The final fall of curtains on British colonialism in big South Asian countries over six-and-a-half decades ago was an occasion of great joy for all the peoples of the region. The celebration of the anniversary is a moment to reflect upon the general course of development in the region since then, with special focus on the largest member, India. It is also a moment to reflect upon the general course of development in the region since then, with special focus on the largest member, India. Though Nepal has never been colonised by any foreign power in history, it bore the fall-out of colonialism in the neighbourhood and hence empathises with the pains and pleasures of the big neighbour to its south, east and west.
The virtual epicentre of any movement or development in South Asia is India; because of its size, population, history, culture, economy and resources, the developments in India, whether positive or negative, directly impact upon the neighbouring countries. Both its strengths and weaknesses ultimately spill over to the neighbourhood. Hence it would be in our enlightened self-interest to closely monitor the developments in India and pace our moves accordingly.
First, the major achievements of India in the past 66 years.
Consistent adherence to multi-party electoral democracy by a population of more than a billion is undoubtedly the single most amazing achievement. Often mocked as a ‘noisy, chaotic democracy of a billion people’, it has a lot of scope for improvement but is gradually winning the hearts and minds of the people of the whole region. This bourgeois form of parliamentary democracy has been and can be severely critiqued for its many limitations and failures. But in the given historical stage of development of Indian society, this political democracy can be utilised as a spring-board, with attendant organisation and mobilisation of the oppressed masses, to jump to a higher form of socialist democracy.
Another important achievement by India after independence is the relatively fast pace of economic and technological development, particularly in the past few decades. A good base of physical and social infrastructure has been laid across the country and tremendous technological advancements have been made in different sectors. Of course, this mode of capitalist development is, by nature, sectorally and regionally unequal and uneven, but such development of productive forces is a prerequisite for higher societal transformation. This emergence of India as an economic and technological power-house is certain to send positive impulses for similar development in the neighbouring countries.
Now, some weaknesses or failures of India.
The most glaring weakness of India so far is the huge prevalence of social and economic deprivation and inequality across class, caste, community and gender. In the words of Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen: “India has been climbing up the ladder of per capita income while slipping down the slope of social indicators.” The scattered islands of prosperity amidst the vast ocean of poverty won’t be sustainable. Insurgencies and social tensions would certainly arise out of it. And they would inevitably send corresponding impulses to the neighbourhood.
Externally, India has to do more to win the confidence of the neighbours. As S.D Muni and C. Raja Mohan have correctly pointed out, for India, achieving the objective of becoming one of the principle powers of Asia will depend entirely on India’s ability to manage its own immediate neighbourhood. In principle, India’s official pronouncement of ‘peaceful, stable and prosperous neighbourhood’, ‘on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual respect’, is absolutely correct. But in practice, more efforts need to be made to achieve the desired goal.
In Nepal, India can win the people’s goodwill by making minor symbolic gestures without giving in on anything. Given the tremendous geo-political and economic leverage India historically enjoys in Nepal, the simple honouring of sovereign equality in day-to-day affairs and updating outdated treaties would go a long way in doing away with mutual distrust and laying a strong foundation of lasting friendship.
Perhaps, we would do well to heed the age-old observation of French political philosopher, Montesquieu: “If a republic is small, it is destroyed by a foreign force; if it is large, it is destroyed by an internal vice.”
(A former Prime Minister of Nepal, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai is among the senior-most leaders of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist.)