Justice Markandey Katju –
I wish I could wish people a happy new year, but I regret I cannot since I just cannot be a hypocrite.
The truth is that from this year India is going to enter into an era of what can be called the Great Turbulence, which in my estimate will last for 15-20 years, and in which tens of millions of Indians will perish or suffer terribly.
Let me explain.
India had a period of great turbulence from 1707 when the last strong Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb died, to 1857 when after suppressing the Mutiny the British consolidated their rule over India.
But from 1857 till now it had relative peace and stability. Of course, we had Partition violence in 1947, wars with China and Pakistan, etc but these were of short duration, and nothing compared to what horrors China went through from 1839 (during the Opium Wars) to 1949 when the Communists came to power. During this interval China went through the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64), the Boxer Revolts (1899-1901), the collapse of the Qing (Manchu) dynasty in 1911 and rise of regional warlords, the Northern Expedition of the Kuomintang (1925) under Chiang Kai Shek, the Long March (1934-35) the Japanese invasion (1937) and slaughters in Nanking and Shanghai, the Civil War (1945-49) and ultimately the victory of the Red Army under Mao Tse Tung in 1949. Thereafter China has had a period of relative peace and stability.
In contrast, after the period of relative peace and stability in India from 1857 till now, we are going to now enter a period of tremendous turmoil and violence, which I call The Great Turbulence, which may last for two decades. It will be like the period of the later Mughals (1707-1857).
The catalyst for this is going to be the coming Lok Sabha elections in which no holds will be barred, as it is a fight for the Delhi Sultanate. A study of Indian history reveals that rivers of blood have flown in these. Communal and caste violence will be unleashed on a massive scale and every dirty trick resorted to. My own guess is that no party will get anywhere near a majority in this election, and a coalition government will be formed, with regional leaders as the kingmakers, like the Syed brothers after Aurangzeb’s death. There will be squabbling for lucrative portfolios, particularly for the finance ministry (as was witnessed after the Karnataka Assembly election), and the coalition partners will keep fighting among themselves as was witnessed during Janata Party rule (1977-80) after the Emergency. An era like that of the later Mughals will begin, and as in the time of the later Mughals, regional satraps (like Nizam ul Mulk, Sardar Jung or the Nawabs of Avadh, Murshidabad, etc) will wield the real power, with the prime minister (like the later Mughal emperors) being their puppet.
But apart from the above, we may look at things from a larger perspective:
1. Today India has all that is required to become a modern, highly industrialized nation with its people enjoying a high standard of living. We have a huge pool of technical talent – our IT engineers are largely manning Silicon Valley, and Indian professors are in math, science and engineering departments in many American and European universities – and we have immense natural resources.
Yet despite this we have massive poverty, unemployment, child malnourishment, farmers suicides, almost a total lack of healthcare and good education for our masses, etc. Consider the following:
12 million youth are entering our job market every year, but jobs are getting less (as all reports indicate). For a single government job advertised, even for menial posts, there are usually a thousand applications. Consequently, many youth will take to crime.
Between one-third and a half of the world’s malnourished children are Indian children. Over 40 percent of our children are malnourished, 21 percent being ‘wasted,’ that is. their weight is too low relative to their height, indicating acute malnutrition according to Global Hunger Index. Over 300,000 farmers have committed suicide.
How long can this state of affairs continue? Some kind of gigantic upheaval against it is bound to come.
2. India is passing through a transitional period in our history, the transition from feudal agricultural to modern industrial society. Presently we are neither totally feudal nor totally industrial but somewhere in between.
A period of transition is always a very painful and turbulent period in history. If we study European history from the 16th to the 19th centuries (when Europe was shifting from feudalism to modern society) we find this period full of turmoil, wars, religious massacres, revolutions, chaos, intellectual ferment, etc. It was only after going through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe.
India is now going through this fire. We are going through a very painful period in our history, which I guess will last for another 15-20 years. For. after all. what is a transition? It is a period when the old society is being uprooted when traditional values are being challenged, but when a new society and new values are yet not established. Can this be accomplished without pain and turbulence? Certainly not.
3. India’s national aim must be to create a new social and political order in which all our people lead decent lives and enjoy a high standard of living. That is only possible if India has a high degree of widespread industrialization.
But if India industrializes it will become a big rival to other industrialized countries. Will they permit this?
Cost of labor is a big chunk of the total cost of production. If there is a minimal cost of labor, production costs of also go down. Consequently, one can sell at a cheaper price and undersell a business rival.
After its revolution in 1949 China created a massive industrial base, its cheap labor helping it to outsell the whole world in consumer goods. Western supermarkets are packed with Chinese goods because the Chinese can sell them at less than half the price of local goods because labor there is more expensive.
Indian labor is even cheaper than Chinese labor. So if it gets fully industrialized it could outsell the whole world, including the Chinese. Who then will buy costly goods when Indian goods of the same quality sell at one-third the price?
So the unwritten rule of the industrialized nations is: do not let India industrialize any further. For this, they instigate caste, communal and other kinds of strife.
But India’s aim must be to become highly industrialized, for only then can it get rid of poverty, unemployment and other social evils.
This conflict between the national goal and the effort of the industrialized countries to prevent further Indian industrialization will be another cause for the coming period of great turbulence.
Some people tell me I should not scare them. But if the truth scares you that is your problem. It will not cease to be the truth.
During this Great Turbulence, as I call it, some genuinely patriotic and modern-minded leaders will emerge who will lead India’s people towards the national goal of creating a prosperous highly industrialized nation where people enjoy a high standard of living. But before that is achieved great sacrifices will be required, and great pain endured.
[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own]