Why the Arab Spring Hasn't Spread to India—but Should

But just as every camel has its last straw, every issue has its tipping point, and even every poor Indian will reach the end of his karmic tether.

The climate is already changing in India. With 24-hour cable TV and news channels, people -- literate and non-literate -- now see what others have. Many are beginning to ask, "Why not me?" This divide may be part of what's driving the Naxalite communist insurgency now operating in vast swatches of the country. Even though it's painted as a political or militant movement, its impetus is basically economic. It is largely supported by the poor and disaffected that the government has let down.

Indian farmers, themselves mostly poor, are increasingly agitated. To build a highway to Agra, the government has purchased their farming land for a pittance, but then has resold parts to developers for a hefty profit. This is only the latest of a long list of grievances suffered by farmers whose utter desperation has contributed to thousands of suicides over the past decade.

There are also daily news reports of "servants" attacking their "masters", especially in urban centers. In most cases, the residents are tied up while the housekeeper makes off with the valuables, but in some cases it gets violent. Many of the large houses in and around Delhi have walled compounds and armed security guards. Last year, a lavish wedding in a farmhouse near my home out-did the other many lavish weddings: the groom was presented a helicopter by the bride's father. Last week, my driver, who has to bear the ignominy of driving a cheap Indian vehicle, asked me to verify the price of my neighbour's new Jaguar. "Can a car really cost so much?" he asked incredulously.

As India develops, it must bring along its poor. This has become so obvious that even the Indian government has recognized it and is making the right noises. Recently, the term "inclusive growth" has been conspicuously present in nearly every public communiqué, and the issue is said to be the main focus of the upcoming 12th Five-Year Plan. It's difficult to say whether this is merely lip service, brought on by fear of the Arab Spring and the widely popular protests in Delhi in April, or a long-term impetus for genuine change.

This summer, two things may happen. The blazing temperatures may bring things to a boil. Hoping for just that, there have been calls for another large anti-corruption protest in Delhi on June 4th. Philosopher and politician Joseph Marie de Maistre once said "Every country has the government it deserves." Maybe Indians will decide they deserve something better. Or the scorching heat could sap the energy of the would-be protesters, who may decide to quietly contemplate their karma and simmer until yet another winter of discontent.

In the meantime, the situation at ground level is obvious and growing worse.

My car draws up to another intersection -- CDR Chowk, named after the man who presented the helicopter to his son-in-law. To date, I've seen only traffic here, and lots of it. But today I see two children, perhaps brother and sister. They can't be more than five years old, and yet they seem to be on their own on this busy, unruly street, holding hands and weaving in and out between cars, asking for alms. They are not tall enough to look into my window but I've been tracking their progress. I roll down the glass and hand them each a package of biscuits -- I keep a bunch in the car just for this purpose. When I roll up the window, I notice them motion excitedly behind them. The green light comes on and as my car moves forward, I spot a third little child running to catch up, hand extended.

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Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is a writer and editor based in India. Her articles have appeared in The International Herald TribuneThe New York TimesThe Christian Science Monitor, and The Wall Street Journal.

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