Hate a hurdle on road to India’s $5 trillion economy

Pakistan is a failed nation as development and prosperity of a country go hand-in-hand with peace and communal harmony

August 23, 2023 was a historic day for India, as it laid claim to the unique distinction of being the first nation to put its lander Vikram with the 26-kg rover Pragyan on the unconquered South Pole of the Moon at 6.04 pm. As accolades of world leaders poured in, it made the heart of every patriotic Indian swell with pride. For one day, all troubles and differences, political or otherwise, were forgotten as the country celebrated the landmark event as one. Emotions ran high, as people prayed and watched the soft landing with bated breath. Some shed tears of happiness at India’s stupendous victory, I was one of them. This, right here, was the India of my dreams. An aspirational and inspirational country that seeks to make progress in every sphere and stand up and be counted among the nations that matter on the global stage.

Sadly, just three days before this, I shed tears after reading about an attack on a place of worship in GTB Nagar. According to news reports, on August 20, when members of the Christian community were praying at the Siyyon Prarthna Bhawan in Delhi’s Tahirpur area, a group of 15-20 people armed with sticks, rods and knives allegedly entered the building and disrupted the Sunday prayers. A photo of Christ and his disciples was broken, a Holy Bible was torn, musical instruments and furniture were broken and women and men were beaten up, say news reports.

Though the mob allegedly entered the area with promises of a ‘Hindu nation’ blaring over loudspeakers, no one came to the aid of the small group of people, predominantly women, who were praying there, say media reports. When the pastor and Christian community members attempted to register a police complaint, a crowd of over 100 Right-wing activists gathered outside the police station in a bid to prevent them from doing so and the pastor was accused of  “conversion.” News reports quote the pastor as saying that the people who had gathered for the Sunday service were all Christians and there were no “conversions” happening there. Till the writing of this column, one person was arrested in connection with the shameful incident and it is not clear which community the person belonged to.

What is concerning is that it took many hours, from morning till evening, if news reports are anything to go by, for the First Information Report (FIR) to be registered when it should have been filed immediately.

 It is sad that the people of a nation that has always believed in Ahimsa, tolerance and which wants to be a ‘Vishwa Guru’ and build a $5 trillion economy by 2030, is letting itself be sucked into the mire of such hateful incidents that threaten to tear the social fabric of the country apart and also prove detrimental to its economic growth.

In an interview to PTI a few months ago, former World Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu said that even though the fundamentals of the Indian economy are strong, the rise in divisiveness and polarisation in the country is damaging the ‘foundations’ of the nation’s growth. Basu pointed out that India’s big challenge is unemployment and joblessness as youth unemployment in the country is over 24 per cent, which is among the highest in the world.

 “A nation’s growth does not depend on economic policy alone. There is mounting evidence that trust among people is a big determinant of a nation’s economic success. The rise in divisiveness and polarization in Indian society is sad not just in itself but also because it is damaging the foundations of the nation’s growth,” the eminent economist said in the interview.

India would do well to heed the words of Basu, and also learn from the economic mess our immediate neighbour Pakistan finds itself in, because it failed to foster peace and amity within and without. The dreaded Blasphemy Law in Pakistan is used as a weapon by the majority community to browbeat, subjugate, take revenge and harass the minorities. The minorities are persecuted there to the extent that the Indian Government extended a helping hand to Hindus, Sikhs and Christians from Pakistan and we now have some Pakistani minorities taking refuge here. Historically, Pakistan has spent much of its time and resources trying to foment trouble across its borders, particularly in India, instead of looking after its economy, development and people.

The result is before us. Pakistan is a failed nation as development and prosperity of a country go hand-in-hand with peace and communal harmony.

The British statesman Winston Churchill famously wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” So we, as a progressive, aspirational nation, with a $5 trillion economy target before us, must not allow ourselves to fall into the polarization trap laid by politicians and vested interests.

While most of the nation looks towards development and prosperity, sadly, there are elements within the country who are trying to follow in the footsteps of our neighbour.

If data compiled by the United Christian Forum (UCF) till the middle of this year is to be believed, violence against Christians occurred in 23 States in 2023. Uttar Pradesh leads with 155 incidents, followed by Chhattisgarh with 84 incidents, Jharkhand with 35, Haryana with 32, Madhya Pradesh with 21, Punjab with 12, Karnataka with 10, Bihar with 9, Jammu & Kashmir with 8, Gujarat with 7, Uttarakhand with 4, Tamil Nadu with 3, West Bengal with 3, Himachal Pradesh with 3, Maharashtra with 3, Odisha with 2, Delhi with 2, and Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chandigarh, and Goa with one incident each. The UCF has filed a petition with the Supreme Court decrying the increasing number of attacks and police cases against minority community members, a trend coinciding with the enactment of anti-conversion laws in multiple states.

All this, in a country, where the Government aims to become a developed nation and by its own admission wants to focus on inclusive growth. In the recently-concluded Monsoon Session of Parliament, Minister of State for Finance Pankaj Chaudhary told the House that “The Government’s roadmap to making India a $5 trillion economy comprises measures like focusing on inclusive growth, promoting digital economy, fintech, technology-enabled development, energy transition and climate action, and relying on a virtuous cycle of investment and growth.”

But, if we tear our social fabric apart, how will we achieve this inclusive growth and $5 trillion economy?

The Government has to spend crores in keeping the peace in strife-torn areas of our country. Precious funds in a developing nation, that could be better utilized for development projects. Take Kashmir for instance, to quote a report from Outlook, “There is no definite figure but informed guesstimates put the money spent by the Indian Army and paramilitary forces in Kashmir, including Siachen, at Rs 6 crore a day. That is Rs 2,190 crore a year.” And this is the cost of peace in just one State!

Think how much the Government would have spent in keeping the peace in Nuh after the communal violence there and if such incidents keep recurring then the cost of peace will keep on going up exponentially.

Each community contributes towards nation-building in its own unique way. The Christian community in particular is a peaceful, educated, tax-paying community that is known to participate wholeheartedly in nation-building through its stellar education institutes like schools and colleges, hospitals, medical colleges, polytechnics, old-age homes, orphanages, leprosy missions and destitute homes across the country.

This small and productive community is under attack on accusations of conversion, but the numbers speak differently. When India became Independent the percentage of Christians in the country was 2.3 and 77 years down the line it is still 2.3 per cent of the total population of India. Even if we make concessions for underreporting during the census because of the lure of the quota system, the underreporting cannot be that huge! Then, if the population of Indian Christians is by and large stable then how many conversions are actually happening in this country is a question that every logical Indian should be asking of those who claim otherwise.

Plus, there are laws that the Government has made to ensure that the change of faith does not happen under any allurement and coercion, and those who wish to proselytise or opt for another faith do and must follow those laws.

India is a country that has its own problems to solve. We have the world’s highest unemployment rate, 10 per cent of our population lives Below the Poverty Line, we are a water-stressed nation and we are already facing the effects of climate change as is evident by the freak rains, floods and heatwaves we are experiencing. The RBI has estimated that our country could account for about 3.4 crore of the projected eight crore global job losses from heat stress by 2030. According to a Reserve Bank of India report, up to 4.5 per cent of India’s GDP could be at risk by 2030, owing to lost labour hours from extreme heat and humidity.

And all this while we are still developing, we are still struggling to take quality education, drinking water, internet and digital penetration, affordable and quality healthcare to the remotest corners of our country.

Our biggest strength as a nation has always been unity in diversity and also the fact that along with the issues that we are faced with as a developing nation, we are also aspirational. We stand tall today as one of the three nations in the world who are truly in the space race and ISRO has many more missions up its sleeve. India is gearing up for its first-ever mission to study the Sun and it’s expected to launch in September. The observatory, called Aditya-L1 is already at its launch site on the island of Sriharikota.

We are making our voice heard in international forums; we are trying to provide food security to our people and we are trying to create world-class infrastructure in order to invite more FDI and we are trying to replace China as a manufacturing and supply chain hub. We cannot let polarization, communal strife and hate pull us back like they have done in Pakistan.

 According to Basu, India has strong fundamentals – a large entrepreneurial class, highly skilled workers, and high investment-to-GDP ratio. So, while we have our problems, we have huge potential too. So let’s not let politicians and disruptive elements use religion to create a chasm so wide that we cannot make a bridge to the India of our dreams. A developed, happy, united India that is a Vishwa Guru and that can with a clear conscience teach the world the principles of Ahimsa and the meaning of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam by being one family itself is what will make us a $5 trillion economy. Not hate, strife and communalism. Let’s not allow hate to divert our attention from our goal of becoming a $5 trillion economy. We don’t want to be a failed State like Pakistan.