India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh will visit the US for the Annual United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. The PM plans to meet George W. Bush, General Pervez Musharraf and Vladimir Putin among other world leaders. The annual get-together of world leaders is usually used by Pakistan to bash India on Kashmir and India returns serve on the rhetoric. If Dr Singh is a great statesman, he’ll ignore the Pakistani rhetoric this year. What former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee didn’t realise when he stooped to the level of the general was that the world saw the two South Asians as being on the same level.
The goal of successive governments in India has been to see India as a global power. In 1998, when India conducted nuclear tests, a minister claimed that the status of Indians worldwide would improve because India is a nuclear power. In fact India is obsessed with becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. This too, thinks New Delhi’s South Block would improve the status of Indians worldwide. America and China would never allow India to join the elite council and even if India did become a member, that wouldn’t help the illegal immigrant from Punjab get a higher status in a foreign country.
The Indian Government couldn’t be more unenlightened than it is. On landing in Mumbai (Bombay), a visitor is greeted by the sight of an ocean of slums. In fact 70% of Bombay’s population live in slums. We are talking about the country’s financial capital, not some insignificant place in poverty-ridden Bihar. The British labelled Bombay, the Jewel in their Crown and the departure of the British seems to be the worst thing that has happened to the city. A look at the British-built city and the Indian-built suburbs is proof enough of the degradation of Bombay. Even the poorest of countries maintain their large cities well as these cities are often the image of the country for short term travellers. A classic case is pre-independence Bombay’s colonial twin, Rangoon, now known as Yangon. The city has preserved its excellent British and Buddhist heritage and at the same time, the extensions of the city are almost planned to perfection.
Leaving this factor aside, a macro level look at India can be depressing. The country has at least four hundred million extremely poor people. The number could be more but India’s calculation of the poverty line differs from global standards. The country is plagued with a population explosion, religious tension, caste violence, lawlessness in several regions and secession movements in Kashmir and the North East. Surely, these aren’t the makings of a superpower.
Let us observe two countries that were completely destroyed by World War 2 and the different paths they followed. Russia/Soviet Union followed the communist ideology, housed all its citizens, got rid of unemployment but focused more on internal security and became a military superpower. After the collapse of communism and two major economic crises later, it’s still a member of the United Nations Security Council and its tremendous energy reserves keep the economy going. Unfortunately the glaring inequalities in the country are leading to a pre-1917 atmosphere and a gap is widening between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. So how do the citizens of this power get treated abroad? The women get treated like prostitutes by the immigration counters at many international airports and the men like criminals or mafia men.
Japan on the other hand completely focussed on economic development and ensured that their country and citizens would be the richest in the world. Japan’s rapid economic development has propelled its citizens to the top of the table. Japanese nationals get more visa on arrival facilities than any other citizens. This was a country that was in a much worse state than India in 1947. A country which is not a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and definitely not a nuclear power, a country which has a greater density of population than India. The Japanese now enjoy the kind of status that the Government of India wants for its citizens.
The Indian Government will be well served to get its priorities straight and fix the mess that is known as India. It’s economic clout and not military might that will raise the stature of Indians. The doctors, engineers and software programmers can’t do it by themselves. The onus is on the Indian Government to make India a superpower.