Column: Crisis? What crisis?

Aug 19 2013, 00:39 IST
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SummaryIndia's history is a multi-layered affair with corruption, rickety infrastructure and coalition politics as its legacy

We are as close to a crisis as we have been in the last 22 years. Inflation is back near double figures and onion prices dominate Independence Day celebrations. The UPA only cares about their new vote winning spending bonanza, the Food Security Bill. The current account deficit is out of control. The Budget deficit so deftly brought down for the Budget will prove pure window dressing. In the meantime, everyone in politics pretends that life is normal; Parliament is disrupted on any ground other than the economic crisis. Civil servants are sacked and new scams discovered. What is going on?

Sixty-six years on after Independence, how do we understand India? Ancient, incredible, inefficient, corrupt, democratic, divided, secular, dynastic, miserably poor, a member of G20, miracle economy or a basket case? Or maybe all these things simultaneously?

The country which became independent on August 15, 1947, saw a smooth transition from colony to dominion. The colonialist collaborators of yesterday—ICS, Army—became the pillars of new India, a state modelled on British constitutional and legal traditions. It had a British-type civil service with files tied in red tape. It had a Parliament which looked much like the British cousin, a President by 1950, who looked much like the British monarch. It was just that the new rulers were not as white as the previous ones, though many were quite fair-skinned.

This was Nehru’s India and that layer still persists somewhere beneath all others. The elaborate processes unleashed by CAG or Planning Commission are from that layer. The next layer was laid by Indira Gandhi. She privatised the Congress party, preached the doctrine of mandate, which meant the elected executive had infinite and unchallengeable powers, and made the legislature subservient to her diktats. Alas, for her, the judiciary was still living in the British layer and hence she had to declare Emergency.

But independent judges did not fit the Gandhian layer. Hence, arbitrary transfers or the mere threats of transfer were used to tame the judiciary. The British-style Westminster state was Indianised in style of Mughal durbar with Diwan-i-Khas and Divan-i-Aam. But just as the Mughal state fell apart after the death of Aurangzeb, yet surviving for another 150 years, the Nehru-Gandhi state began its unravelling as soon as the Emergency ended. The Janata government saw a totally un-British experiment in regional satraps running India and were just as successful as the many who tried to rule

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