After a gap of more than six years, your columnist is once again in the country that a century ago ran half the world. For years, indeed decades, he has been fascinated with the way in which a small island nation expanded across the globe to secure territory and resources to fuel its prosperity. Some say that much of the cause can be attributed to the spirit of democracy that pervaded the United Kingdom. However, this may be a simplistic view, for the reality is that the UK of the Empire period was a class-ridden nation, where the nobility (both economic and ancestral) had privileges denied to the many. Unlike in France or Russia, where there was a revolution against the aristocracy, the English never revolted against their nobility, except for the brief spasm of republicanism led by Oliver Cromwell four centuries ago. Of course, the difference between Britain and Russia was that in the former, it was much more easy for a low-born person to become wealthy than during the reign of the Tsars. When the nobility monopolised top positions the way the upper castes did in ancient India.
Inequality of income is a fact of life, but if this is accompanied by as severe an inequality in opportunity, then the society concerned becomes brittle and easy to break. In any country where a “caste” system develops, in which power and money get monopolised by a small segment on the basis of birth, there will come a period when such a society can no longer meet the needs and begins to fall apart. Such a danger exists even in the country that is today well on the way to becoming the next superpower, China. Should the Communist Party of China (CCP) get dominated by “princelings” (the children of top party leaders), then the hold of the party over the people will slacken, as will morale and motivation inside the party, which would change into an instrument for the retention of privilege created by birth. Already, a disproportionate share of the top echelons of the CCP comprise of cadres who were lucky to be born of influential parents. If this segment grows at the expense of those (such as current CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao) who were born from humble stock, the rapidly-evolving population of China would begin to lose respect and loyalty towards a party that has made China once again a Great Power.
North Korea is an example of a “communist” country that is in effect elitist. Indeed, it is now openly royalist. The Kim family has run the country since it was formed, and now power is being handed down to the third generation, the son of Kim Jong Il, who is himself the son of the founder of the “Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea”, Kim Il Sung, who interestingly was raised as a Christian Presbyterian by his parents. Today, North Korea has become the same kind of society as Tsarist Russia was, because of the creation of a monarchy (the Kim family) and nobility (the children and grand-children of the military commanders who followed the Kims). Those North Koreans outside this charmed circle have no way of reaching the top. A few tried to succeed through setting up economic enterprises, but their capital was taken away by a “currency reform” introduced by the same grandson of Kim Il Sung who will take over from his father Kim Jong Il upon the latter’s death, thanks to the support of the “New Aristocracy” of the DRK, the families of the early top backers of the “royal” Kim family. While China has not yet reached the stage of “Communist Monarchy” that has become the norm in the DPRK, the growing power of the “princelings” - the descendants of top leaders - is a worrying sign that the Communist Party there may be depending less on ability and more on bloodline to build its leadership in the coming decades.
But why talk of North Korea and China? What about the situation in India and Pakistan? In India the ruling Congress Party is totally controlled by a single family, the Nehrus now led by the efficient Sonia Gandhi nee Maino, who is grooming her son Rahul to take charge after her time in office. By 2014,if not earlier, the 39-year old may become Prime Minister. What would his performance be? This columnist has been an early supporter, seeing in him the combination of modernity and enthusiasm needed to lead India into a bright future. However lately Rahul Gandhi seems to have fallen under the sway of a small group, which is a band of “NGO intellectuals” (most from foreign countries) who would like to freeze development in India the way Verrier Elwin persuaded Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1950s to block change in the north-east and leave the people there in their original state of dire poverty. Because of the access given to them by Rahul Gandhi, NGOs that seek to halt the industrialisation of India are gaining influence. Already they have ensured that many mega projects have been blocked, the effect of which would have been to lift from poverty the very people such NGOs claim to represent.
Officials in the HRD Ministry claim that Rahul Gandhi is also the inspiration behind the recent efforts by the Ministry of Human Resource Development to make non-government schools in India expand their student base by 25% “to accommodate the poor”. In a slew of orders, the HRD Ministry proposes to ban educational institutions from detaining a student or disciplining him or her,thereby paving the way for anarchy in the classroom. As for the 25% extra students, many of whom will get admitted under political pressure, such an innovation could result in the closing down of numerous schools across the country, thereby seriously damaging India’s future. Both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and HRD Minister Kapil Sibal are brilliant individuals, aware of the damage that such savage tinkering can cause to the cream of the school system in India. However, they may have no choice but to go along, given the reported reliance of Rahul Gandhi on the wisdom of the (mostly foreign) NGOs now proliferating all across Delhi and Mumbai. Sixty years ago, his grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru made the same mistake, of relying on amateur expertise from afar, when he constricted the Indian private sector and launched a punitive tax regime that brought India down to the worst economic performer in Asia. This columnist still has faith that Rahul Gandhi will step back from the same abyss, and not follow his grandfather in relying on government (with a small “g”) rather than on the People (with a big “P”) for progress.
When a political system becomes in effect a monarchy, where a singlefamily surrounded by loyalists dictates policy, it creates a vulnerability that can be used by forces wishing the republic harm. Courtiers become immune to accountability, and hence get freed to doimmense damage.In the case of india, this is being daily demonstrated by the chaos that is surrounding the Commonwealth Games, which from the start has been an enterprise that has functioned under the blessings of Number Ten ( 10 Janpath, the official residence of Sonia Gandhi). The organisers have met her and her aides several times, and as a result, it may become impossible for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to prosecute or even to admonish those who have clearly used the excuse of the Commonwealth Games to enrich themselves. The people of India would like full details - on the internet - of all the decisions taken by the Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee and in particular all the contracts signed by it. What is needed is a public commission of Enquiry into each and every contract awarded by the Games committee. Unfortunately, the Opposition in India is pathetically weak, and hence the only way accountability can infuse the malfunctioning Indian system is for the Prime Minister to force a full investigation into the Games and to ensure punishment for all those responsible for the giving of contracts that are clearly designed to enrich. Why were these contracts awarded? To whom? The one man in the present government who is honest enough to have no fear in finding out is Manmohan Singh, but will he be able to defy several powerful Congress leaders and fulfill his vow of Clean Governance to the Indian people? Will Rahul Gandhi stand by him if he goes down that noble path? Hopefully, the answer will be yes, and if it is, both Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi will go down in history as great Indians.
Contrast Delhi with Winchester, the city where the conference being attended by your columnist is taking place. The highway from Heathrow airport to the town is broad and smooth,not like roads in India that are deliberately paved in such a way as to fall apart each year. The power supply works, unlike in India, where blackouts and brownouts are the norm thanks to government policies, except in states that are well-administered, such as Gujarat. The streets are clean, and there are abundant walkways On Indian rosds, by contrast, there are either no pavements or small ribbons that two people can walk together across. The few Indian citizens who have cars get 95% of attention, even though they account for less than 5% of the total poulation. Not to mention the fact that highway development has been very slow in India these past years, because those in charge want more bribes rather than greater coverage. The NGOs from abroad are happy to see India in such a quagmire. They would be uncomfortable to see the country change into a modern economy, because then they would no longer be able to preach the virtues of freezing development and society to the elite of Delhi and Mumbai, who are today treating the young men and women of these foreign NGOs operating in India with the same affection that they show to international cricketers. When the policy elite in a country outsources its thinking on matters as crucial as education and industrialisation to international NGOs, disaster cannot be far away.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced ResearchGroup, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, HaryanaState, India.