Monday, October 27, 2008

Watch out for more trouble

It doesn't take a genius to point out that this country, like much of the world, is living once again through troubled times. Perhaps we do need to take proper stock, however, of the size and number of problems facing the country at present.

There's the so-called 'meltdown'. It is apparently quite bad, the Sensex is down to less than half its highest-ever peak of a year ago. It is making some people - about 3-4 per cent of the population, at most - less rich.

There's the Marathi vs 'North Indian' in Mumbai. This is more serious and has greater long-term consequences. It affects more people directly; it also spreads and hardens sentiments of regionalism and parochialism around the country. The Bihari who is beaten up in Mumbai goes back and attacks trains in Bihar. Marathis there are no longer safe. The virus can easily spread further afield, as chauvinists everywhere learn by example and apply the same methods in their own areas of influence. So Bangalore and Chennai and even Ahmedabad could see similar movements. Similar things have of course happened in Assam and across Northeast India in the past, and it will be no surprise if they recur. In fact the Gorkhaland movement in Bengal owes a lot to the anti-outsider movement in Meghalaya. Nepali-speakers who were displaced from Shillong went to Darjeeling and helped fuel the fires for a homeland there.

There's home-grown Muslim terrorism, and now, home-grown Hindu terrorism. This is cause for major concern, because it has the potential to do serious harm to the country and the region. The hard Right among Hindus is growing in strength again, across the country. It's riots in Orissa and Karnataka and bomb blasts in Gujarat and Maharashtra, but it's bad news all around. Since every extremism always strengthens its opposite pole, it is natural to expect the Muslim and Christian Right to gain in influence too. One can argue about who started it, but the end is likely to be bloody. By sheer force of numbers the majority would expect to survive. However the inability of military means to subdue large groups is by now evident around the globe. India itself has failed in Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland and Sri Lanka. The only success - in Punjab - came because of Sikh officers leading a Sikh force. It stands to reason that the rise of the Right needs to be defeated if the country is to be saved.

There's the growth of the Maoist Left. This is a group that commands support in rural pockets from the Nepal border down to the Arabian Sea coast of Karnataka. It is bound to gain support given the kind of unfair and unequal development the world, and our country, has witnessed. The 'middle class' here is much glorified, but largely mythical. It is defined as people whose earnings are between two and four times the poverty line, which is $1.25 a day in purchasing power parity terms. That's about Rs 15-20 in real terms. Does Rs 1,200 a month buy a 'middle class' living? I'd think not. So I expect further violence and bloodshed as the deprived poor struggle for their place in the Indian sun.
Wait for it, and watch out.