India’s survival as a united country for 70 years defying negative Western prophecies is a “miracle” and its success as a democracy is “remarkable”, historian-author Ramachandra Guha has said.
Delivering a lecture, Guha on Wednesday referred to the comments of Western analysts even in the 1970’s that India would “certainly” break up and cease to be a nation.
Guha said: “We have proved them wrong.”
“We have survived so long as a largely united country, and that’s a miracle. Despite problems in Kashmir and a few areas in the northeast, we have got 80 to 90 per cent success in achieving political unity.
“Ninety per cent of our population is at peace being in India,” the author said during the lecture at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet.
However, in terms of democracy, the “success is 50 per cent”, though that is also “remarkable”, he said.
But the 58-year-old cautioned that democracy had now become all about losing or winning elections while the real issues were buried.
Blaming the media, the thinker pointed to the coverage of the upcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly polls starting from February 11.
“There are no serious discussions on development issues. The media is only talking of alliances.”
Analysing various forms of freedom given to the citizens, Guha said the success had been mixed.
With regards to political freedom, Guha said the people had the right to choose their representatives, but electoral malpractices and use of money and muscle power were huge deterrents.
There was also an intolerance of criticism not only among the political class but also among various communities and linguistic groups.
“When I wrote something critical of Bengalis, I was abused like nothing.”
Another drawback were the police and paramilitary forces whose repeated violation of laws was shocking, he said.
Similarly, social freedom had constraints arising out of caste and gender inequalities which often have the “sanction of the scriptures”.
“But it is also true that the discrimination against and exploitation of Dalits and women are lesser today than any time in the past.”
Guha said the worst off now were the adivasis (tribals) who have gained the least and lost the most politically, economically and culturally due to rampant deforestation and mining.
“Naturally, the Naxalites made the most dramatic strikes in Adivasi areas.”
However, it was in terms of sustaining linguistic freedom that India had the best record.
“All principal languages were recognised as the medium of instruction. There were no efforts to impose Hindi. No other country has followed the path so successfully.”
Comparing India’s record with that of Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Guha said Pakistan lost a large chunk of territory in its bid to impose Urdu on Bengali-speaking people.
In Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese’s efforts to impose their language on Tamils led to 30 years of civil unrest.
On religious freedom, he said while minorities like Muslims had the choice of practicing their religion, they suffered “disproportionately during riots and might be stigmatised in times of peace”.
Guha said the economic liberalisation in the 1990s enhanced economic freedom, promoting private entrepreneurship and thereby triggering growth.
“But there were two dark spots. It was largely a jobless growth unable to create employment for millions of Indians.
“Also India has become an environmental basket case as we have polluted our rivers, damaged our forests and failed to give access to water to a large section of people. The farmers have suffered due to the soil getting toxic.”
Summing up, Guha said Indians now enjoyed far more freedom from the time the British left its shores but the freedom was “less than what the constitutional fathers wished the nation to be”.