Socio-political challenges to India in the new decade

N Ram in his column in Frontline, gives us what he thinks are the five main socio-political challenges India faces. The column is here. Quick interpretative summary + comments as follows –

  1. Internal violent conflict motivated by “religious fundamentalism or ethnic chauvinism or other extremist ideological and social tendencies”. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram recently said that the country was witnessing simultaneously “insurrection or insurgency in order to carve out sovereign states; armed liberation struggle motivated by a rejected ideology; and terrorism driven by religious fanaticism”. Make no mistake, none of this is new to India. Yes, naxalism has taken on dangerous proportions now and that is easily the most grave challenge to the Indian state. Since the change of guard at Delhi, there seems to be more urgency in dealing with the challenges to internal security. Less than two years back, the Home Minister of the time, Shivraj Patil had tried to downplay the threat posed by the naxals. Terrorism (now cutting across religious lines) will continue to be a serious threat and will hog the headlines because of its international flavour. But the spreading tentacles of naxalism is a real governance issue. There are today, parts of the country where popularly (??) elected governments are in power, where the Indian state does not have even a token presence.
  2. According to Ram, the second issue is militant communalism. The communal elements seem to raise their heads when they have a friendly political formation in power and with the BJP, Shiv Sena etc in disarray, we have been given a breather. But as Ram says, we cannot afford to be complacent.
  3. Third – mass deprivation and the grave social injustice. This may be (whether justified or not) one of the primary factors spurring the naxal insurgency through sustaining the culture of violence and retribution; winning them allies from within the deprived communities. As political parties continue to hob-nob with mining companies and continue the agenda of mindless industrial expansion, this situation will continue to worsen. Thousands on NGOs work in remote areas, trying to fix one little problem after another. However, better strategies are required if micro-level development work is to make a dent on the macro political environment.
  4. Centre-state relations – with growing tensions between regional parties and national parties, states frequently do their own thing and complain the centre of blatant partisanship. In the 2009-14 Parliament, the INC and its core allies already do not require the support of small regional parties for survival. If national parties get stronger in future, centre-state relations could be a big mess.
  5. Foreign policy challenges – the danger of ‘leaning west’. There is already a lot of disquiet about our PM’s love for the US. Indeed, he feels no shame/presumptuousness in single-handedly declaring the nation’s collective love for someone as reviled as George Bush. (Unfortunate. Really). That aside, at critical fora such as climate change, WTO etc, India needs to be smart in order to safeguard its interests.

Ram doesn’t emphasise enough on the issue of regional chauvinism. Recent events in Mumbai where the MNS has basically appropriated the license to loot and destroy in the name of Marathi identity and regional roots (he is neutral towards the South Indians, while spewing venom on North Indians) – an attitude that is not only foolhardy, but also threatens the country’s socio-economic and cultural integration. A dangerous precedent – and in my book, a potential stand-alone top-five threat to India in the new decade.

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