India today faces challenges that are as much moral as social or political, with last week’s bomb blasts in Mumbai having only temporarily shifted off the front pages the corruption scandals that more recently dominated. These have revealed that manner in which our politicians have abused the state’s power of eminent domain, its control of infrastructural contracts, and its monopoly of natural resources, to enrich themselves. Rectifying this is now arguably India’s defining challenge.
There is a curious paradox here; for India is the creation of a generation of visionary and selfless leaders who governed it in the first decades of freedom. These men and women united a disparate nation from its fragments; gave it a democratic constitution; and respected linguistic and especially religious pluralism. Today’s scandals, however, have their origin in the steady deterioration in the character of this Indian political class.
If nothing else, the scale of corruption will put at least a temporary halt to premature talk of India’s imminent rise to superstardom. Such fancies are characteristic of editors in New Delhi and businessmen in Mumbai, who dream often of catching up with and even surpassing China. Yet the truth is that India is in no position to become a superpower. It is not a rising power, nor even an emerging power. It is merely a fascinating, complex, and perhaps unique experiment in nationhood and democracy, whose leaders need still to attend to the faultlines within, rather than presume to take on the world without. Continue reading »