India in Transition

POLITICS OF MANOEUVRE

THE fall in India's stock with her friends abroad is matched by the doubts that assail her own people. To misgivings about economic prospects have now been added a deep disquiet about the political future. The marked increase in tensions within Indian society, accelerated by intensified competition between the political parties since the general election in February 1967, raises fears that the consensus which has so far sustained the Indian experiment in democracy may break down. These fears, now at the center of the political debate within the country, testify to a crisis of confidence which is far more debilitating than the actual difficulties faced by India as a result of the loss of economic momentum and political coherence. But, paradoxically, the crisis is also a sign of hope. India has reasonably well- evolved political institutions and a fair leavening of educated public opinion, and these give her a sporting chance of pulling through. The practical solutions are still difficult to perceive, but the fact that all political elements are searching for them is itself reassuring.

Apart from the economic situation, on which a great deal will depend, India has, among developing countries, two special problems of a politically explosive character. A well-established educational system, one of the best legacies of the British, has been expanded very rapidly since Independence. There are twelve million students in secondary schools, about two million in colleges, and almost half a million in professional and technical institutions. Absorbing this very large output of qualified manpower was difficult enough even before the Indian economy started running down, but now the problem is even greater. The frustrated hopes of the unemployed, infecting those still in schools and colleges, constitute a major political liability, as evidenced by the rash of student violence spreading throughout the country. Add to this the handicaps imposed by a high rate of urbanization, with which the country simply does not have the resources to cope, and the result is a precipitate deterioration in living conditions in cities, especially in a metropolis like Calcutta. Both these factors contribute to a growing alienation of the politically articulate middle classes, thereby providing a ready market for extremism.

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