When hate invades the human mind, there is no limit to brutal atrocity. On April 10, a Guardian story included a video in which there is cheering as an Israeli sniper shoots an unarmed Palestinian a considerable distance away. Shown on TV in Israel, it has been the subject of some introspective debate. Then there is news from Kashmir to make anyone, but the perpetrators and their supporters, cringe in horror.
Eight-year old Asifa Bano went in the afternoon to the nearby forest, as she usually did, to bring back the family horses from grazing. She never returned. Family and friends searched all-night by flashlights but could not find her. Five days later her body was found.
“She had been tortured,” recalls her mother. “Her legs were broken … Her nails had turned black and there were blue and red marks on her arm and fingers.”
Was this the work of a demented sadist? No, it turns out. It was a planned operation intended to terrorize her community of Muslim nomads (Gujjars) to leave this predominantly Hindu area about 45 miles east of Jammu City.
According to investigators, Asifa was taken to a temple where she was held for several days. The eight-year old was repeatedly “raped for days, tortured and then murdered,” states the charge sheet. She was strangled to death, then hit twice on the head with a stone.
A retired government officer, Sanji Ram aged 60, calmly planned this horror, aided by police officers Anand Dutta, Tilak Raj, Sunder Verma, and someone called Khajuria. The outrage over the incident has grown since two ministers from the ruling BJP (Mr. Modi’s party) attended a rally in support of the accused.
Terrorizing Muslims in Kashmir is not new; it has been ongoing for decades. But terrorizing Muslims, Dalits, Christians and indigenous peoples in India itself has now also mushroomed.
Six Christian churches have been burned since 2015, and a concerted attempt to boycott Christian businesses is underway in the northeast. The killing of Muslims and Dalits by vigilantes on minor pretexts continues as the country’s democracy turns into a ‘mobocracy’.
It is ‘Democracy a la’ Modi’, a phrase that is the title of a long essay by scholars Sumit Ganguly and Krishna Menon in The National Interest (Jan/Feb 2018) — the title was changed to ‘Making India Great Again?’ in the internet version. Mr. Modi and his party want to turn India’s “kaleidoscope of languages, religions, castes and cultures” into a culturally Hindu state, even a religious return to Hinduism for they believe that “many Hindus were forcibly converted to, or duped into adopting Islam and Christianity.” Forget the Islamic injunction against forced conversion or the abundant evidence of tireless Christian missionaries including Mother Teresa.
The National Volunteer Force or RSS in their white shirt, khaki shorts uniform conduct martial drills and “serves as the party’s force multiplier and base”. It demonizes the other creating the environment for vigilante lynchings of minorities — overwhelmingly Muslim note the authors — to continue with impunity.
“Attacks on minority communities have become common, and academics, students and journalists who highlight the harassment and intimidation are subjected to public calumny, and have occasionally been killed.”
Thus noted Hinduism scholar and University of Chicago divinity professor Wendy Doniger’s book, “The Hindus: An Alternative History,” which presented a ‘new way of understanding’ Hinduism according to the publisher was banned as vulgar following a Hindutva campaign. Much worse can happen. Gauri Lankesh, a prominent woman journalist and critic of Hindu nationalist policies was shot dead outside her home in Bangalore last September. A list of Indian journalists killed is on Wikipedia. By the way, no reason has been given by The National Interest as to why the original title of the Ganguly/Menon article has been altered on their website. Of course the published magazine carries the original title.
It was an RSS man — they claimed he was no longer a member — who assassinated Gandhi for his defense of minorities. Mr. Modi joined the RSS in 1971 rising to become its National General Secretary.
Such is India today.
Revolutionary Russia and the Formation of Political Consciousness in Modern Kerala
20th century marks an important epoch in the history of mankind. The century saw multiple revolutions, two devastating world wars, economic depression and economic boom simultaneously, decolonisation, globalisation and technological inventions changing lives of millions of people. Russian revolution was one among the most momentous incident which created tremors all across the world. Popular protests against the authoritarian Tsarist regime resulted in the overthrow of monarchy and formation of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The new political entity inspired political activists to fight against both autocrats and colonising powers alike. Many activists across the nations wanted to replicate the model adopted by Bolsheviks and Red army in USSR. The dissolution of Soviet Union in 1991 was widely regarded as the end of world communism but still the communist spirit of USSR is resonated in the southernmost state of India i.e. Kerala.
Politically as well as culturally the influence of USSR is still predominant in Kerala. Communist Parties became marginal players in their once strongholds like West Bengal and Tripura where they uninterruptedly ruled for several decades. But in Kerala they had to concede defeat to Indian National Congress led United Democratic Front, even after that Communist Parties are successful at organisational and political levels. The building up of Communist Party of India (CPI) in Kerala was started from 1940s and was aided by left leaning writers and artists which resembled the Agitprop (department of Agitation and Propaganda) of the Soviet Union era. Agitprop was tasked by the leadership to tour all across the Soviet territory to spread communist propaganda and to glorify the ruling icons (Mally, 2003). The publishing house of CPI started to produce Malayalam translations of Russian literature and it found a large audience in Kerala. Magazines published from USSR also reached Kerala. Since these magazines and books were heavily subsidised by USSR the youth could have easy access to those.
Social condition of Kerala in the first half of 20th century was earmarked by complex caste equations and discrimination faced by lower caste people from the landlord communities. There was only a minimal presence of industries and a larger population was dependent on agriculture. The stories of successful revolution and establishment of a ‘proletariat state’ captured the imagination of common people. CPI formed the first government of United Kerala in 1957 and later implemented ‘land redistribution’ which was highly beneficial to the common people hence solidifying their political presence.
Even though ideological crack happened within CPI in 1964 on Sino-Soviet split and Communist Party of India (Marxist) was formed as a breakaway faction (Supporting Chinese communism). This situation is paradoxical since communist parties still draw its ideology from the Russian model and organisational hierarchy from the Chinese model. It is a fact that the Russian novels and short stories had a major role to play in developing Malayalam literate. At the same time, books of some of the popular Malayalam writers were also translated to Russian. One of the less spoken dimension of this influence is the ‘Political killings’ and violence where the tendency to terminate political opponent cuts across the party lines. Another aspect is the politicization of security forces (read police) which is exceptionally high in Kerala police. This paper aims at analysing the role USSR had in creating a public sphere in Kerala leaning towards the left, including its positives and negatives.
SOCIAL CONDITION OF KERALA
Before its unification in 1956, Kerala was three different administrative units. Travancore and Cochin were princely states while Malabar was part of the Madras presidency, hence directly under British rule. Kerala had a very complex caste system where upper castes including Namboothiri Brahmins and Nairs (there was no chaturvarnya system as such in Kerala. Later Kshatriyas were self elevated Nairs) (Nair P. R., 1987). Evil caste practices like untouchability, unseeability and unaproachability were practised within the Hindu fold, Lower caste people belonging to Pulaya, Thiyya, Ezhava communities were not even allowed to travel through roads adjacent to temples. They were only allowed to travel through the other ways when there was no individual from higher caste using the road. These illogical customs forced Swami Vivekananda to call Kerala a ‘Lunatic Asylum’ (Nandatmajananda, 2017). Upper caste (read Nairs) also followed irrational customs including Marumakkathayam and Sambandham. Nairs were the most power caste in Kerala after Namboothiris. Nairs’ marital alliances with Namboothiris called Sambandhams solidified their position in the society. In this system, Namboothiris had sexual union with Nair women and the children born from this had no legal right on their father’s property. Nairs followed a matrilineal system and inheritance to property was traced through women (Arunima, Writing culture: Of modernity and the Malayalam novel, 1997).
By the end of 19th century there was reform movements against multiple aspects including inter – intra caste issues and poor representation of the natives of Kerala in the government administration which was dominated by Tamil Brahmins. Malayali memorial was submitted to the Maharaja of Travancore on 1st January 1891 requesting for more jobs earmarked for Malayalees and Ezhava memorial was submitted on 3rd September 1896 pleading for extension of civil right and employment opportunities for Ezhavas (Nair T. S., 1979). Religious reformation movements were pioneered by Chattambi Swamikal, Sree Narayana Guru, Ayyankali and Mannath Pathmanadhan. Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) was founded in 1903 by Narayana Guru to mobilise Ezhava community while Nair Service Society (NSS), founded by Mannath Padmanabhan in 1914 questioned Marumakkathayam system and Brahaminical dominance. Ayyankali was an influential Pulaya leader who worked for Pulaya community in the princely state of Travancore (Kurup, 1994). These movements had hence started to develop a strong undercurrent against the current establishment and the social system in general.
Five years before the October revolution, in 1912 a young Malayalee journalist Ramakrishna Pilla had published the Malayalam translation of a biography of Karl Marx even at a time when his ideas were not popular in India. He published strong and eloquent articles against the Maharaja of Travancore and his Prime Minister P. Rajagopalachari in newspaper Swadeshabhimani which was later sealed by the government and Ramakrishna Pilla was send on exile (Jeffrey, What the Statues Tell: The Politics of Choosing Symbols in Trivandrum, 1980). In 1921 Mappilah Rebellion happened in Malabar (Northern Kerala) against the Janmi system and the colonial rule. The news of this rebellion even reached Lenin through one of the founders of Indian Communist Party Abani Mukherji and later a report was published in the Communist Review magazine which was the mouthpiece of the British Communist Party (Ramachandran, 2019). By this time Congress started to get involved in social issues following Gandhi’s call to fight against untouchability and discrimination. The famous Vaikom Satyagraha in 1924-25 saw unification of both Savarna and Avarna castes against the draconian practice of not allowing lower castes to walk through the lanes adjacent to Vaikom Mahadeva Temple. Leader of upper caste Nairs Mannath Padmanabhan carried out ‘Savarna Jatha’ in support of the ongoing agitation. Mahatma Gandhi and Periyar Ramaswami also came to the protesting venue and actively took part in the struggle (Jeffrey, Temple-Entry Movement in Travancore, 1860-1940, 1976). This period also marked beginning of small industries in Kerala and migration of many agricultural labourers to the industrial sites.
LABOUR UNIONS AND POLITICAL DYNAMICS
Distress within labours started to come out. They were under paid, exploited and didn’t have any safety at work place. Attempts were made in coir mat and mattress industry to mobilise workers in 1920s itself. There was a steady decline in the demand of coir goods and many
factories were shut down creating massive unemployment and reduced mages of existing workers. Under these circumstances Travancore Labour Association (TLA) was formed. The first meeting of TLA took place on 31st March 1922. It also became the first labour union to get registration under Travancore Union Act of 1937 and was later renamed as Travancore Coir Factory Workers Union (Nair R. , 1973). The union first carried out general strike in 1938 against Moopan Kashu. Moopans were the supervisors in these factories who had the power to punish workers making mistakes and even to fire them from job. Moopans also collected money from the labourers and the money was known as Moopan Kashu. The government took initiative to abolish Moopan Kashu (Dev, 1977).
It was in the beginning of 1930s that USSR was started to be seen as a messiah for the global working class by labourers and peasants in Kerala. E.V Ramaswamy Naicker after attending May day celebrations in Russia had given a speech in Alappuzha in 1933 where he elaborated to the public the benefits enjoyed by workers in USSR, their progress and development of the nation (Kerala Charithram, 1974). Political wrings of K Kesava Dev and K Ayyappan on USSR found followers in Kerala by that time hence a new political consciousness started to emerge. In 1934 those people who were inspired by the Russian revolution formed Congress Socialist Party within the frame of Indian National Congress. EMS Namboodiripad elaborated the incident as:
“Our understanding about socialist idea was incomplete and hazy. But we tried to spread what we knew among the people using the propaganda machinery then available. No substantial knowledge was there about basic tenets of socialism. But we knew that Soviet Union was a living symbol of all that. For, it was a time that a big and all pervading economic crisis was raging in the capitalist world. At the same time Soviet Union was successfully implementing its first five year plan. Their economic progress was taking place at a pace not achieved by any other country so far. Is there anything more needed to have a good impression of socialism and the bad impression of capitalism? To us who did not have any opportunity so far to make a theoretical study of the fundamental tenets of socialism, it was a fact which was helpful to develop one’s own opinion favouring socialism and to convey it to the people.” (Namboothiripad, 1986).
While Congress Socialist party was being transformed to Communist Party EMS wrote:
“When preparations were being made to convert Congress Socialist Party as a whole into Communist Party, during the weeks just after the beginning of the war, a syllabus on Marxist theory was implemented. During the two and half years of underground work this activity was continued. Leading cadres of the Party were taught authoritative works like Socialism, Utopian and scientific by Engels, ‘What’s to be Done’ by Lenin and Fundamental principles of Leninism by Stalin. Translation of these and many other books was initiated. Some of these were published for the education of the cadre. The work CPSU (B) History by Stalin was translated in toto and chapters were printed one by one. There was urging from all quarters
to learn theory. But only after the party came out of the underground could that process be continued and taken to a higher level” (Nambootiripad, 2015).
Kerala witness many peasant rebellions in 1940s but those were ruthlessly defeated by the police forces. In 1941, peasants revolted in Talasherry and Kayyur. 2 people were shot dead by the police at Talasherry. In Kayyur a police constable was killed during action and 4 of the peasants accused of the incident were hanged on 1943, hence becoming the first martyrs’ of peasant rebellion in Kerala. Initially Travancore princely state was hesitant to join the Indian Union and wanted to be an independent country. Sir C P Ramaswami Ayyar, the Prime Minister of the state wanted to develop and govern Travancore on “American model’. Massive revolts happened in Punnappra and Vayalar in October 1946. Even though the death toll hasn’t been impartially verified, it is said that around 300 people lost their lives and many were injured (Pillai M. , 1988). The impressive role played by Communist Party in organising peasants and labourers for freedom struggle eventually paid political dividend when they won the first state assembly elections of Kerala in 1957 (Kerala was formed on linguistic basis on 1st November 1956).
SOVIET INFLUENCE THROUGH LITERATURE AND ART
Even though agitations lead by CPI and left leaning peasant associations/labour unions consolidated the presence of communism politically, the ideology was further cemented though propaganda materials including novels, stories and translated Soviet works. The literary works which emerged in 1930s were absolute breakaway from the past. More politically conscious authors entered the fray and brought egalitarian values into their novels and short stories. A novel written by O Chandu Menon named Indulekha is regarded as the first complete novel in Malayalam (published in the 1886). The novel investigated the degrading situation of Nairs and Namboothiris. Through the medium of novel the novelist also questioned Sambandham and Marumakkathayam traditions (Arunima, Glimpses from a Writer’s World: O. Chandu Menon, His Contemporaries, and Their Times, 2004). Poem of Kumaranashan and Vallathol Narayana Menon questioned social evils and denounced caste practices. Thakazhi Shivashanka wrote extensively about the feudal framework and the ill treatment of lower castes. Most of his stories were plotted in Kuttanad which was essentially an agricultural region and especially Alappuzha where there were coir factories. Decline of the powerful Tharavadus (Nair joint family) could also be traced in these stories and novels (Verghese, 1970).
Other important story tellers were Vaikom Muhammad Basher, P Kesavadev, Ponkunnam Varkey, S K Pottekatt and Uroob P C Kuttykrishnan. They were highly inspired by the leftist thoughts and brought literature to the doorstep of common people. P Kesavadev was also a
trade union leader and his autobiography is rich with communist thoughts (Mohmed, 1993). Another noted writer, freedom fighter, social reformer and dramatist was V T Bhattathirippad who is better known for his drama Adukkalayil ninnu arangatheykk (From Kitchen to Centre stage) written against Orthdox Brahmins who didn’t allow Namboothiri women to join the public sphere. Namboothiri women were called Andarjanams (people residing inside home). His memoir titled kannerum kinavum gives an excellent account of the Namboothiri rituals and feudalism which he found suffocating (Kumari, 1997) . He was also a member of Communist Party.
This was also the period in which Malayalam writers became inclined toward western literature. The trend started with the translation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (paavangal).
A. Balakrishna Pilla translated Russian, French, German and English works to Malayalam and published in his periodical Kesari. He wrote essays about the emerging literary trends in the western world and he compared Malayalam literary works with their western counterparts which enriched Kerala’s literary sphere. Writers of International repute Gorky, Chekhov and Maupassant became familiar to the public through his Balakrishna Pilla’s book reviews (Pillai A. B., 1935). By the end of 1940s all major Russian writer’s including Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Mayakovksy, Turgenev and Pushkin were translated to Malayalam.
1950s witnessed a literary revolution in Kerala with stories of different genres being produced, More Russian books translated to Malayalam, Malayalam books translated to Russian and popularisation of communist ideas through theatre. Even though theatre was used by CPI for propagating ideas through Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) its Malayalam form Kerala Peoples’ Art Club (KPAC) was founded in 1951 – showing excessive similarity to Agitprop drama troops. Soviet agitprop theatre touched upon multiple aspects of life, the messages were simple – Work hard, learn factory rules, give up the church and donate money to the state (Mally, 2003). The first political drama in Malayalam was Pattabakki (The landlord’s Dues) written by K Damodaran in 1940s. KPAC’s first staged drama was Ente Makananu Sheri (My son is right) and their second drama was Ningalenne Communistakki (You made me a Communist). One of the songs of the drama ponnarivalambiliyil kanneriyunnole (The girl looking at sickle moon) became immensely popular with the common folks. The drama was written by renowned writer and Communist ideologue Thoppil Bhasi. The play was staged 600 times across Kerala and played a vital role in CPI’s electoral success in 1957 (Richmond, 1973).
By this time famous Malayalam poems, short stories and novels were translated into Russian. Vallathol Narayana Menon was the first author to be translated. His poems India weeps, The Lenin’s Mausoleum and Seventh November were translated and Published in USSR. By 1960s Russian Indologists developed a curiosity towards Malayalam language. Thakazhi’s novels Chemeen (Shrimps) and Randidangazhi (Two Measures) were translated to Russian
and were widely read. By 1970s the works of all major short story writers in Malayalam were translated to Russian and this included M.T Vasudevan Nair, P.C Kuttykrishnan, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, Kesava Dev and Karur Neelakanda Pilla. The influence of Gorky in the framework of Takazhi’s stories drew attention of Russian critics (George, 1972). Like Gorky Malayalam novelists had also portrayed the decaying elite class and the new generation within their family setup questioning the existing customs and asking for a change.
Prabhat Books, established in 1952 was the publishing house of CPI published translated versions of many Russian novels and propaganda materials. Their translations of Maxim Gorky’s ‘Mother’ and Tolstoy’s stories were sold out in several editions (Kiran, 2012). Soviet Union magazines like Misha, Soviet land and Sputnik were available at cheaper prices and the beautiful illustrations attracted a lot of young people to read these magazines. Most of the books in the early period were translated by Edappally Karunakaran Menon while many of the books from 1960s were translated by Omana and Moscow Gopalakrishnan (Kamalakalam, 2018). Another Malayalam novel Oru Sangeerthanam Pole written by Perumbadavam Sreedharan based on the life of Fyodor Dostoevsky crossed more than 100 editions and around 2.5 lakh copies were sold out (kamalakaran, 2019). This rather shows the affection of an entire generation towards the Russian authors and literature.
Malayalam movies in 1970s became extremely vocal of the left ideology. There were movies like Mooladhanam (1969, Das Capital), Punnapra Vayalar (1968), Vimochana Samaram (1971, Liberation war), Raktasakhi (1981, Red Star), Kabani Nadhi Chuvannappol (1975, When river Kabani turned red), Sakhavu (1986, Comrade). Poets and lyricists like Vayalar Ramavarma, P Bhaskaran and ONV Kurup composed revolutionary songs which topped the charts in the second half of 20th century Kerala. Commemorating the death of his fellow comrades at Punnapra – Vayalar Vayalar wrote in his poem Oru thulli raktham (One drop blood), “They ran towards those guns shamelessly spitting fire, laughingly they took all those bullets. I came out of my home hearing loud voices, this is life’s revolution my greetings to you comrade” (Ramavarma, 2013). Powerful orators like Sukumar Azheekod and MN Vijayan stood as firm walls for the intellectual defence of Communism which couldn’t be breached by their political opponents. Even today propaganda movies are released in Kerala with comrade as a protagonist and saviour of society. Movies which are part of a popular culture are still factors for the popularity of Communist Party among the youth in Kerala.
POLITICAL VIOLENCE IN KERALA
Even though Kerala is the most literate state in entire region and its human Development Index can be compared with the levels of European countries, the state is notorious for the level of political violence and murders committed irrespective of Party lines which is way ahead of the national average. In a period from 2000-2017, 172 political killings happened in
Kerala- 85 from CPI (M), 65 RSS/BJP, 11 Congress and 11 Muslim League (Desk, 2017). Cultural reasons for these political murders are explained by political analysts, but appropriation of icons like Stalin has undoubtedly added more seriousness to politics. Communist Party offices in Kerala still bear photos of Stalin while his statues were pulled down in Georgia (his birthplace) after the disintegration of Soviet Union (Osborn, 2010). Due to the restrictions on the flow of information and rapid propaganda, people had no real idea of what was happening inside USSR. What they knew what they were only supposed to know. Stalinism involved termination of political opponents, propagandas, strict punishments (Gulags) and subjugation of alternative views. These criterions fixes perfectly into the Kerala model. Almost all academic centres in Kerala are captured by left wing organisations and liberty to express views is confined their close corporation only. ‘In the early years CPI tried to be an exemplary expression of the “goodwill” and an agent of “people’s democracy” through insurgent “extra parliamentary” methods. As its insurgency methods failed in the late 1940s, the Communist Party embraced the parliamentary form’ notes Ruchi Chaturvedi (Chaturvedi, 2012). So the old revolutionary thought is very much there in their genus which explodes resulting in bloodshed and violence. There have next to nil violence between workers of BJP, IUML or Congress but they are all in constant conflict with CPI (M).
Politicisation of security personnel was an essential part of USSR administration. The Russian revolution was made possible by the red army who were the official affiliates of the Bolsheviks. Even Stalin was always seen in his Semi-Militaristic tunic (Fedorova, 2014). In Kerala politicisation of Police is an important dimension of political process. Whether it is in West Bengal or Kerala CPIM has always been accused of ‘cell-rule’ where party functionaries interfere in the day to day activities of police. P Govinda Menon who was the chief minister of Travancore-Kochi that preceded the Kerala state: “If the Communists violated laws, they would not be arrested; if they were arrested. They would not be prosecuted; if they were prosecuted, the cases would be withdrawn; and if the cases ended in conviction, the sentences would be remitted” (Kumar, 2018). Communist Party has successfully infiltrated their cadres to the police forces which show the still prevailing Soviet era thought of controlling forces by any means. There have been instances of CPI (M) cadres faking police selection examinations and topping the exams (WebDesk, 2019).
Influence of Russia has been a mix bag for Kerala. Tremendous deal of progress was achieved in the literary sphere while the political dynamics of the state turned more violent. Russia was seen a true model state and heaven for the common people where there was no discrimination. Thanks to the excessive control over media and literature that the real USSR didn’t come out to the world. Hence CPI grew in Kerala by showcasing Soviet Union as an example and propagating myths of an ‘egalitarian state’. The ‘success’ of USSR revived the hope of a world revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat throughout the world. 1st
generation communists of Kerala were highly impressed with the 5 year plans and wanted to develop Kerala on the lines of Russia. CPI which called World War 2 as an ‘imperialist war’ changed its stand once USSR joined the Allied forces. There was a letdown after Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech went public. The propaganda machinery of USSR was entirely replicated in Kerala with the establishment of communist friendly drama troops, writers, singers and journalists. Following the split in CPI and creation of CPI (M), the feud was settled and the communist parties allied themselves to form a common Left Front.
Influence of leftist ideology has reached at a point where all political parties (including parties with pan-Indian presence) adopting a leftist stand in many of the local issues. Political thinking in Kerala has been very different from the rest of the nation. In the general elections after the end of Emergency in 1977 Congress lost every state in North while the party won all the seats from Kerala. In 2019, when Congress was decimated in all the states Kerala gave 19 out of 20 seats to the Congress, again going against the trend. Stalinism or silencing of opposition is a serious concern which has its roots firmly in the glorification of the cult of a dictator who is still popular among the cadres of communist parties. After the fall of USSR many believed that the communist empire had died. What we see today in China, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam and North Korea as distorted versions of the doctrine without an ideology in itself. Communism in Kerala still echoes the Communism which prevailed in USSR guided by a strong ideology and commitment towards it. Generations of communist leaders’ and workers’ strategy of linking an entire society divided by religion, caste, economic status to a common ideology, influencing their though process, still yields result for the party.
Human Development Index 2021–22 and India
The goal of the HDI is to provide a comprehensive assessment of a country’s development based on the individuals and their capabilities. The Human Development Index is a statistical measure that shows the average achievement in various key dimensions of human development. These include a long and healthy life, a good standard of living, and being knowledgeable. The three main dimensions of the HDI are health, education, and standard of living. The health dimension is based on the life expectancy at birth. The education dimension is calculated by the years of schooling that are expected for children entering school. The standard of living is computed by taking into account the country’s gross national income. The scores for these three dimensions are then computed and aggregated using a geometric mean.
The HDI can be used to analyze the various policy choices that governments make regarding human development. It can also help stimulate debate about the priorities of the government. Although the HDI provides a comprehensive view of human development, it does not take into account various factors such as poverty, human security, and inequality. The other composite indices that are used to measure human development, such as the Human Development Report, provide a more accurate and broader perspective.
India in HDI
The rapid growth of income, education, and life expectancy has become a major challenge for India. According to the Human Development Report 2021, which was released by the UNDP, the country’s global rankings have dropped from 130 in 2020 to 132 in 2021. This is not surprising since the growth in India’s Human Development Index has slowed down faster than that of the global index. In 2020, India’s HDI values had remained flat, but they fell significantly in 2021. This marked a sharp deterioration from the previous year, and it is expected to have a negative impact on the country’s medium and South Asian HDI economies. At the global level, the fall in the index was slightly less than in 2020, but it was still more than in the previous year.
The decline in the Human Development Index values in 2021 was mainly due to India’s poor performance. However, other regions such as East Asia and the Pacific and Europe and Central Asia showed some marginal growth. While the HDI values in Arab countries remained stable, they continued to fall in the Caribbean and Latin America.
India and its Trends in HDI
The positive trends in the HDI values were seen in different HDI groups in 2021. For instance, in very high and high human development countries, the trends improved significantly. However, in low human development countries, the trends remained negative. This was mainly due to the sharp decline in the growth of India’s HDI values.
Although the pandemic has resulted in a sharp decline in India’s HDI values, it is also worrying that the country’s global rankings have dropped significantly. In 2015, the previous government of the National Democratic Alliance assumed office, and the country’s ranking decreased by one rung. During this period, the HDI rankings for China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the United Arab Emirates improved significantly. However, India’s efforts to improve its human development indicators are still lagging behind. This is because the country’s rapid growth has been overshadowed by other countries’ achievements.
A closer look at the data shows that the decline in India’s Human Development Index (HDI) growth has been continuous for more than a decade. From an annual average rate of 1.2% during the 1990s to 1.6% during the 2000s, the country’s growth rate has slowed down to 0.9% during the 2010–21 period. Its neighbors, such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, and China, did better than India. During the period under review, the HDI values of these countries improved by 1.64%, 1.25%, and 0.97%, respectively. The continuous decline in the growth of India’s Human Development Index can be considered as a destabilising factor. For instance, the country’s life expectancy rate, which had been at an annual rate of 0.7% during the 1990s to the 2000s, has remained flat since 2010.
In the first two years following the outbreak of the pandemic, life expectancy in India fell by 1.1% and 4.2%. However, in neighboring Bangladesh, life expectancy started to recover and reached 0.6% in the second year. The decline in the average annual growth of schooling in the country has also been continuous for more than a decade. From 0.4% in the 1990s to 0.5% in the 2000s, the annual average growth of schooling in India has dropped to 0.4%. Despite the improvement in the mean years of schooling that occurred during the past couple of decades, the growth in this area has stagnated during the pandemic. This is a negative factor for the country’s long-term growth.
The decline in the growth rates of the per capita national income and gender development index has also been disappointing. After reaching an annual average of 3.6% during the 1990s, the growth rate of India’s per capita gross national income has slowed down to 4.3% during the 2010–21 period, which is considered a contributing factor to the country’s current economic slowdown. Even after the various factors that have affected the country’s long-term growth, the per capita income of Bangladesh has maintained its steady increase during the past couple of years. It has also been able to prevent the decline in the gender development index from happening much faster than India. This demonstrates Bangladesh’s ability to sustain its rapid growth. The continuous decline in the growth of India’s Human Development Index and the steady decline in its ranking are two important indicators that should be taken into account. It is clear that the country’s economic growth can no longer be sustainable if it does not include higher human development. This is because a critical level of development is required for sustainable growth.
It is no surprise that the decline in India’s HDI values has been linked to the country’s economic slowdown. As a result, it is important that the government of India takes immediate action to boost the country’s Human Development Index and accelerate its growth. This can be done through the establishment of innovative policies and the establishment of a virtuous cycle of accelerated human development.
Although it is not always accurate to compare the rankings of different countries, it is still important to note that the data collected from the Human Development Index can provide more accurate and timely reports. In terms of its human development, India has declined on three different parameters. One of these is its life expectancy, which has decreased from 69.7 to 67.2 years. On the other hand, the country’s education system has shown an increase in the number of years that students are expected to complete schooling, though the school closure caused a drop in the expected years of education. Finally, the standard of living has also gone down. Around 90 percent of the countries in the world are currently experiencing this decline due to various crises, such as the pandemic, climate change, and the war. Although the pandemic is a contributing factor to the decline in human development, it is also important to note that other factors such as the displacement of people due to climate change are affecting the country. The ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia has shown that the world is constantly experiencing a crisis that is unprecedented. Because of this, it is not possible for humans to effectively resolve these crises. Despite the progress that has been made in narrowing the gender gap, there are still many challenges that remain. One of these is the low number of women participating in the labor force. Although the government has already launched various initiatives aimed at addressing these issues, more needs to be done to improve the situation of women. One of the most important factors that can be considered when it comes to addressing the issue of inequality is the strengthening of the social protection schemes. This will allow the country to include more vulnerable groups in its development. Besides this, other factors such as the availability of healthy populations are also important to improve the country’s human development.
The South Asian Triangle
Indian External Affairs Minister (EAM) Jaishankar has been a particularly busy man for the last few days. Even by his own standards, the last few days have proved intense and hectic.
A passing glance at his schedule gives us a snapshot of the scope of India’s contemporary foreign policy. Tackling a whole host of multilateral, regional, trilateral and bilateral relationships in a span of ten days, he has signaled India’s dexterity to engage in diverse relationships and juggle multiple balls at the same time.
The key takeaways of the last few days have been reformed multilateralism at the UN, South-South cooperation within the CELAC, CARICOM and IBSA forum, rebalancing in the Indo-Pacific through the QUAD and regional trilaterals like the India-UAE-France, India-France-Australia and India-Australia-Indonesia.
Seen by some as an ineffective talk shop, the minister also didn’t shy away from the BRICS foreign ministers meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA and demonstrated New Delhi’s willingness to balance ostensible contradictions with a straight face.
The minister’s visit also allowed India to undertake an honest stocktaking of its bilateral partnership with Washington. The press conference with Secretary of State Blinken captures the plethora of domains which have witnessed vigorous cooperation between the two partners over the last few years.
However, like mature states covering for their own interests, some disagreements naturally surfaced between them. Primary disagreements were over New Delhi’s oil imports from Russia and Washington’s sustenance of F-16s to Pakistan for supposed counter-terrorism purposes.
At a community gathering, Minister Jaishankar, referring to restarting of the maintenance of the F-16S for counter-terrorism, nippily quipped that the US was “not fooling anybody by saying these things” and questioned the merits of the US-Pakistan relationship. When the Americans were asked about it, the US tried to give New Delhi a taste of its own medicine.
Experts believe that if New Delhi wishes to demonstrate “strategic autonomy” by engaging multiple sides and maintain friends in all camps by engaging the QUAD, SCO and Russia at the same time, others might also seek to do the same. After all, whether one likes it or not, interests trump values.
It is no coincidence that Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto also happens to be visiting Washington at the same time as his Indian counterpart. An urgent change in US-Pakistan ties is an important prospect from Rawalpindi’s point of view. In the short-medium term, Pakistan urgently seeks western assistance for rehabilitation due to the havoc caused by the recent floods. It also seeks to mend its crumbling economy when usual creditors like Beijing seem wary of lending.
Washington, perhaps, still feels that Pakistan’s geography doesn’t allow it to remain immaterial in its own strategic calculus. Pakistan shares close geographical proximity, and land borders in some cases, with Afghanistan, Iran, China and India. Washington also thinks that Pakistan could provide help in stabilizing Afghanistan while it remains preoccupied with Ukraine and China.
Coming back to US-India relations, some analysts believe that the bilateral relationship, despite all its progress over the last two decades, was witnessing signs of stress. They see minister Jaishankar’s visit as primarily aimed for damage control and corrective dialogue.
All said and done, the India-US partnership still remains one of the most consequential relationships of the century and holds immense potential in ensuring stability at a time when the global order is under a tumultuous flux.
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