India, in recent years, has been at the forefront of assisting Afghanistan. The recent strategic agreement signed with New Delhi takes Afghan-Indian bilateral relations to a new level. Promoting greater understanding of Indian society among the people of our country is essential for the goal of further enriching this relationship and building bridges of friendship, cooperation and mutually beneficial relations. This year marks the 20th year of the birth of the new India.
India with a population of 1.2 billion and a formal economy of over 1 trillion dollars is one of the Asian heavyweights that towers over its other South Asian peers including Afghanistan by extension. This year 2011 marks the 20th year of a set of economic reforms undertaken in 1991 that are vastly credited with bringing about the story of a new India.
It was back in 1991 that India was on the verge of financial bankruptcy and economic disaster on account of an inefficient, socialistic economic model that it had vigorously pursued for decades since its independence in 1947. The then central government in New Delhi headed by Prime Minister Rao and under the stewardship of current Prime Minister and then finance minister, Manmohan Singh, did what has been the second great revolution in India's history since its independence in 1947.
Until 1991, a socialistic economy and a determined focus on establishing and running mega-large government-owned enterprises was the mainstay of the way Indian leadership managed their country. India's Constitution, adopted soon after independence and heavily influenced by intellectuals from the lower strata of Indian society and its caste system such as Dr. Ambedkar, vigorously upheld India as a socialistic country with a vision of achieving social and economic justice for a society that had suffered for centuries under the boots of British colonialists.
The results, however, were mixed. The economic development brought about by a vigorous campaign of industrialization promoted by Jawaharlal Nehru and after him by members of Gandhi family succeeded in creating large state-owned enterprises that propelled the economy and society of post-Independence India to new heights.
The ensuing population explosion and a wide array of social, cultural and economic issues ensured that for the majority of Indian population poverty, deprivation and social injustice were realities of daily life. After World War 2, maintaining socialistic, government-owned economies proved to be unviable and untenable not only in India but also in North America and large parts of Europe where in search of egalitarian utopias, governments had maintained expanding grips on national economies.
In India and in 1991, as government coffers had run dry and the country was on the brink of a financial disaster, one man with a mission took over the future of a country and a nation. The current Prime Minister and the then finance minister, Manmohan Singh, an eminent Harvard-educated economist, unleashed a series of far-reaching economic reforms that forever changed India's economy and society and scripted a new chapter in post-independence India. This year, 2011, marks the 20th year of the birth of the new India.
The neo-liberal revolution scripted by Manmohan Singh placed liberalization, privatization and globalization of India's economy at the center of strategies and efforts to renew that country's tryst with destiny. The reforms undertaken opened up India's ailing economy to foreign participation and allowed for foreign capital mainly from the developed West to find its way to gainful investment opportunities inside India.
Mega-large state-owned enterprises were gradually privatized and given a new lease of life. The barrage of incoming foreign investment capital provided a new impetus to Indian society and economy and made possible the economic strides that India has made over the past two decades.
Tens of millions of Indians have been lifted out of poverty over the past two decades. The consumerist Indian middle class, estimated at 300 million and growing, has made possible a growing market of production and consumption in which economic prosperity and glittering lifestyles are a far cry from a few decades earlier when modesty and poverty dominated Indian cities, towns and metros.
Out of nation of 1.2 billion and fast growing, there are still hundreds of millions who grapple with poverty, hunger and malnourishment on a daily basis. Poverty alleviation and promoting socio-economic development of a significant segment of Indian population is high on the agenda of the central government as well as many state governments.
India's challenge of widespread poverty has become further exacerbated by the inequitable distribution of the results of economic development over the past two decades. Economic progress and rise in incomes and opportunities have not been even throughout India.
Vast regions and many states have fallen behind and the situation has little changed in them since the pre-reforms era. The so-called sick states in central India and remote north-eastern states are far lagging behind and have received no benefit from the progress that is taking place elsewhere.
This widespread economic inequality has, in part, fuelled a vicious Communist-Maoist insurgency by the so-called Naxalite movement in a number of central and eastern Indian states. Just as we here in Afghanistan have been fighting a prolonged Taliban insurgency, the Indian government too has been fighting a decades-long insurgency in the jungles and hills of its central and eastern states.
This insurgency has at times become extremely bloody. This ongoing war gets little media attention and is, by and large, unknown outside the borders of India. Probably, the government of Afghanistan and the international coalition present here can benefit from Indian government's multi-decade experience in fighting insurgencies there.
Promoting "inclusive growth", as Manmohan Singh puts it, one that promises betterment of living conditions to all including those Indian states that are hit by Communist-Maoist insurgency, has come to be a prominent challenge facing Indian leadership.
Corruption has been a simmering problem in Indian society, polity and politics. The levels of corruption might not be as bad as here in Afghanistan, but it has come to have a deeply negative impact. From time to time and in the heat of political campaigns, the issue of trillions of dollars of black Indian money stashed away in Swiss banks turns into a hot political issue.
Recently, an Indian social activist, Anna Hazare, unleashed a national frenzy in India by undertaking a fast-unto-death in protest against widespread corruption. The government in New Delhi under public pressure had to compromise with and accommodate many demands of this activist.
Twenty years after the birth of a new India, the Indian people and its political class are all acutely aware that corruption and a notoriously vast bureaucratic red-tape threaten the future of the new India. Twenty years on, all eyes in India are once again on Manmohan Singh, wanting him to be once again the hero of India, freeing the country from the morass of corruption and bureaucratic red-tape just as he freed India from the morass of economic decline twenty years ago. From Kabul, we wish him good luck!