Tuesday, August 18, 2009

India at 62: A few thoughts on Independence Day

By Paritosh Chakma

As India celebrated her 62 years of freedom on August 15, a few thoughts ran through my mind. Yet, I must confess I always become sad on this very day. As the residents of my building joined others to fly colourful kites, I pensively watched “The Legend of Bhagat Singh” in my TV set and asked to myself: do we really care how much sacrifice our freedom fighters made to win this freedom? Do we really care?

I don’t think majority of us care. That’s why we behave the way we behave – we are corrupt and insensitive to the needs of our fellow human beings; those at the helm of affairs ensure that welfare funds do not reach the ordinary people or to a particular section of citizens; the poor and vulnerable are further suppressed and exploited; farmers who produce food for the country die of hunger and debts; the poor have no basic medical facilities; we fight on grounds of castes and ethnicity and languages; women after six decades do not have freedom and get killed in the name of honour; and the majority still believe in the principle of “big-fish-eat-the-small-fish”.

I also became a bit of idealistic. Thinking of the condition of my own community (Chakmas) I thought our situation in India and Bangladesh would have been totally different had destiny had not cheated us then. The Chittagong Hill Tracts was “gifted” to Pakistan during Partition in 1947 by a man called Radcliffe despite the fact that less than 3 percent of the population was Muslim. Congress leaders like Nehru and Sardar Patel did protest later on but they did not act enough to see CHT in India. (For detail see http://paritosh-chakma.blogspot.com/2009/08/will-chakmas-survive-in-mizoram.html)

In Mizoram, minority rights are seldom respected. The rulers behave in autocratic ways and concede only what is impossible to deprive to the minorities. That is why welfare schemes have never been targeted at actual development of the minorities whether it is the Congress or MNF at the helm. The impact of the flagship programmes such as NREGS, SSA, NRHM, etc has been deliberately kept as low as possible. As pointed out by me several times, the Border Area Development Programme is yet to kick off in the border areas in Mizoram-Bangladesh sector but curiously the funds provided by the Centre was being spent by the state government. What is actually happening, there is no transparency and accountability.

In his independence day address in Aizawl, Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla stated that poverty alleviation would be given top priority and promised a responsive and corruption-free administration. The Planning Commission is reportedly considering granting Mizoram a whopping Rs 2,500 crore over the next five years and these funds would be used under a revised New Land Use Policy (NLUP) for providing livelihoods alternative to unsustainable jhum cultivation.

But there are already fears in the minds of the general public who are non-Congress supporters or those who have not voted for the Congress. The Congress party came to power in the last Assembly Election riding on the promise of Rs 1 lakh to each family household under NLUP. “NLUP” is a household word among the rural people of Mizoram and they would go wild hearing it. But many Congress candidates, most of who have won, also added a rider in their election campaigns: only those who vote for the Congress will be beneficiaries of NLUP.

Now most of the Village Councils are governed by the Congress and as it always happens, the Opposition MNF has been sidelined as if the Opposition does not exist. The Congressmen in rural areas are already spreading the fearful message that only Congress “Chamchas, chelas and cronies” will get NLUP funds. Certainly, not all the citizens are Congress backers. Believe me, in villages which are small everyone knows who has voted for whom! Today, they are paranoid.

This would give a glimpse of how our socalled flagship poverty alleviation programmes are delivered throughout India, and partly expains why one-third of the globally poor people are still living in India, even after 62 precious years of independence and India's robust economic growth.

The rest I won't say much, it is for you, those who happen to read this, to think.

[Read my last year's thoughts at http://paritosh-chakma.blogspot.com/2008/08/india-at-61-what-freedom-means-to-me-as.html ]

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