South Asian Countries: Economic Downslide: Common Factors
– Ram Puniyani
Pakistan is currently in the grip of massive economic crisis. The wheat flour is Rs 150 per Kg. (Pakistan Rupee PKR). The staple diet Roti (type of bread) is Rs 30 in a country where average daily earning is Rs 500, with an average household needing close to 10 Rotis a day. The US dollar is close to PKR 230. Summing up the economic plight of Pakistan, John Ciorciari, professor at Michigan’s School of Public Policy says. “Pakistan faces a severe economic crisis and clearly requires external support. Foreign exchange reserves are at dangerously low levels—enough to pay for only a few weeks’ worth of imports. Inflation is at its highest levels in decades, growth is sagging and the central bank has raised interest rates sharply to address a weak currency.” No doubt this worsening is partly precipitated by the massive floods in Pakistan. As such also the basic structure of the economy of Pakistan has been on weaker wicket, with military dominance, ‘Islam in Politics’ and US dictates influencing its total scenario.
While at the time of Independence Pakistan’s Governor General Mohammad Ali Jinnah gave one of the best definitions of secular state in his 11th August Constituent Assembly speech, “If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his color, caste or creed is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.” This principle was not to last for long and the fundamentalist elements around him took over after his death. Persecution of Hindus, Christians, Shias and Kadianis (these two are sects of Islam) began over a period of time. The ‘religion in politics’ dominated the scene, the basic infrastructure of agriculture, industry remained on the margins, health and education were having low priority. Roughly the domination of the military, fundamentalism in politics had different priorities and it seems that is one of the major factors in the inability of the state to cope up with the economic challenges.
No two cases are exactly similar; still some generalizations can be drawn. In case of Sri Lanka, the ethnic politics, the Sinhala Buddhist politics was in the driving seat. The Hindu-Tamils were the first target, followed by the persecution of Muslims and Christians. The military was in a dominating position and the autocracy, and high handed decisions like that of spending nations fortune on Rajpaksa Airport near Hambantota port and stopping the import of fertilizers, led to the big disaster just eight months ago. The food crisis, the rising prices led to the uprising of people. Sri Lanka did begin as a democracy but the pressure of ethnic (also overlapping religious) issues dominated the scene to disenfranchise the Hindus (Tamils), and others in due course.
Rohini Hensman, a scholar activist of Sri Lankan origin gives a very comprehensive account of the roots of ethnic religious divides on which major political parties harped. In due course this gave rise to the anti-people; autocratic regime of Mahinda Rajpaksa and Gotabaya in particular. (Rohini Hensman, Nightmare’s End, 13th June 2022, New Left Review). Interestingly Sri Lanka also went in to trace the ancestry of its poverty stricken citizens through documentary proof.
In India currently the communal elements are boasting that it is due to Modi that India is not having such a crisis. Surely the crisis in India is not of the proportion of what Pakistan is currently facing or what Sri Lanka witnessed and is still in troubled waters. Still the rising prices of commodities are breaking the back of the poor and even the middle class to which India’s Finance minister also claims to belong. Indian rupee has seen a free fall against the US dollar and now it stands at Rs 83 against the dollar. The unemployment is all time high, the GDP on the lower side. The Oxfam report shows the widening gulf between the rich and poor. The Muslim minority and Christian minorities are under constant intimidation and marginalization best reflected in what India’s outstand ex police officer Julio Rebiero said, “Today, in my 86th year, I feel threatened, not wanted, reduced to a stranger in my own country. The same category of citizens who had put their trust in me to rescue them from a force they could not comprehend have now come out of the woodwork to condemn me for practicing a religion that is different from theirs. I am not an Indian anymore, at least in the eyes of the proponents of the Hindu Rashtra.”
In contrast to both the neighbors India began on the solid wicket of secularism and focused on Industries, irrigation, fertilizers, health facilities (Primary Health Centers) and Education. It also endeavored to set up the premier places of higher education, IITs, IIMs along with the research institutions which can compete with global excellence, BARC 1954, DRDO 1958, INCOSPAR later ISRO 1962 and 1969, and CSIR among others. Undoubtedly there were some flaws in the initial planning like over emphasis on heavy industry and higher education; still the solid infrastructure was laid. Scientific temper was mandated even through the Constitution.
It is from the decade of 1980s that the communal forces have reared their head in a powerful way and are currently the most dominating political factor, which is leading to our downslide in most of the areas, irrespective of the claims that Achchhe din (Good Days) have arrived, irrespective of the claim of Sabka Saath (taking along everyone). In last eight years GDP has come down from 7.29% to 4.72%, average unemployment rose from 5.5% to 7.1%, cumulative NPAs rose from 5 Lakh Crore to 18.2 lakh crore, export growth has come down from 69% to 6.4%, rupee has weakened per dollar, from 59 to 83. Attack on scientific temper is becoming stronger.
In post colonial South Asia; British who ruled and plundered the region also sowed the seeds of ‘divide and rule’, dividing the people along Hindu-Muslim line or Sinhala-Tamil line. Partition of the country was also a result of the same. Among India and Pakistan, India embarked on the path of a modern nation state, while Pakistan soon fell in the grip of divisive politics. While earlier many Pakistanis looked up to India as a role model, now from the last 3 decades in particular, India also seems to be following the path which Pakistan followed. As the late Pakistani poetess, Fahmida Riaz, in the aftermath of Babri demolition so aptly put ‘Tum Bilkul Hum Jaise Nikle’ (You also turned out to be like us)!