By Chandra Vikash*
Growing up in the industrial town complex of Bokaro Steel City. currently in the state of Jharkhand, hailed by India’s legendary Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as among the “modern temples of India” and amidst school friends and neighbors from diverse parts of India, the feeling of national integration has been strong in my upbringing.
This got further reinforced, when I got into the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, where I studied from 1989 to 1993 where illustrious Google and now Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai was my classmate in the Metallurgical Engineering department. It was here that the words “Dedicated to the Service of the Nation” got strongly etched in my memory which you read in bold letters on the masthead of the Main Building of this sprawling campus in the state of West Bengal, the oldest and the largest among all IITs. Those were the formative years.
All the while till about four months back when the Government of India abrogated Articles 370 and 35A on August 5, 2019, whereby the special status of the state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) was removed. Consequently, the state was bifurcated into two union territories; J&K and Ladakh.
Around this time in the early 1990s when I was still at IIT Kharagpur, I also supported the movement for the state of Jharkhand breaking away from Bihar, which had gained lots of notoriety under the corrupt regime of Lalu Prasad Yadav. Priding over the special educational achievements of the townships of Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Dhanbad and Hazaribagh I even wrote an article in the “The Telegraph: newspaper to this effect. So, I support not just the bifurcation into two UTs as well as the removal of the “special status” only to J&K as has been projected in the national media.
In the spirit of collaborative federalism and the oft-repeated mantra of “unity in diversity” that we all endorse across political ideologies and geographical identities, every village, town city and district in the country, however, is special. More so, when experiments in centralization have failed around the world from the breakup of Soviet Union to the coming collapse of behemoths from China to United States, Brazil, Africa and Europe.
As a climate and ecological activist for past two decades, I also strongly believe in Localised Abundance and Circular Economies as the only way to avert the looming ecological catastrophe and to leave behind a safe, sane and sustainable future for our children and coming generations. It is my earnest enquiry therefore whether can India buck this trend and should it. Here is why in a nutshell.
Local is the future: Globalisation of things is an idea whose time has gone
As a firm believer in the traditional indigenous of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam, which means “world as a family” I am a strong proponent of globalization and a cosmopolitan at the core.
I travel around the country in my quest to learn about Indian culture, civilization and traditions and to share what I learnt from a diverse set of gurus – from Subodh Kumar, IIT Roorkee alumnus with his rich interest in Veda and Gaupalan; Ravindra Sharma “Guruji” of Kala Ashram in Adilabad; KN Govindacharya on Gau, Krishi and Rishi tradition; Ram Bahadur Rai on recent history since independence; Puri seer Swami Nishchalanand Saraswati; Swami Muktanand of Amritam Trust; Swami Shivanand of Matri Sadan in Haridwar among several others.
In the past, I travelled to UK, Japan, Singapore and US which helped me understand global perspectives beyond reading stuff.
My keen interest in understanding diverse cultures, issues and challenges and how our fates in a highly globalised economic system are closely intertwined has been bolstered by internet and for past decade by social media where I have nurtured a diverse set of friends and fellow travelers from around the world.
Yet, wherever I go, one thing that I insist upon is to eat local and in every possible way learn about and adapt to local customs and ways of life even on short trips. And I strongly believe that the global ecologically crises has been single-handedly cursed by our rabid and incessant greed and recklessness to capture markets by moving stuff around from centralized and “cheap” production units to elbow out much superior local produce.
This monstrosity feeds itself as over time, the local eco-systems of production become weaker and inferior teetering towards collapse, which leaves the market wide open to loot and plunder by the monopolistic industrial produce from centralized units. This is then dogmatically defended using rigid and draconian trade and tariff regimes that lock local economies into a subversive rut of disguised but predatory economic imperialism.
With the internet blackout stretching for more than 120 days in J&K, start-ups which began with much fanfare are closing down
The fitting response to resurrect local economies and preserve the diversity of cultures that sustains them, is to provide an Article 370 and 35A like “special status” to every village, town and district in the country and easing the burdening and draconian control of both the central and state governments, especially in the larger states.
This is already reflected in the existing Article 371, which just like the now abrogated Article 370, falls under PART XXI titled ‘Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions’ of the Indian Constitution. It extends to 11 states — Maharashtra, Gujarat, Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa and Karnataka — and outlines the special provisions in place for them. Six are from the Northeast where the provisions aim to preserve tribal culture.
Restore the internet that is like oxygen to the modern economy
With the internet blackout stretching for more than 120 days in J&K, start-ups which began with much fanfare are closing down. In an article today in A “The Hindu” report by Peerzada Ashiq points to how young Kashmiri entrepreneurs are leaving behind their homes and dreams to seek employment elsewhere.
Buoyed by the entrepreneurial instincts of Kashmiri youth, the Peoples Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party regime had formulated a J&K Start-up Policy, which was made public in September 2018. It aimed to “facilitate and nurture the growth of at least 500 new start-ups in J&K in the next 10 years.” In just about one year, as the internet shutdown on August 5, the start-ups are in disarray for over 4 months now.
This has dealt a severe blow to women’s empowerment in the region, as many women had set up with big dreams as entrepreneurs and as the distress prolongs this is forcing the local entrepreneurs to emigrate and is likely to abet rage and frustration turning to terrorism to settle scores unless quick and pressing action is taken to restore internet and communication services.
Immediate withdrawal of armed forces
Attending a press conference in Delhi on Thursday December 5 by various civil society groups from different states in India who recently undertook a ‘Restoration of Democracy’ march from Jammu to Srinagar, I arrived at a firm conclusion that the people of J&K are highly burdened and their daily lives in a disarray due to the heavy-handed armed forces presence in the region.
The group also released a report titled “Jammu to Srinagar Yatra: A Report on the Absence of Civil Liberties, Economic Distress, and Political Crisis” at this event and shared their experiences and insights. It is evident from the report that with the winter approaching, the continued army presence will debilitate the civil supplies and in tandem with the internet shutdown will jeopardize the seasonal migration between not just J&K regions but also with Ladakh which is now a separate Union Territory.
In turn, unlike the general perception, it is the erstwhile BJP supporting trading community in Jammu which has incurred a huge monetary loss from the economic breakdown as the supplies of high value produce from Kashmir is no longer getting routed through Jammu.
*Strategic thinker, ecosystem innovator and innovation coach, has wored in various companies – SAIL, Arvind Mills, TCS, Mastek, Logica, Reva Electric Car Co., Erehwon Innovation Consulting and Vertebrand Brand Consulting. At present, convenor, Global Academy for Indigenous Activism (GAIA)