Courtesy Reuters

India Adrift

A combination of factors is inexorably pushing India toward what may be described as a political and economic watershed. The decisions and actions that its leadership takes-or fails to take-this year may shape the history not only of India but perhaps of Asia for a long time to come.

To say that affairs in India have reached a watershed is perhaps an understatement or a euphemism. It would be more accurate to say that the country is faced with the biggest crisis since its independence twenty years ago. The coming months will show whether we have the capacity to face it determinedly or will move apathetically down the slippery slope of economic chaos as China did some thirty years ago.

None of the problems and challenges that India is facing at present is new or unexpected. At various times since independence we have been confronted with each of them. We have also had adequate warning that they were developing. What makes the situation so difficult and disheartening-many in India sincerely doubt if the country has the capacity to face it-is the fact that such a large number of problems have to be dealt with simultaneously. To give only an abbreviated list of them, India's population has crossed the 500 million mark and its annual rate of growth shows no sign of declining from 2.4 percent; its economy is stagnating; its once ample resources have been frittered away on grandiose schemes which have failed to pay the expected dividends, and its treasury is literally empty; it has experienced three successive years of drought, a phenomenon unparalleled in living memory, and consequently has a food deficit this year conservatively estimated at twelve million tons; the monolithic Congress Party, which won the country its freedom and has held it together since independence, is crumbling and in certain areas its place is being taken by political parties lacking broad vision or dedication to national unity; charismatic national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru have been replaced

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