I-Day Reflections

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The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh’s Independence Day speech on the occasion of India’s 64th Independence Day, summed up the trials and tribulations of modern India succinctly and sensitively. It also nonetheless revealed the clear divide that has quite unmistakably split the nation into two. Almost corresponding to this divide, Dr. Manmohan’s speech could also virtually have been split into two parts. The first part was a celebration of the glory that India is today, and the second a lament of the gloom another part of the country has come under. So if he could with confidence say that India’s economy today is among the fastest growing in the world, ensuring prosperity to many, it also had to admit internal threats from the Maoists, Kashmir and the Northeast, are a grim reality of the country has to face and overcome. The first story of “Shining India” has been well told by an obliging national intelligentsia so many times before. The second became a story only when it threatened the complacency of the denizens of the earlier story. In other words, both the stories continue to be told from the vantage of Shining India only. The second India (or Bharat as some have called), thereby is still deprived of the degree of autonomy of aspiration and articulation. Their future still has to be as per Shining India’s wish.

But the Prime Minister admitting the existence of these two worlds within the country, even if by implication only, is itself a good beginning in the perspective correction mission. India growing at 9 percent is great news, but in real terms this would translate to virtually meaningless figures for those who have no access to its benefits. This deprived section is still sizeable. India still has more absolutely poor citizens than even some of the poorest countries of Africa like Ghana. In this light, the Maoist problem in particular, can be seen as a radical articulation of the question “whose Shining India?” Kashmir and Northeast are other variants of the same question. The PM did honestly remind himself and the country of the issue in his speech, calling upon all to acknowledge the obligation each has towards the uplift of those on the periphery of the nation, not just physically but more importantly psychologically. Without a credible and effective bridge between the two sides of the Indian divide, the Indian nationhood will remain an incomplete one and an insecure one too. It is unfortunate that this question still needs to be addressed 64 years after India became its own master, but all the same, as they say it is better late than never. The PM also stressed the need for not just an understanding of the responsibility of “Shining India” to understand, but also those in the Northeast, Kashmir and Maoist belt to introspect and cooperate in seeking a solution to the issue at hand. To the Northeast he said the people must overcome “tribal and state” confines for an inclusive peace blueprint to emerge. This is what many peace builders in the Northeast and outside have already been campaigning for, and we totally endorse the view. There can be no dispute that peace in the Northeast will have to be inclusive, and this necessarily entails bringing down ethnic, tribal and community walls, rather than erecting new ones.

The inclusive agenda must expand further. It must ultimately be also about finding an honourable space for the Northeast on the larger Indian canvas. If the Indian peripheries were able to position themselves as partners in the Indian nation building process, much of the reasons for the conflict in the region would become defused. This done, the offer of a final settlement through peaceful dialogue should begin to make new meaning. At this moment, the picture is far from this. Peace overtures have been pretty much in piecemeal. Counter insurgency measures too have been as inconsistent. The Armed Forces Special Forces Powers Act, AFSPA, for instance is applicable only in Northeast and Kashmir and not in the Maoist belt. Not that we are recommending the AFSPA should be applied to the Maoist belt too, but there ought to a common yardstick if inclusive problem solving is the goal. By and by the PM’s speech, even if it fell short of inspiring nonetheless had the ring of the trademark honesty and introspective reflection that no other PM the country has seen could boast of. Hopefully, reciprocation to it too would be in the same spirit – sensitive and humane.

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