India moves on ignoring the barbarians | OPINION
Today after 75 years, the Indian economy is surging and its foreign policies are moulded keeping in mind the country’s own interest rather than that of some super power.
The year 2022 has been a momentous one for India for a few reasons. First, it has lost its nightingale Lata Mangeshkar, the most recorded singer in human history. Second, India has commemorated its 76th Independence Day, completing 75 years of Independence. Third, in an ironic twist this year itself it has surpassed its erstwhile colonial rulers on worldwide economic status.
India, one of the richest, diverse and vibrant cultures of the world, lost its most iconic singer Lata Mangeshkar in February. The Guinness Book in its 1984 edition listed Lata Mangeshkar in its entry for ‘Most Recordings’, in 1974, again listed her as the most recorded artiste in human history, stating that she had recorded “not less than 25,000 solo, duet and chorus backed songs in 20 Indian languages” between 1948 and 1974. Subsequent versions describe the legend as having sung no less than 30,000 songs from 1948 to 1987. The Central government declared two days of national mourning.
To commemorate India’s 76th year of independence, the government took the initiative of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, in English the phrase means the elixir of inspiration from the freedom fighters. It was kick started on March 12, 2021, which is in fact a 75-week countdown to India’s 75th anniversary of independence and will end post a year on August 15, 2023. The colonial rulers never gifted India democracy, people had to siege democracy from its imperial rulers thousands of people were martyred in pursuit of freedom. Today after 75 years, the Indian economy is surging and its foreign policies are moulded keeping in mind the country’s own interest rather than that of some super power.
This has been a crucial year for India economically, when the country as well as the whole world just withstood the pandemic, and that the country has surpassed the United Kingdom to be the fifth largest economy in the world. Britain has slipped below India to become the world’s sixth largest economy, aggravating the ensuing financial crisis as it is combating with a savage trauma of surging cost of living. India, the former British colony, vaulted past its erstwhile colonial rulers in the last quarter of 2021 itself to become the fifth-biggest economy. The calculation is based in US dollars, and India extended its lead in the first quarter, according to GDP figures from the International Monetary Fund.
Shashi Tharoor, a Lok Sabha MP, has articulated his indictment of British rulers for colonialism in his speech at Oxford in the year 2015. He reminded, at the advent of British Rule, India’s share of the global economy was 24%, and that by the time they left, it had dipped to 4%. Tharoor eloquently expressed Britain’s meteoric rise in economic front then, was largely through its loot in India. Truth is Britain’s industrial revolution was exclusively funded by the de-industrialization of India. Thanks to British, the famous Indian handloom weaver’s business decayed, Britishers smashed their thumbs, broke their looms, imposed tariffs and imposed duties on their cloth and products and took their raw material from India and shipping back manufactured cloth flooding the world’s markets with what became the products of the dark and satanic mills of the Victoria in England.
If British economic historian Angus Maddison is to be believed, in 1700 AD, towards the end of the Mughal Empire, India’s GDP was not only higher than that of China, but that of western Europe combined. In terms of productivity and technology, however, it had already begun to fall behind Europe. India never had to invade a nation, nor had it to resort into systematic loot into another economy to bounce back. By the end of British rule India’s modern textile industry was giving Manchester a tough competition and gradually it’s per capita industrial output except Japan, was higher than any other Asian country, with half of its exports coming from manufactures.
Almost in the same manner, economist Utsa Patnaik of Columbia University, says that Britain drained a total of nearly $45 trillion from India during the period 1765 to 1938. It’s so huge for Britain that it is actually 17 times more than the total annual gross domestic product of the United Kingdom today. Britain used the loot from India to fuel the engines of imperial violence and to finance the expansion of capitalism in Europe and regions of European settlement, like Canada and Australia. So, not merely the industrialisation of Britain, the whole industrialisation of most of the Western world was accelerated from the colonial loots.
The year 2022, is significant for Britain too, the country has lost its longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, she was on the throne for 70 years. Buckingham Palace told the world that the Queen had “died peacefully” at Balmoral Palace. As reigning Queen, Elizabeth II made three visits to India, a country used to admire for its “richness and diversity”. Her final trip in 1997 is often considered the most symbolic. Coincidentally, the host country was celebrating 50 years of independence and the Queen also visited Jallianwala Bagh, in the city of Amritsar. There was a bonafide expectation of us Indians, that the Queen would offer an apology on behalf of her country. That didn’t happen, but to make it worse an insensitive remark reportedly made by Prince Philip, who accompanied her to the memorial, dismayed many Indians.
There are many gory tales of brutalities committed by the British rulers during their rule for two hundred years; most monstrous would be Jallianwala Bagh and Bengal Famine, where three million people had to die because of the fallacies of Churchill’s policies. As observed in the Guardian by Michael Safi, the Bengal famine of 1943 was the only one in modern Indian history not to occur as a result of serious drought, but Churchill-era British policies were the significant factor contributing to the catastrophe. Safi writes quoting Economist Amartya Sen that there should have been enough supplies to feed the region, and that the mass deaths came about as a combination of wartime inflation, speculative buying and panic hoarding, which together pushed the price of food out of the reach of poor Bengalis. Subsequent study further reveals the famine was aggravated by the resolutions of Winston Churchill’s wartime cabinet in London. His insensitive remarks blaming the famine as Indians were “breeding like rabbits”, and asking how, if the shortages were so bad, Mahatma Gandhi was still alive actually carries the undertones of war crime.
In his 2015 Oxford speech Tharoor told the world that it is said that the sun never sets in the British Empire, because God is also afraid of them in the dark. So true, British rulers reined terror wherever they expanded their colonies. In 2019, days before the 250th anniversary of the landing of Captain James Cook and the crew of the Endeavor in New Zealand, British High Commissioner Laura Clarke issued a “statement of regret” over killings carried out by the crew but stopped short of issuing a full apology. Indigenous people still mourn the killings, scars are still fresh. They cannot forget less than two hours after Captain Cook and his crew on the HMS Endeavour landed in 1769, they had committed atrocities, including murder. Campaigners say the damage inflicted by the British colonisation still continues even now, with Maori communities suffering higher levels of deprivation.
A research project led by historian Emeritus Professor Lyndall Ryan of University of Newcastle, ostensibly reveals more than 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander were killed during 400 massacres that took place in Australia, her earlier research estimated causalities to be 8,400 in 302 massacres. If I go by her research, new evidence showed carnage escalated, extremely after 1860, during the time when South Australia seized the Northern Territory from NSW, Western Australia’s Kimberley region opened up and Queensland became a separate colony. In fact more massacres occurred during the period 1860 to 1930 than in the period 1788 to 1860, it was apparently found that the carnages were becoming clinically methodical and there seems to be a more cold-blooded method on the part of the offenders to the massacring of Aboriginal people.
In the similar line, racist imperialism still continues in the US even today. The Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) in 2019 reveals there were around 293000 global deaths during 1980 to 2019 which is attributed to police conflict and executions. In 2019 out of the 8770 global deaths due to police conflict, a staggering 13.2% which is roughly 1150 , not to mention the US holds only 4% of the current world population. Reportedly Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic populations are sharing the burden of such staggering numbers of casualties in police conflict and executions. Recent studies reveal in a life span, about one in every 1000 Black men are killed by the police in the USA, making them 2·5 times more vulnerable to be killed by police than their White counterpart, Black women are about 1·4 times more vulnerable to be killed by police than their White counterpart. Systemic and direct racism, manifested in laws and policies as well as personal implicit biases, result in Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic Americans being the targets of police violence.
In a way, all the Anglosphere brethren put together, they’ve committed more war crime than the Nazis, and its continuing. Only difference is Nazis were denounced by the whole world with one voice, hunted and prosecuted but Angloshere brethren got away scot free, simply because most of the war crimes happened in an era when redressal mechanism were not in place. In the present scenario when bodies like UN, NATO, WARSAW, EU and UNSC are fast reduced to fancy cozy clubs new word orders are emerging. Uncle Sam doesn’t seem to have financial prowess to sponsor wars, or the gun toting cowboys sitting in Langley are no longer writing good scripts, hasty withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan last year gave a serious dent to the credibility of the US as a superpower. In the entire armed confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, both the US, EU and UN failed to play any decisive role. China, although is keeping a safe distance in the whole crisis, but the world knows it is the real source of confidence for Russia.
The world was curious why Britain voted to leave European Union, there are many speculations, it may be as membership of the European Union wasn’t delivering, the recession of 2008, the collapse of power in the Middle East, may be austerity and ‘Leave’ camp’s dual campaign are some of the reasons doing rounds. But buzz is that there is a speculation of forming up with the Anglosphere with the Five Eyes of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Subscribers of Anglosphere believe Europeans may be their brethren, but the Anglosphere are their kin and they share a common language, many traditions, roots, history and culture. And they have a mutual geopolitical strategic interest in forming up at this juncture, as many of their friends across the water have already been keen to point out. Even speculations are on for formalising a ‘CANZUK’ free trade and perhaps movement agreement, which polling has shown to attract broad support among the populace in each country. Indeed in Anglosphere, the sun doesn’t set, and God must be afraid of them in the dark.
India, from the beginning decided to take the path of non-alignment and the current regime is implementing it in its foreign policy, more rigidly and decisively. During the initial phase of Covid Pandemic it was apprehended worldwide that India with its fragile economy and medical infrastructure shall be devastated, but the country proved everyone wrong, it not only sustained but emerged as a leader during the whole pandemic. With its vibrant democracy and robust judiciary I think the country is doing fairly well. Generally it is seen, when America sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold, we saw it happening during recessions of 2008. But when it was true with the rest of the world, astonishingly India had some higher immunity to resist the global reversal. It’s true the financial crisis impacted various economies across the world; including the USA, UK, Japan, China, France and India, fact remains countries like China and India had to share less despair then the rest of the world.
Some eight years back when there was a change of regime, many called it historic, on May 18, 2014 UK News portal the Guardian came up with an editorial article titled as “India: another tryst with destiny”. It observed:
“Today, 18 May 2014, may well go down in history as the day when Britain finally left India. Narendra Modi’s victory in the elections marks the end of a long era in which the structures of power did not differ greatly from those through which Britain ruled the subcontinent. India under the Congress party was in many ways a continuation of the British Raj by other means. The last of midnight’s children are now a dwindling handful of almost 70-year-olds, but it is not the passing of the independence generation that makes the difference.”
Whether somebody takes such observations at face value or not, it certainly puts in perspective PM Modi approach of governance which is a nationalist one. On May 24, 2022 at Quad Leaders’ Summit at Kantei, Tokyo, Japan, US President Joe Biden heaved praise for Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his Covid management and he said:
“And, Prime Minister Modi, it’s wonderful to see you again in person. The — and I thank you for your continuing commitment to making sure democracies deliver, because that’s what this is about: democracies versus autocracies. And we have to make sure we deliver.”
PM Modi’s official motto for governance is Sabka Sath Sabka Vikash and Sabka Vishwas, English equivalent would be “Welfare of everyone, by taking everyone into confidence”. When last year he decided to rollback the three controversial farmers bills, even many hardcore supporters of PM Modi criticised him, said it’s a dent on PM Modi’s image as no nonsense politician. His take was pragmatic, for him how well intended it may be, when the bills were not perceived well by some sections of farmers, he was not ready to impose it by force. That cannot be the approach of an autocrat.
Even during violent protest of farmers at New Delhi on January 26, 2022 when protesting farmers seized the national capital, beaten up police personnel, breached Red Fort’s ramparts and planted their flag atop its podium, Delhi Police, showed exemplary restraint, didn’t resort to gun firing or any such brutal means to control the violent mob. That certainly is not the way the police force of a dictatorial State behaves. Many people believe there was a disinformation campaign orchestrated from distant lands that had a big role for such mayhem.
The world today is undergoing tremendous transition, we are wired, narratives change like wildfire. We all agree in today’s information environment, the way people view facts, define truth doesn’t adhere to rules. The shift from print to online sources and the rise of social media has made an impact on how people access, process and share information. These changes have made it easier for anti-national forces or the threat actors to spread disinformation and exploit the digital information environment, posing a serious concern for democracies like India. Disinformation is not synonymous with false information or fake news, and propaganda has a political connotation and is mostly connected to information produced by governments.
In the context of India, suddenly efforts are being made to showcase that Indian democracy is under siege, there are different agencies propping up depicting India a “flawed democracy” characterised by “serious deterioration in the quality of democracy under leader Narendra Modi ”. These are all happening at the back drop of a changing world order, where India has denied to stand with any of the so called super powers. When war broke out between Ukraine and Russia its policy was clear, not to take any side. India decided to purchase oil from Russia at a discounted price, the entire west tried to project as if India has positioned itself with Russia in the war, this is far from being true. If India stops buying oil from Russia, the entire world will be chasing the same pieces of oil and that will further push up oil prices. Government and refinery officials have said India’s main reason for buying Russian crude is commercial. Coincidentally, China and India have done more than any country to compensate for the fall in market for Russian oil, undermining Western efforts to block off Moscow and expedite an end to the war in Ukraine.
The world must accept that New Delhi is reluctant to put US interests ahead of those of Russia, especially after it felt it was disturbed economically by sanctions on oil from Iran and Venezuela and potash, a key ingredient in fertilisers, from Belarus. India is a sovereign country and it is mandated to frame its policy to safeguard its own interest including the economic ones, under Modi’s nationalist government, India has pursued an assertive foreign policy, standing up to China in a two-year military border standoff and rejecting Western criticism of domestic policies for being authoritarian and divisive.
Britain has just been surpassed by India as the world’s fifth biggest economy and is fast emerging on track to move into third place behind the US and China by 2030, as projected by the economists. The government believes that India’s Fiscal Year 2023 GDP growth will be between the Reserve Bank of India’s forecast of 7.2 percent and International Monetary Fund’s prediction of 7.4 percent. GDP in fact grew by 13.8% in the second quarter of this year as pandemic restrictions were lifted and manufacturing and services boomed. Albeit double-digit growth seems inconceivable to be repeated in subsequent quarters, India is still on track to expand by 7% this year as it benefits from economic liberalisation in the private sector, a rapidly growing working population, and the changeover of global supply chains away from China. Its ability to grow its manufacturing sector and challenge China as the world’s no 1 exporter will prove to be an asset for surging as an economic power. Its other assets – a large, well-educated, often English-speaking middle-class, helping the country to develop world-class IT and pharmaceutical sectors. Not to forget India’s consumer demand itself, which is about 55% of the economy compared with less than 40% in China.
In this backdrop India needs to develop a robust law regime to tackle disinformation, fake news and propaganda campaigns by foreign players with the help of their domestic partners. National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) alone suffered toll losses worth Rs 2,731.32 crore in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan due to the farmers’ protest since last October, the government informed Parliament. The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) stated that farmers’ protests in India against the three farm bills had brought a loss of nearly Rs 60,000 crore. As estimated by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) Farmers protest resulted in losses of Rs 3,500 crore everyday during December, 2020.
Disinformation campaigns are threats to national security because they have a destructive blow on democratic foundation and civil society. A healthy democracy stands on knowledgeable citizens, cut-throat competitive ideas, and the readiness to negotiate. Such disinformation campaigns erode all three.