On the occasion of Republic Day, it is only natural that the country articulates the resolve to strengthen the foundational pillars of our Republican Constitution. Secular democracy, economic self-reliance, federalism and social justice constitute these pillars on which our modern republic rests. Notwithstanding the usual peroration accompanying such articulation of the resolve, it is imperative that the Indian people intensify the struggles to safeguard the gains made so far and to enlarge them in the days to come.
During the course of the last one week, I had the opportunity to have two public interactions with renowned international personalities, both born in undivided British India, but living abroad, which have a direct bearing on these issues. First was with the internationally-eminent economist Jagdish Bhagwati at New Delhi. The Columbia University, US, has established a chair in his name in 2004. The second was with the international activist, Tariq Ali, at Kolkata. The contrast between these two, in a way, also poses the choice between questions that India, as a Republic, faces today.
The discussions with Bhagwati centred around his latest book, In Defence of Globalisation. This discussion was moderated by Lord Megnad Desai of the London School of Economics. During the course emerged certain very uncomfortable truths of the real world under globalisation. According to the International Labour Organisation, 12 crore people are officially registered as unemployed. There are an additional 70 crore who are underemployed. A total of 130 crore people live in absolute poverty earning less than $1 a day. In addition, 300 crore people — more than a half of the world’s population — live on less than $ 2 a day. Hearing this, Lord Desai lamented that a cow in the European Union is subsidised to the extent of $ 2.80 a day!
According to the Human Development Report, 46 countries in the world have become poorer today than they were in 1990. The share of the poorest 20 per cent of the world’s population is less than 1 per cent down from 1.4 per cent in 1991. On the other hand, the combined assets of 358 billionaires in the world is greater than the combined annual GDP of countries constituting 45 per cent of the world’s population, or 230 crore people.
In India, while distress suicides and starvation deaths stalked our rural areas, the number of individual billionaires increased from 71 to 311 during the course of the last year. They have a net worth of Rs 364,000 crore. At an 8 per cent rate of interest, they would be earning Rs 29,000 crore a month, or Rs 80 crore a day. Indeed, the challenges before the nation to strengthen the pillars of social justice and economic self-reliance under these conditions are colossal. Bhagwati, in fact, argued for active State intervention to protect the welfare of the farmers who were forced to commit suicide.
The moot question, however, is: where does the Indian State raise resources to offer such protection? In fact, since the adoption of the reform process, the share of the central tax revenue to the GDP declined from being close to 11 per cent to close to 8 per cent last year, i.e. a loss of revenue of over Rs 1 lakh crore every year!
This, however, should not detract us from recognising that the foundations of our republic can be strengthened only when the State arms itself with the capability for such intervention. This means that we must be prepared to face up to the international pressures of globalisation which constantly seeks to downsize State expenditure in the name of fiscal discipline. Never mind the fact that such advice comes from a country, the United States of America, whose public debt in September 2004 stood at $ 8.2 trillion — 65 per cent of its GDP.
The other conversation with Tariq Ali focused on the popular reactions to this state of affairs among the world’s people. Like the rejection of the ‘India Shining’ and ‘feel good’ factor slogans in India in the 2004 general election, people in many countries are reacting in a similar fashion.
This is dramatically reflected in Latin America where country after country has been defeating, in elections, forces that advocate neo-liberal economic reforms. It is all the more significant that this is happening in a continent which was once considered to be the backyard of US imperialism. Following such electoral victories in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, comes the news of the victory of Evo Morales as President of Bolivia. This is followed by the victory of the Left-Centre coalition in Chile.
Clearly, people in Latin America are rising in opposition to US-dictated economic prescriptions that had heaped misery on them. Nine more countries in Latin America are scheduled to have elections in 2006. The results of these will, conceivably, change the political map of the continent.
Elsewhere in the world, the popular struggles against the US’s military occupation of Iraq, its latest targeting of Iran and its brazen support to Israeli atrocities are growing. These struggles will shape the contours of future world developments.
It is in this specific international conjuncture that the struggles to strengthen the pillars of our modern republic must be undertaken. The strengthening of our economic sovereignty and self-reliance, under these circumstances, means the need to directly resist globalisation’s assaults on this score. This entails that India pursues an independent foreign policy resisting US pressures and emerges as the legitimate leader of the developing world.
The contrasting content of these conversations reflects the complexity of today’s world. Resisting the mosaic of miseries through popular struggles — the way it is happening in many countries, especially in Latin America — is the way forward for the Indian people to protect their gains of the past and move towards a better future.
On the score of strengthening the pillars of secular democracy and federalism, a long road has to be traversed before these can be irreversibly consolidated. The Indian Constitution describes our country not as the Indian Union but as the Union of Indian states. This is not
a mere semantic difference. Behind this is a large history of people’s struggles which brought about the integration of British India with the princely States. Federalism, thus, became one of the cornerstones that shaped the evolution of India. The issue of Centre-state relations, thus, has always remained an important issue.
Under contention has always been the issue of the central intervention through the office of the governor. This has once again come into centrestage with the recent Supreme Court 3-2 majority judgment concerning the dissolution of the Bihar assembly. While the issues contained in the judgment will be discussed intensely, it is clear that after such an indictment, it is not morally tenable for the present incumbent governor to continue to hold office.
Having said this, let us return to the larger theme: the issue of consolidating the Indian Republic necessarily has to take place in the background of the current global developments. No country can today remain insulated or isolated. The moot question is: what are the terms on which such an integration with the global economy will take place? Let us work for the realisation of such terms which shall strengthen the foundational pillars of our republic.
The writer is Rajya Sabha MP and member, CPI(M) Politburo
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