Dr. Ram Puniyani articles

1. Gandhi and India’s Freedom Struggle

After his return to India he spoke about the conditions of Indians in South Africa and the policies of colonial power there. He was very well received in India. From here he joined many an agitations, Champaran, Kheda and understood the nature of economic and political plight of the people of different regions in India. The major impact on his life came when he decided to understand India, by travelling the whole country. He mostly travelled in the third class railways compartment. He adopted a simple life style, set up Ashrams where ‘Cleanliness is Next to Godliness’ was the dictum.’ He kept on emphasizing the need for cleanliness all through his life. In India he saw the real conditions of Indians under colonial regime and gradually took up the political issues at the national level.

His initial battles were for the equality of all citizens in the British ruled India. During the course of this struggle he evolved the concept of Satyagrah as a method for struggle for the rights of people. Satyagrah means faith in Truth. It has been described as ‘soul force’ or ‘truth force’. He pointed out that we have a right to fight all forms of oppression but it must be done in a peaceful way- through Ahimsa, non-violence, a peaceful protest march against the Government. This Satyagrah acts as an appeal to conscience when the armed police force attacks the peaceful protesters, and it will act as a moral force on the rulers to rethink their policies.

He adopted the dress of the poor farmer, peasant and identified with them through his approach of simple living. His major contribution to freedom movement was to involve average people in the freedom movement. The non- cooperation movement (1920)was the first major movement, which not only was in the form of a movement but was also an attempt to make all the Indians feel one. It was through his efforts that over a period of time more and more people started getting involved in the struggle against colonial powers. Later the major landmarks of freedom movement, Dandi March, Quit India movement all had the same imprint of Gandhi’s style. It was this effort by him which really built the Indian Nation. And the word, ‘India is a Nation in the making’ was coined for the whole process.

It was during this period that he also emphasized on the social reforms aimed at eradicating untouchability and also to see that the women are encouraged to participate in the social sphere, in all walks of life. He struggled to see that untouchables also are part of his Ashram. This had to be done against lot of opposition. He also used to stay in their colony, Bhangi colony (Scavengers colony) along with them. He took great personal pain to see that untouchables are accepted in his own Ashram. This had a great message for the whole nation.

His efforts succeeded in gradually involving all the people to associate with the national movement, and it is because of this phenomenon that India’s, mass movement became the greatest ever mass movement in the World. After 1937, when the communal parties lost in the elections, they stepped up their Hate against ‘other’, leading to increasing intensity of communal violence. He was determined to see that the communal violence is stopped at all the costs and undertook fast unto death to stop the violence. During last period of his life he was focusing more on opposing the communal violence for which he staked his life. Unity of people of different religions was his central message, and this was disliked by those who wanted to spread hate in society for their political goals.

His efforts in the direction of opposing British rule through mass movement succeeded and the British realized that it is impossible for them to rule this country. They decided to give Independence to the country but played a mischief while deciding to give freedom to the Country. They had been promoting the communal forces, those doing politics in the name of religion, those who kept aloof from freedom movement, and those due to whose ‘hate propaganda’ the violence was increasing in the society. These communal forces were talking in the language of Muslim Nation or Hindu nation. Whole Nation under the leadership of Gandhi stood for Secular democratic India. British wanted to partition India as a United India would have been a strong country and Colonialist would not have succeeded in their designs to do economic exploitation of the region. Also they wanted to oppose the emerging Socialist block (Russia, China, later Vietnam, and Nehru’s commitment to socialism), so they needed a foothold in South Asia. Pursuing these long term designs, taking advantage of divisive policies of communalists, British partitioned the country in to Pakistan in the name of Islam and India based on secular and democratic nation.

Through the state of Swadeshi movement, large number of students and middle class people became part of this. This was initially in Bengal and later others from different states joined in. In anti-Rowlatt Act Satyagrah and non-cooperation movement the sections so far untouched in different parts of the country became part of this. And the fire of nationalism engulfed peasants, lower-middle classes, youth, women, workers and artisans as well.

Next to this, Civil Disobedience movement of 1930 resulted in deeper penetration of movement for freedom all through the country. The leadership of Gandhi was instrumental in uniting the people irrespective of their narrow differences. From here dalits started coming in to the mass movement. The joining in of NWFP, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan was a big marker for all inclusive nature of our movement. With Quit India movement coming in 1942 even the state officials started helping in the cause of freedom.

2. Non Alignment Movement

India was a British colony till 15th August 1947. That time World was divided into two camps. The capitalist camp led by US-Britain, with France and other Western Powers. On the other side was the Socialist camp, initially only with USSR, later to be joined by China, Vietnam, Poland, East Germany. The two superpowers US on one side and USSR on the other were dominating the World, with smaller countries allying with one or the other.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the First Prime Minster of India shaped our foreign policy. He had a socialist orientation and did not want to get dominated by either of the camps. He looked forward to an India which could develop taking help from different countries of the World. This is what led to the initiation of Non Alignment Policy and non alignment movement (NAM). It meant that it will have cordial relations with both the camps without getting involved in their military pacts which were binding to the members of the two camps.

In this direction Nehru along with other leaders of the World, Sukarno (Indonesia) G. A Nasser (Egypt) Marshall Tito (Yugoslavia) and Nkrumah (Ghana) met in Bandung and gave a declaration of NAM in 1955. This was ratified in 1961 and formalized in 1961 in Belgrade. This idea appealed to many newly independent countries and they started joining it in large numbers. Its strength reached up to 120. United Nations gave recognition to this block away from NATO and WARSAW pact countries.

This was an era in the global politics, which saw many a countries getting freedom from colonial powers. Immediately in the aftermath of Second World War the newly liberated countries were looking for options about global cooperation and this movement provided a good option to many of these newly liberated countries.

Its meetings of member nation were called Summits. All the members had equal status and the President- ship kept changing, the host country was the chairing the meetings.

It was not a passive movement. It continued to advocate for international cooperation, multilateralism, and national self-determination, but it has also been increasingly vocal against the inequities of the world economic order. The last meeting of NAM took place in 2019 October in Azerbaijan.

3. Democracy in India

The foundations of democracy were laid during freedom movement as people started associating with the struggle for India’s Independence.  With getting of Independence on 15th August 1947 and the coming into force of Indian Constitution on 26th January 1950, we became a sovereign republic with democracy as the base of political system.

The biggest achievement of Indian democracy was the provision of vote for every adult, women having equal right to vote, Adult Franchise. The first elections took place in 1952 and the democratic spirit reached far and wide into all parts of the country. One person-one vote was the basis. First past the post, was the system adopted for elections. With democratic spirit going far and wide the elected Government became fairly representative of the aspirations of the people. Though one can say the proportional system is better in expressing the aspirations of the people. Indian democracy was based on parties, which have their own programs and policies.

In the beginning here were political parties some of which talked of free enterprise and others of socialism.

The first major challenge to Indian democracy came when Government decided to have Hindi as the national language. This was opposed by Southern states, some of which like Madras (Now Tamil Nadu) threatened to secede from the country. This policy of national language was modified with recognizing all the major languages as the National languages. English was retained as the link language.

The other challenge came when Indira Gandhi decided to impose Emergency in 1975. There was censorship of the newspapers and civic liberties stood suspended. The reaction was the formation of the alliance of opposition parties into Janata party blessed by Jayapraksh Narayan. Indira Gandhi decided to lift the emergency and held the elections. Janata Party won hands down. This in a way was the success of democracy.

The awareness about democratic spirit started spreading and people became aware of their democratic rights. The introduction of Panchayati Raj during Rajiv Gandhi’s Prime minster ship was a major step in deepening the democracy of the country.

The positive steps for political and social democracy have been contemplated times and over again. Democracy gives the right to dissent from the ruling Government. It also gives the right to form association and struggle for democratic rights.

The other aspect of democracy is to introduce the steps towards economic betterment. In the absence of this the political democracy becomes hollow.

The affirmative action or positive discrimination for weaker sections of society is a prerequisite for a good democracy. In this direction we had multiple rights based schemes. The corruption which undermines our democracy is related to the power of the rulers, those in authority. To overcome this Right to Information act has been a very effective tool for checking the misuse of power by those in authority. Similarly the right based schemes for health, education and nutrition have been contemplated and some of them partly introduced and have acted in strengthening the democracy of the country.

On the negative side regionalism, casteism and communalism have countered the democratic process in big way. Currently communalism is dominating in the form of emotive issues, Temple, mosque, love jihad, cow- beef etc. On the issue of conversion many attacks are taking place against Christians. In Communal violence the Muslims suffer heavy casualties and loss of property. These processes have undermined their democratic status as equal citizens. The awareness of democratic rights of all citizens needs to be propagated. The need for restoring equal rights to weaker sections of society is the paramount challenge for our democracy in current situation.

4. Women’s Empowerment and Gender Justice in India

Women had an inferior position in feudal society. They were regarded as the property of men and under the control of their father, Husband and son. This patriarchal system started breaking with rise of democratic norms of equality.

In India the women had to suffer as Widows, as widow remarriage was not allowed. Widow’s head was to be tonsured and they had to wear only white clothes. They were also regarded as bad omen and not allowed at sacred rituals.

Child marriage was prevalent and as per the Hindu custom, Garbhadhan, she was to be married before the first menstrual period. The social reforms started during 18th century and later picked up during 19th Century.

The Maharaja of Travancore, Mysore and Baroda were among the initial one’s to begin the process of reform among women. Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj also contributed in this direction. The latter promoted free choice marriages and taught martial arts to girls for self defense. Gandhi later drew women into freedom movement but as self sacrificing mothers.

From 1860s efforts began to train them in nursing. Savitribai Phule started the school for education of girls; Fatima Shaikh was the teacher in her school. In 1906 Keshav Dhondo Karve started education institutes for girl’s education at large scale. Shrimati Nathibai Damodar Thackersi SNDT became a landmark institution for women’s education, and it took the women’s empowerment to higher levels. One can say it ran parallel to women’s movement for equality.

Gandhi’s efforts drew women into social space, one major being rural women becoming part of legendary Dandi March. They also became part of most of the major movements leading to India’s freedom. In 1917 Women’s India Association WIA was formed, In due course National Council of Women of India NCWI was formed. It talked of women’s equality, but was not anti-men.

By 1970s Socio Political reform of women took a leap towards equality. The focus now was Education, health and employment. Now central level and state level Women’s Commissions were set up. In 1975-1985, progressive women’s groups identified patriarchy as the core problem. Efforts also began to organize tribal and low caste women.

The Women’s movement became much more concerned and active after the Custodial rape of Mathura, a tribal girl; in police custody. Women came together to form Forum against Rape and Forum against Oppression of women.  In 1980, new law against rape was formulated, later after Nirbhya episode Justice Varma Committee updated it.  All India Democratic Women’s Association AIDWA incorporated class and gender aspects into the struggle of women.

Shah Bano case was an eye opener. Shah Bano, a Muslim divorcee woman had filed a case for maintenance. It was granted by the Court. Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, under pressure from the Muslim Maulanas got it changed through an act of Parliament.

Meanwhile sexual minorities also raised their voice for dignity and respect for their choices. There movement picked up well. The positive discrimination for women came in the form of proposal to have 33% reservation for women in elected bodies. At some levels this has been mandated but 33% reservation hangs in the air still.

As women started coming to the workplace, their harassment also began. To regulate this Vishakha Guidelines have been formulated.  There are many committed NGOs trying to ensure the empowerment of women. The issues of temple entry for women, for example in Sabrimala have become contentious. Though Supreme Court has cleared it the dominant political party is opposing it on the grounds of traditions.

As far as Muslim women are concerned the issue of Triple Talaq ban was already accepted by Supreme Court, now instant triple talaq has also been criminalized. The case of Bhanvari Devi judgment haunts our conscience. Bhanwari Devi was working for social reforms, was raped and the judge opined that she is a low caste and how can upper caste rape a low caste woman?

We do need to traverse a long journey for real equality of women in society.

5.Evaluation of Indian Foreign Policy

India’s foreign policy aimed at promoting Indian interests. It has been dynamic and has achieved the VISA status with most of the countries. In a dynamic manner it has taken important steps related to vaccination policies during Covid.

Period I of Foreign policy- 1947-1991.

The World was bipolar during this time with US and USSR being two superpowers dominating the global scene. With decline of League of Nations, the United Nations came up in 1945. This was still dominated by US-Europe and Western World.

Bretton Woods’s arrangement: World Bank and IMF control the financial affairs. GATT/WTO: Regulate the global trade.

Non Alignment movement came up and gave political security to the country and we could take economic help from both the camps. This NAM (Non Alignment movement was led by Nehru, Tito, Sukarno, Gamal Nasser and Nkruma. Its plan in 1955 and final formation in 1961.

Second Phase: 1991-2008

With decline of USSR the policy had to be changed. India did face the financial crisis. India entered into multipolar arrangements with, US, Japan, Brazil, Russia and China.

Third Period is currently on from 2008 onwards

The crisis of Lehman Brothers led to decline of US and the rise of China. Economic diplomacy involved dealing with different currencies: Dollar, Yen, Euro, Reminbi (Chinese). There is a rise in poverty. UN membership has gone up.

The major issue of foreign policy is to deal with climate change. Military expenditure has gone up. India is fairly stable. It has also adopted reasonably neutral global policy.  It has emerged as a dominant power in South Asia. Indian Diaspora is second only to Chinese and adds to its global prestige. There is gross increase in domestic market.

India had three wars with is neighbor Pakistan -1947, 1965 and 1971. There was Pakistan intrusion in Kargil in 1999.

There was also Indo China war in 1962. Currently there are disputes with China on issue of Arunachal Pradesh in particular.

India has physical missions in 129 countries.   It has Ambassadors in most of the countries and High Commissioners in Commonwealth Countries.

Nuclear weapons, denuclearization, Energy, Water are the current global problems.

SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation)

India-China entered into Panchsheel agreement in 1954; recognizing each other’s Sovereignty, non Interference in each other’s affairs and mutual cooperation. In 1989- there also Border Peace and Tranquility arrangement with China. There is Civil Nuclear Agreement with China. After 2008 attack on Mumbai from the land of Pakistan, a great restraint was shown and it yielded good results.

With National Independence Sovereignty and Territorial integrity are the foundations of the policy.

6.Making of Modern India

India emerged as an Independent nation as a result of freedom movement led by Gandhi. Our Constitution envisaged the values of democracy. During freedom movement we were Nation in the making. With Independence we pursued the path which led to the making of Modern India. The foundations of modern education, industries and modern administration were laid during the colonial period. With Independence the democratic principles of ‘one person one vote was applied. The restricted electoral franchise all adults were to vote to elect the Government. The democratic spirit started percolating in the society. Later with introduction of Panchayati Raj the democratization process went to the next state. Barring the 18 month period of Emergency in 1975-76 we continued to have the democratic liberties, to some or other degree. Lately with communalism rising these are under threat and are being restrained.

The focus of the Government was on Industrial development. The industrialists submitted Bombay plan to the Government. This plan pleaded that the Indian capitalists do not have enough resources for the heavy industries, which are the foundation of industrial society. Nehru was impressed by the socialist model of industrialization. So the Public Sector came up in big way. It was a mixed economy, with the Government setting up public sector units in steel, fertilizer, chemicals in particular.

The other focus was on irrigation for the agriculture. For this many dams were built. The green revolution and while revolution (Production of milk in abundance) followed. From a country importing the basic food grains we came to a stage where we could selectively export.

In Education on one hand the institutes of higher learning were set up. IITs, Central Universities achieved massive heights taking the Indian education competing with the best in the World. IITs emerged one of the major brands. Same way IIMs also set very high standards in the field of education. In area of health AIIMS has impressive record. On the other hand the spread of education at primary and secondary level was intensified, and this increased the literacy rate, some states like Kerala achieving full literacy.

In health on one hand the advanced AIIMs were set up and on the other the Primary Health Centre’s and District hospitals came up in large numbers. The infectious diseases came under good control and some disease like Small Pox were totally eradicated, while TB etc. came under great control.

In field of Science the centers for advanced research came up. CSIR, BARC, ISRO are the landmark in achieving the progress in scientific research, making India a frontline state in the World.

With Rajiv Gandhi the Computers were introduced in large numbers setting the pace for IT and Software, keeping pace with best in the World.

All these efforts led to reduction in the poverty levels to some extent.

During last few decades the income differentials are increasing and even the faith based systems are being promoted at the cost of scientific temper.

7.Secularism and Communalism

Secularism is a state policy in which it keeps the religion (Clergy) away from its policy and decision making. In Kingdoms (feudal system the landlord/King had a collaboration with the clergy, king-pope, Raja- Rajguru, Nawab-Shahi Imam. Many kings were respectful of other religions. Kings were ruling for power and wealth. In India there are many kings who articulated that as a king he will be protector of all religions. We can see this in Asoka, Chandragupta Maurya, Akbar, and Tipu Sultan in an explicit way.

As modern nation states begin the clergy is pushed aside and the elected representatives are bound by the opinion and policies as outlined in many Constitutions. There are some countries that are secular but notionally aligned to one or other sect of a religion. Some countries are still in the grip of clergy, like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan. So far till few decades before, Nepal was also close to clerical concept of Hindu Rashtra.

France is an example where the state policies are totally away from the dictates of clergy.

In India the values of secularism started beginning during colonial period. With the rise of new social classes, industrialists, working classes and working classes, the values of secularism got a beginning. This was also reflected in the organizations like Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (Bhagat Singh), Republican Party of India (Ambedkar) and Indian National Congress (Gandhi, Maulana Azad, Annie Besant, Sardar Balwant Singh)

In opposition to this the older classes (Landlords, Clergy) threw up communal organizations Muslim League (Jinnah), Hindu Mahasabha (Savarkar) and RSS for Hindu Rashtra.

Secular values primarily focus on these worldly needs of its citizens. The communal organization operates in the name of religion and focus on issues around emotive religious issues, like Temple, Cow, Conversions etc.

India’s transition from the backward, very poor society to present industrial society with good education and better agricultural production took place primarily due to the secular policies adopted during the first six decades of the republic. Secularism regards people of all religions on equal ground. Communalism, in the name of one religion gives primacy to affluent, upper class males. It talks of formal equality while the condition of people worsens. In most states like Pakistan, Myanmar, Afghanistan etc. where ever communalism is prominent and ruling the state, progress of country comes to a halt and there are civic disturbances most of the time.

Currently India is also in the grip of communalism and whatever was the pace of country’s progress and pace has been disturbed, there is an increase in violence, weaker sections feel insecure and marginalized.

8.Is Indian Democracy Really Inclusive

An inclusive democracy means that all the needs and dignity of weaker sections of society are taken care of. Right at the time of framing of Constitution the positive discrimination was incorporated in the provisions and 7.5 percent reservation for STs and 15% reservations for SCs were made the part of provisions. Though in practice its implementation was not easy and even after decades the domination of upper caste continues.

Provisions for Other Backward Caste (Mandal Commission) were started in 1990. There was to be 27% reservation for the 52% OBCs.  Though there was no direct opposition, Indirectly Ram Temple issue (Kamandal) was propped up and got a response from upper castes. This led to Babri demolition and increased power of communalism in the society. Mandal has been implemented but all attempts are made to bypass it by those in the seats of power.

The other marginalized group is the Women. Many provisions for their empowerment have been started including scholarships for girls, waving off their fees and giving them preference in jobs, still it is far from satisfactory. The reservation of electoral seats in electoral bodies, Municipalities and Gram Panchayats have played a positive role in giving more space to women, still the 35% reservation for women in parliament remains in limbo and there is a stiff opposition to it from different quarters.

The real contentious issue comes in the form of affirmative action for Muslim minorities. The Sachar Committee report showed that this community is seriously lagging behind in social and economic indices. Many a times Courts have favored the provision of reservation for this group, but due to the fear of backlash, it is not implemented. On the top of this the representation of Muslims in elected bodies has fallen drastically. Even in the top Government posts their numbers are very low.

The communal violence, which is directed against this community, further worsens the situation creates a sense of insecurity and leads to ghettotization of this community. This ghettoization further acts as an obstacle to their getting due share in social resources.

Similarly anti Christian violence, which is scattered and low scale is leading to increased sense of insecurity among this community. The present situation, where politics in the name of religion dominates, the inclusivity of democracy is on the down swing,

9.Changing Forms of India’s International relations

India began with the policy of Non Alignment. As India got independence the World was divided into two poles. The two superpowers, USA and USSR led the global policies. India’s non alignment policy helped it to have collaboration with diverse countries and this helped in development of our Institutions and Industries in particular. India also continued to be part of Commonwealth, the association of those countries which were earlier colonies of Great Britain.

In 1971 as East Pakistan was suffering the atrocities of Pakistan army, there was a huge influx of refugees to the neighboring districts in India. This was an alarming number. In these situation, Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army) was formed by Shaikh Mujibur Rahman. India supported it in a big way. As refugees were pouring into India and Mukti Bahini aimed to form a separate nation, India came forward to help this in a military way. To neutralize the possible American action in support of Pakistan, India entered into a treaty with USSR. India also sent the message to different countries telling them about the plight of people of East Pakistan.

With military action East Pakistan got independence and Bangla Desh was formed.  The first phase of India’s foreign policy lasted till 1991, when USSR collapsed. During this phase Bretton Woods Arrangement, World Bank and IMF came up.

The second phase of India’s Foreign policy begins in 1991 with collapse of USSR.  India opened multipolar alignment with USA, Japan China, Russia and Brazil.

The third phase begins from 2008 with the rise of China as the economic superpower. The US power faced a relative decline with the Lehman’s financial crisis. In this phase the global competition of currencies Yen, Euro and Rimini was witnessed. The UN saw an increase in its membership.

During this period globally climate change and global warming became major issues. The increasing military expenditure was a disturbing factor which affected the economy. India remained fairly stable and emerged as a dominant power in South Asia.

The Indian Diaspora, its intellectual manpower and other workers in different countries became an important factor in Indian economy as they repatriated the money back home. this boosted Indian economy and won a global prestige.

Indo Pakistan Relations; had been bitter most of the times. Three wars 1947, 1965 and 1971. Kashmir remains a sour spot. India China relations have also gone through ups and down, after 1962 aggression and then ceasefire by China, things were not bad till recently when China occupied some of the border land. China also keeps putting claims on Arunachal Pradesh.

SAARC has been very great initiative, which increased India’s presence in South Asia. This regional cooperation is most needed for peaceful existence and development not only of India but also of the region as a whole.

10.India: Internal Security Threat

Being a democracy India had fairly peaceful internal environment. The major factors which affected the internal security emerged first from the big movement launched by Jayaprakash Narayan. This was against corruption. JP gave a call to the armed forces not to obey the Government orders. During the emergency which was imposed; most of the opposition leaders were jailed. The freedom of expression was curtailed; censorship was imposed on the media. After 18 months time the emergency was lifted and elections were held. Indira Gandhi lost the elections. We also witnessed the terrorist acts by ULFA in NE.

The second major threat came in the form of Anti Sikh Pogrom in 1984. The issue began with Khalistani movement. Primarily it was the problems of poor Sikh peasants and the traders. It took ugly turn with the rise of Bhindranwale, who resorted to violence and his followers resorted to acts of terror. This led to massacre of nearly three thousand Sikhs in three days. With army coming in the mayhem was controlled. Later Dr. Manmohan Singh apologized to the Sikh community for this carnage.

The offshoot of Communist movement, which totally distorted the left ideology, was the rise of Naxalites, who believed in armed rebellion and use of arms against state officials and the trader’s/ landlords. This led to huge turmoil in Adivasi areas. The issues of economic justice, oppression of Adivasis got mixed up and massive violence, scattered and persistent, it affected the peace in the country. The problem still lingers as the super exploitation of Adivasis and high handedness of affluent and powerful people is unchecked and the dialogue with the rebel groups is missing.

The other nagging security problem is related to communal violence. The communal ideology is based on sectarian view of nationalism. Lot of hatred has been created against religious minorities and we witnessed violence against them all through. Starting from Jabalpur anti Muslim violence in 1961, much major carnage have been unleashed against Muslims (Ahmadabad 1969, Mumbai 1992-93, Gujarat 2002, Muzzafarnagar 2013, Delhi 2020)

Lately Christians have also come under the attack. First major violence was burning alive of Pastor Graham Steward Stains (1999). After this Kandhamal violence 2008 was also horrific. Currently many a prayer meetings are being attacked in the name of conversions.

Terrorism has been yet another internal security problem. The major of this was the 26/11 attack on Mumbai in which nearly 200 people were killed. Similarly there were terrorist acts in Maelgaon (2006), Meccah Masjid attack, Ajmer and Samjhauta express blast. All this between 2006-2008.