What does the Crystal Ball tell us about India?s future?
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On Modi visit to Israel in 2017, The Independent a British daily wrote, this is more than a historic visit. Prime ministers from India always took a balanced and sensitive approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the past. Not Modi. He won‘t even bother meeting with Palestinians during his visit. What we are watching, in slow motion, is the biggest realignment of the global order since the Second World War‘. As one Indian writer put it, Indian nationalists ―not only envisage India following Israel‘s apartheid model to deal with the minorities at home, but also always dream of turning India into an aggressive state like Israel‖. Together Israel and India could be the biggest danger to the world peace. (Editor) What will happen on India‘s journey into the future must, of course, be a matter for Crystal Ball gazing (speculation) but we can now be certain of one thing. One of India‘s most valued companions for its journey will be the Zionist (not Jewish) state of Israel. When Prime Minister Modi became the first Indian head of state to visit Israel last July, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said to him, ―I have a feeling that India and Israel are changing our world.‖ In some respects India and Israel are natural travelling partners. Both, for example, give life to oppression – India with its de-humanizing caste system and Israel with its treatment of the Palestinians. (Question for Netanyahu: Is that what you mean by changing our world – more oppression?) Fundamentally the growing relationship between India and Israel is about selling and buying weapons. India‘s military is the world‘s number one importer of arms and currently the leading purchaser of Israeli arms. About 41 ercent of Israel‘s arms exports go to India.
In 2014, Indian government ear-marked $250 Billion USD, for spending on modernizing its military over the next decade. Given that India faces so many internal challenges, poverty in many forms being the biggest, why is it spending so much money on arms? 9 No doubt corruption in the military and political leaderships is a part of the answer. The rest of it, the answer, is defence. But is there ever likely to be to be a serious military threat to India? I don‘t think so. No Pakistani leadership, civilian or military, will ever think about initiating war with India. Why not? Massively outnumbered and out-gunned Pakistan would have to go nuclear in three or four days (and perhaps less) or capitulate and surrender. So war with India is not an option for Pakistan. China? A survey conducted by the Pew Research Canter in 2014 showed that 72 percent of Indians were concerned that territorial disputes between China and
neighbouring countries could lead to a major military conflict. In a September 2017 article for The Diplomat on China and India, Professor Mohan Malik wrote that ―small skirmishes ending in a major military conflict due to miscalculation or hubris cannot be ruled out.‖ That makes sense to me but still I have to ask if the possible military consequences of miscalculation or hubris are sufficient to justify India‘s vast expenditure on arms when the biggest challenge it faces is internal – the poverty in many forms of the majority of its people.
About one-third of the poorest people in the world live in India.
Let‘s now look briefly at some of the key indicators of poverty in India.
* About 70 percent of India‘s population of 1.3 billion are poor. In numbers that‘s approaching 900,000,000. (As more and more Indians move from the countryside to the towns and cities, more and more slums are being created with totally inadequate life support systems (water, healthcare etcetera).
* In excess of 800 million Indians survive on half a U.S. dollar a day. (According to the Forbes 2017 list, India is home to the fourth highest number of billionaires in the world).
* Only 21 percent of the poor majority have access to latrines.
* Only six percent have access to tap water.
* Hunger remains the No.1 cause of death in the world. According to the UN there are 820 million malnourished and chronically hungry people in the world 10 and one-third of them are in India. Every day 3,000 Indians (1,095,000 a year) die from hunger and related and easily preventable diseases.
* An estimated 38.4 percent of India‘s children are stunted in growth, and some are mentally damaged, by the embryonic malnutrition they suffered in the wombs of their mothers.
* There are estimated to be 100 million ―street children‖ in the world with 20 million of them in India‘s cities.
* Quantifying India‘s unemployment and employment rates with certainty is close to a mission impossible. The official figures tell us there is a labour force of 424 million and that unemployment is at 17.7 percent, which according to my calculations means that 8,000,400 are unemployed. But that‘s far from being the whole story. You are classified as employed in India if you work only 30 days a year. Of those who are employed 46.6 percent are self-employed and 32 percent are casual labourers. And many of those of who are reported as employed get work for only a small amount of time they are available. It‘s also the case that Prime Minister Modi‘s drive for greater use of technology and labour reform is making it easier for industries to sack workers. All that said there is one statistic that says more than all the others put together. Three out of four Indian families have no regular wage earner.
* The despair induced by poverty and unemployment is a prime factor in India‘s high rate of suicides. There are about 800,000 suicides worldwide every year and 135,000 (17 percent) of them are in India. In May of this year a report in the Hindustan Times included the following. Sikkim, the state with India‘s highest suicide rate, offers future warning for India. Sikkim was annexed by India [like many other states like, Junagarh and Manavadar 1947, Jammu and Kashmir1948, Assam 1950, Goa 1961, Nagaland 1963, Manipur and Meghalaya1972, Mizoram 1987] in 1975 and become the 22nd state of India on May 15 1975. It is India‘s third-richest state (after Delhi and Chandigarh), by per capita income, and its literacy rate is seventh highest. But it also records the second-highest unemployment rate. About 27% of the state‘s suicides were related to unemployment and found to be most common among those between 21 and 30 years of age.
* India has the largest number of illiterate adults in the world – 287 million, 37 percent of the global total. In January 2016 an editorial in The Times of India put it is way. 11 Data from various sources clearly shows that India is among the least literate countries in the world, and this reflects on the fact that successive Indian governments have failed to provide basic education for all. India is one of the 135 countries in the world to have made education a fundamental right, when the ‗Right to Education Act‘ came into force in 2010, but much of that act has remained on paper and controversies have dogged its implementation. That the literacy rate has been rising steadily since independence is something to cheer about but not when viewed in conjunction with the exponential growth in population. It‘s imperative that the government puts more muscle into implementing programmes for compulsory, free education and ensures equal access to all.
* One of the consequences of poverty and fear of the future it brings is that any parents in India (and elsewhere) don‘t want baby girls. They only want sons in the belief that they will be better able to provide for them in old age than daughters. The British Medical Journal has estimated that 12 million Indian girls (babies in the womb) have been aborted in the last three decades. (No wonder that according to the UN India has the worst record in gender equality in the world). Given all of the above what can the future of India be if the wealth it generates is not directed to fighting and winning the war that matters most – the war against poverty in all of its manifestations? One of my best friends in India was Zafar Saifullah, the only Muslim to be appointed Cabinet Secretary to the government. On one of my visits to India he arranged a lunch for me at his home with 20 former Permanent Secretaries who had served in various government ministries. Zafar asked me to give them my views on poverty in India and its possible implications for the future. (Zafar was aware that way back in the 1970‘s I devoted two years of my life to researching and producing Five Minutes To Midnight, a two-hour documentary on the everyday reality of global poverty and its implications for all of us). My starting point was that times and changed. What I meant and said was that once upon a time the poor of the world did not know they were poor. But today they know they are poor not only in relation to the peoples of what was called in development jargon the ―Rich North‖ but, more to the point, in relation to their own mostly corrupt elites and the other affluent minority.
I then said that if government in India did not summon up the political will and devote the necessary resources to fighting and wining the internal war against poverty in all of its manifestations, I could see a day coming, perhaps decades 12 into the future, when the country would be torn apart by violence, an explosion of anger and despair on an unthinkable scale. I was expecting these former Permanent Secretaries to respond rather like Sir Humphrey of Yes Minister and say to me something like: ―No, no, no, my dear chap. That will never happen.‖ Much to my astonishment they all said, ―Alan, we agree with you.‖ Another reason to imagine that much violence lies ahead for India is that revived Hindu nationalism endorsed and promoted (Trump-like) by Prime Minister Modi is spreading the fire of Islamophobia. India‘s Muslims, currently 172 million but with that number growing, are very likely to become the targets of escalating Hindu hate crimes. How will they respond? They might fight back on their own terms or they, some of them, might just acquiesce and submit under duress for their survival as they have no one to turn to. The main thing that Hindu nationalism and Zionism have in common is appalling self-righteousness. In his book Israel‘s Fateful Hour (first published in 1988), Yehoshafat Harkabi, Israel‘s longest serving Director of Military Intelligence, wrote that his country‘s biggest enemy was its own (Zionism‘s) self-righteousness. Today I think it can be said that Hindu self-righteousness is India‘s biggest enemy. If that mindset with its de-humanizing caste system cannot be changed I think India is on course for a very violent future. Alan Hart is a former ITN and BBC Panorama foreign correspondent who has covered wars and conflicts wherever they were taking place in the world and specialized in the Middle East. His Latest book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, Vol. 1: The False Messiah is a three-volume epic in its American edition.
He blogs on AlanHart.com.