Photo: A Pakistani trader. Source: News Click - Photo: 2023

India Going Down Path of Pakistan, Sri Lanka

Viewpoint by Dr Ram Puniyani*

NEW DELHI (IDN) — Pakistan is in the grip of a massive economic crisis. Wheat flour costs Rs (PKR) 150 per kg. Staple diet roti (type of bread) costs Rs 30 in a country where the average daily earning is Rs 500 with an average household needing around 10 rotis daily. The US dollar is close to PKR 230.

Summing up the economic plight of Pakistan, John Ciorciari, professor at Michigan’s School of Public Policy, says, “Pakistan faces a severe economic crisis and clearly requires external support. Foreign exchange reserves are at dangerously low levels—enough to pay for only a few weeks of imports. Inflation is at its highest levels in decades, growth is sagging and the central bank has raised interest rates sharply to address a weak currency.”

Undoubtedly, the worsening situation has been partly precipitated by the massive floods. Besides, the economy’s basic structure has been on a weaker wicket with military dominance, ‘Islam in politics’ and the US influence.

At the time of Independence, Pakistan’s first governor general Mohammad Ali Jinnah gave one of the best definitions of a secular state during his August 11 Constituent Assembly speech. “If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the
past, no matter what his colour, caste or creed is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make,” he said.

This principle was not to last long, and the fundamentalist elements around him took over after his death. Persecution of Hindus, Christians, and Shias and Kadianis (sects of Islam) began over a period of time. ‘Religion in politics’ dominated the scene, the basic infrastructure of agriculture and industry remained on the margins, and health and education were accorded a low priority.

Roughly, the domination of the military and fundamentalism in politics had different priorities and it seems that they are one of the major factors in the State’s inability to cope with the economic challenges.

No two cases are exactly similar; still, some generalisations can be drawn. In the case of Sri Lanka, ethnic and Sinhala-Buddhist politics were in the driving seat. Hindu Tamils were the first target, followed by the persecution of Muslims and Christians. The military was in a dominating position and the autocracy’s high-handed decisions like spending the nation’s fortune on the Rajapaksa Airport, near Hambantota Port, and stopping the import of fertilisers led to the big disaster eight months ago.

The food crisis and the rising prices led to the uprising. Sri Lanka did begin as a democracy, but the pressure of ethnic (also overlapping religious) issues dominated the scene to disenfranchise the Hindus (Tamils) and others in due course.

Rohini Hensman, a scholar-activist of Sri Lankan origin, gives a comprehensive account of the roots of the ethnic-religious divide on which major political parties harped. In due course, this gave rise to the anti-people, autocratic regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya in particular. (Rohini Hensman, Nightmare’s End, June 13, 2022, New Left Review). Interestingly, Sri Lanka also went in to trace the ancestry of its poverty-stricken citizens through documentary proof.

In India, communal elements boast that the country is not facing such a crisis due to the leadership of Narendra Modi. Surely, the crisis in India is not of the same proportion as in Pakistan or Sri Lanka.

Still, the rising prices of commodities are breaking the back of the poor and even the middle class—to which the Union finance minister also claims to belong. The Indian rupee has seen a free fall against the dollar and stands at Rs 83 against the greenback.

Unemployment is at an all-time high and GDP is on the lower side. Oxfam’s report ‘Survival of the Richest: The India Supplement’ shows the widening gulf between the rich and poor.

Muslims and Christians are under constant intimidation and
marginalisation, best reflected in what India’s outstanding former police officer Julio Ribeiro said, “Today, in my 86th year, I feel threatened, not wanted, reduced to a stranger in my own country. The same category of citizens who had put their trust in me to rescue them from a force they could not comprehend has now come out of the woodwork to condemn me for practicing a religion that is different from theirs. I am not an Indian anymore, at least, in the eyes of the proponents of the Hindu Rashtra.”

In contrast to its two neighbours, India began on the solid wicket of secularism and focussed on industries, irrigation, fertilisers, health facilities (primary health centres) and education. It also endeavoured to set up premier institutes of higher education, IITs, IIMs along with research institutions which could compete globally—BARC (1954), DRDO (1958) and INCOSPAR [later ISRO] (1962), among others.

Undoubtedly, there were some flaws in the initial planning like an overemphasis on heavy industries and higher education; still, solid infrastructure was laid. Scientific temper was mandated even through the Constitution.

In the 80s, communalism reared its head in a powerful way. Now, it has become the most dominating political factor, leading to a downslide in most areas irrespective of the claims about Achche Din and Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas.

In the last eight years, GDP tanked from 7.29% to 4.72%, average unemployment rose from 5.5% to 7.1%, cumulative NPAs increased from Rs 5 lakh crore to Rs 18.2 lakh crore and the rupee drastically weakened from 59 to 83. The attack on scientific temper is becoming stronger.

In post-colonial South Asia, the British, who ruled and plundered the region, also sowed the seeds of ‘divide and rule’ by dividing the Hindus and Muslims or Sinhalese and Tamilians. Partition was the result of this policy.

India embarked on the path of a modern nation-state while Pakistan soon fell into the grip of divisive politics. While earlier many Pakistanis looked up to India as a role model, India seems to be following its path for the last three decades. As the late Pakistani poetess Fahmida Riaz in the aftermath of the Babri Majid demolition so aptly put, “Tum Bilkul Hum Jaise Nikle (You turned out to be like us)”.

*This article is the 24th in a series of joint productions of South Asian Outlook and IDN-InDepthNews, the flagship of the International Press Syndicate. The author is a human rights activist and taught at IIT Bombay. The views are personal. [IDN-InDepthNews — 23 January 2023]

Photo: A Pakistani trader.  Source: News Click

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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