75 years and umpteen issues

(Picture used for representational purpose only)

(Picture used for representational purpose only)


We have celebrated the 75th Independence Day with patriotic fervour and pomp mostly basking in the glory fetched by our athletes from the just-concluded Tokyo-2020.

We have celebrated the 75th Independence Day with patriotic fervour and pomp mostly basking in the glory fetched by our athletes from the just-concluded Tokyo-2020. But for the record medal haul, albeit a mere seven, at the 32nd Summer Olympic Games, the free India's historic milestone would have been a ceremonious damp squib.

The pandemic woes and all-pervasive gloom notwithstanding, our sport stars, led by the Golden boy Neeraj Chopra, gave us a reason to salute the tri-colour with our heads held extra high this time around.

We have plenty of dreams, superb schemes, plethora of policies and voluminous visions time to time but development, alas, is a far cry from what was intended in the last 74 years. It is indeed the time for a serious introspection, deep reflection and self-evaluation. As many as five key indices- Human Development Index (HDI), Human Freedom Index (HFI), Global Economic Freedom Index (GEFI), Democracy Index (DI) and Happiness Index (HI)- provide us a fair idea on India's performance as a democratic country.

The Human Development Index-2020, a report published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) based on a composite index which measures average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development- a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living, shows India in a very poor light.

Out of 189 countries in the index, India ranked at 131st position, felling in the medium human development category with an HDI value of 0.645. We did downslide from the year 2019's 129th position. Though India's HDI value increased from 0.429 to 0.645, an increase of 50.3 per cent, between 1990 and 2019, India needs a lot to be desired to improvise the lives of its citizens.

India was ranked 111th out of 162 countries in the latest Human Freedom Index (HFI) released by the Cato Institute, plummeting 17 spots from its position in the previous index. The HFI, calculated using 76 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom in areas such as rule of law, security and safety, religion, legal system and property rights, also underlines the need of suitable strategies to ameliorate the prevailing conditions.

India's ambition to become a USD 5 trillion economy and global power house by 2024-25 appears to be next to impossible. We slipped 26 places to 105 out of 162 countries and territories on the Index of Global Economic Freedom, released by the Fraser Institute in Canada.

India ranked 79th in the previous edition of this report, which measures the economic freedom, or the ability of individuals to make their own economic decisions in a country, by analysing policies and institutions of various countries. The study considers indicators like regulation, the freedom to trade internationally, size of government, property rights, government spending and taxation and so on.

Are we happy?

Happiness is the ultimate goal of all human endeavours. The pandemic has exposed the shallowness in our systems and the true colour of the powers-that-be. The period between March 2020 to till date has been the worst phase in the lives of majority of Indians and an average Indian can't forget the horrifying experiences like running around for oxygen cylinders, hospital beds, suitable medicines at the peak of Covid-19 in the second quarter of 2021.

People are forced to spend their savings and sold off properties to save the lives of their family members. Financial constraints and loss of jobs threw people's lives out of gear. The data released by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) reveals that joblessness was on the rise in rural and urban centres. The 366 million Indian youth (15-29 years), 20 percent of the global youth, appears to be clueless due to shirking opportunities abroad and hopeless future in India.

The US-based Pew Research Center, banking on World Bank data, estimated that the number of poor (with income of $2 per day or less in purchasing power parity) in India has more than doubled to 134 million from 60 million in just a year due to the pandemic-led recession. This means, according to experts, India has slumped in a situation to be called a "country of mass poverty" after 45 years!

Though the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has shown an improvement, wealth is still concentrated with a few. The rich become richer and the poor poorer even as the situation of agriculture, the mainstay of India, is in shambles. The India's middleclass, a punch bag for governments, always ends up paying many different taxes. The country is thoroughly cornered by bellicose neighbours forcing governments to spend more on defence than other priority areas.

The sordid situation reflected in the latest World Happiness Report, released in March 2021 by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. India is ranked 139 out of 149 countries in the list prepared based on the most pertinent question: "how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be". Furthermore, we are ranked 142 nd in the Press Freedom Index and registered low scores on indices on Academic Freedom and Internet Freedom. All is not well at all!

The Union Government released the 'Strategy for New India @ 75' in 2018 but it has come a cropper due to various reasons. Now, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi came up with yet another big ambitious plan, including a landmark Rs 100-lakh crore 'Gati Shakti' initiative to give a fillip to infrastructure and employment opportunities, for a 'new and assertive India' in his latest I-Day speech.

I have listed out seven nagging issues that are posing a great threat to our hard-earned freedom and democracy. The broad issues that are coming in the way of the country's development trajectory are: 1) Dirty duo: Politicos and criminals 2) Misplaced priorities: Health & Education 3) Violent ideologies: Religion & Caste 4) Dangerously neglected: Poor and downtrodden 5) Hapless lot: Women and Children 6) Saddest story: Media and Agenda, and 7) Dangerously deaf: Intelligentsia and citizenry.

Who is to be blamed for the unpleasant and unsavoury situation?

Dirty Nexus: Politicos and criminals

Undoubtedly, the highly contaminated and corrupted political environment is the root-cause of the Indian democracy. According to a study published during the 2019 parliamentary elections, the chances of winning for a candidate with criminal cases in the Lok Sabha was 15.5 per cent as against a candidate without any criminal antecedents (4.7 per cent). Out of the 539 winners in 2019 elections, almost half them, to be precise 233 MPs, had criminal cases against themselves. This is an increase of 44 per cent in the number of MPs with declared criminal cases since 2009. No need of any statistics, look at the elected representatives of the Assemblies. You may be aghast to find criminals, goons, scamsters and landgrabbers and their family members ruling the roost. Political bosses are enriched by the beneficiaries of Special Economic Zones and major irrigation projects.

Instead of chalking out concrete plans to ensure sustainable employment opportunities, governments of late are trying to appease voters by doling out freebies and blatant money transfers at the cost of exchequer. The unholy politicians-criminals-corporates nexus turned elections into a mega farce. Election laws, especially the Anti-Defection Law, are taken for a ride by every political party.

The unscrupulous lawmakers with criminal history are crushing dissent with an iron hand because they don't know the value of democratic discussion. The executive, especially law enforcing agencies, is dancing to the tunes of these forces only to harm the democratic fabric of the nation.

As a result of the prevailing blatant 'electoral autocracy', India slipped two places to 53rd position in the latest Democracy Index, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) after measuring the state of democracies in 167 countries in the world. Owing to the mounting pressure on India's democratic norms, the EIU said that India's score fell from a peak of 7.92 in 2014 to 6.61 in 2020 and its global ranking slipped from 27th (in 2014) to 53rd. The democratic backsliding appears to continue at a rapid pace.

Then who will save the situation? The only answer is, citizens, especially the educated. We should take democracy more seriously and awaken masses to decimate rogue politicians by making use of all the means at our disposal. Unless and until we discharge our duties with the same amount of patriotic fervour we would exhibit during I-Days and R-Days, the free India can't be free in the true sense of the word.

(The author, a PhD in Communication and Journalism, is a senior journalist, journalism educator and communication consultant)

(The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)

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