Saturday, May 30

1991: Quo Vadis

As the decade turned into the millennium's last, the country and my life was delicately poised; deliverance a few tantalizing months away. Individually, it was a cusp between hitherto sheltered school life and college plus the big bad world beyond - and not bereft of birth pangs. Yet, the winds of change about to be unleashed on a somewhat ill-prepared nation made those life defining moments pale into utter insignificance!

To many, the national landscape appeared despairingly bleak with little by way of redeeming features. The economy seemed destined for a Hindu rate of growth. Any early advantage from baby steps of the Rajiv Years had been mostly bungled away by succeeding regimes. Indeed, some ominously portended India turning a Banana Republic, with IMF-World Bank painted as the new age avatars of the East India Company (though in retrospect it can be said that doomsayers read too much into what was certainly a perilous macroeconomic situation). Ascribing imperialistic motives to multilateral lending institutions was accompanied by barely-suppressed murmurs of a grand design on part of 'foreign powers' - read the United States, with its real or perceived proximity to arch enemy Pakistan.

This was more than mere Cold War hangover. It can be argued that years of Nehruvian Socialism had sapped away the nation's collective confidence, or its appetite for change. There also existed a school of thought (the Right) that looked further aft to trace the roots of our lack of self-belief and passivisation. Swiftly gaining mindshare and acceptance, this view argued that the defeatism stemmed from events over the preceding thousand years in our history, notably the countless cross-Hindu Kush assaults on her suzerainty and economic wealth. Regardless, at this crucial juncture, the Nehruvian model was still a tad more real than the smile of Cheshire cat, with significant coinage in political discourse and economic intent!

There was, of course, merit in debating the point of inflection when the Nehru model outlived its usefulness. However, this would be mostly academic in face of income inequity and rising regional imbalance that were sorry realities of our prevalent socioeconomic existence. At another level, the incipient Licence Raj had merely changed the skin-colour of India's ruling elite: the culture of compromise added to the atmosphere of mistrust, lack of transparency and endemic corruption. Again, shibboleths of Demos had taken a big beating from the futile poverty alleviation pledges of the 70s (minus the brief promise of 1984) and doomed Janata experiments subsequently. Governance seemed also eclipsed by a bogey of terror that shifted addresses yet never got snuffed out.

Hope, in short, was at a premium. Unfortunately its purveyors were yet more so. The probable best bet had been tragically lost to a human bomb that summer. The multiple Janata Dal PM's-in-waiting were but wasted breath. Abki-baari-Atal-Behari too was still waiting to happen. And the last election's messed-up messiah had taken his well-earned place in the dustbin of history, following his doomed premiership and ill-disguised social agenda with eminently forgettable poetry and equally futile art.

As it turned out, partly aided by sympathy over Sriperumbudur, the mandate swung largely towards India's GOP. The leadership mantle fell on the unlikely shoulders of a Vanprastha Ashram bound PV Narasimha Rao. The nation had her first Prime Minister from south of the Vindhyas (in fact the first not from the electorally crucial battle-state of Uttar Pradesh). What followed thereafter: politics of pout, a rapid rise in barter-system of social pressure groups and an ostrich-like approach to national issues - but surprisingly significant, even if inevitable, economic reform - is a tale for another day!


Anonymous said...

Our dear wordsmith has sworn three consecutive, ornamented; write ups… the question is, were these because of his love or abhorrence for politics, rather, for people running the game? The acrimony tickled me throughout and my laughter finally broke the silence of this oblivious room when I read … “Abki baari Atal Behari was as yet waiting to happen”.

Though a few others were dragged, but, your outward interest against our “Almighty Congress” puts one to wonder, that, besides Mr.Roger Barret, is there any other famous/defamed soul, for whom you’d want to hint your affection?