more parameters to determine poverty. Such a step would have resulted in targeting poverty alleviation differently. Rather than focus on providing food grains, the State would also have to focus on education, health, water, work, transport, sewage, and so on. We would see more investments in the rural sector, where the war on poverty has ultimately to be waged. On the basis of this parameter, after 57 years as a modern state and with very clear non-realisation of the Founding Fathers' dreams of a modernized state, we are clearly a failed State.

The failures of the first 50 years set out the task for the BJP, India's first truly non-Congress government. When the BJP came to power, the Congress truly symbolized corruption, venality, and an uncaring leadership. But, instead of change, we got five more years of the same, the same monumental corruption, the same concentration of powers, the same uncaring attitudes to the real problems, the same kind of statism.

Only, instead of a doting father, we now had a doting father-in-law. Liberalization became Suhartoism instead of an all-encompassing reform process.

The two United Progressive Alliance budgets have made no significant alteration in the general direction of the previous decade. There is a decline of spending on critical sectors. The Central government spends less on agriculture and irrigation than on civil aviation. About 70 per cent of our people are dependent on agriculture, which accounts for 23 per cent of the Gross National Product, whereas there were only 12 million air-passengers last year.

Today, Delhi has the highest level of air pollution in the world. The Ganga is so polluted that health experts say that exposure of even a small wound to it will lead to infection. All urban, human, and industrial wastes flow into water bodies, and thence into the groundwater or rivers. All over the country, groundwater tables are falling alarmingly as the State has abandoned its responsibilities to provide for water harvesting and irrigation.

This article is the introduction of a detailed cover story in the August Edition of Hardnews, which claims to go beyond what one finds in news reports and analyzes, exposes, strategizes and looks at every aspect of Indian lives through the prism of politics. Web site: hardnewsmedia.com

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