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Revolt Against Mubarak:

What It Means for India

GRK Murty
An improbable feat, an unimaginable feat till it happened, took place in
Egypt: immediately after the Friday prayers, hundreds of thousands of
people bravely took to the streets in Cairo. Shedding off decades of
fear, Egyptians of all ages and religions, driven by the simple desire of
bettering their lives, assembled in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, demanding an
end to the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak. This collective demand for
driving out a regime, which was considered to be the most entrenched,
was peaceful—people did not resort to violence even when provoked
by the regime’s thugs. That this locally originated and well-organized
peaceful movement, backed by the strong determination of people,
could finally drive out the dictatorial regime in just 18 days, that too
without any external assistance, it is indeed a rare and incredible
display of ‘people power’.

What a transformation for the image of the Arab world! Driven by

this newfound courage, young crowds started greeting themselves, “Lift
up your head, you are Egyptian.” The ousting of the Mubarak regime by
sheer people’s power has sparked an explosion of national pride that
was unseen for decades, as could be sensed from the utterances from
Tahrir Square: “We were buried, but now we have emerged.” True,
under the stultifying leadership of Mubarak, the national psyche had
been pummeled as Egypt lost its regional leadership in every sphere—

economically, culturally and diplomatically it appeared to have been
overtaken by the neighbors.

During the past few years, Egypt had been overpowered by

despondency and self-loathing—a country that enjoyed a vibrant
Parliamentary tradition earlier, had turned into a land of tyranny.
Mubarak, who initially wanted to rule for two terms, turned out to be a
president for lifetime. Over the years, becoming imperious and
dismissive, he bent Egypt to his will. As press reports indicate, his highly
ambitious wife, Suzanne, with her haughty manners and a strong taste
for wealth and power, and his son, who was seen as the one preparing
to inherit the reins from his aging father, had further inflamed the
discontent of the people.

Aside from this western analysis of Mubarak’s downfall, the real

cause for the revolt is: economics. At a time, when the economic
reforms have become the darling of the globe and countries like China,
Brazil and even Indonesia are bringing more people out of poverty, that
too, at a faster rate than human history has ever witnessed, Egypt
simply stayed out of it. Under per capita income, it ranked 137 among
the world nations—40% of its people live on less than $2 a day, while
44% of its population is illiterate. Its crony inefficiency has been well-

known for years. Its GDP growth is confined to around 4-5%. Low
wages, rising food prices and high unemployment left the youth—two-
thirds of the Egyptians are under 30—in an unending frustration. They
felt that they had no future under the Mubarak regime that not only
resisted the demand for political opening under the plea that Muslim
fundamentalism would overtake the country, but also did not evince
interest in economic opening. It is this economic frustration, coupled
with their cry for freedom, both economically and politically, that
brought the youth of all hues on to the roads defying the authorities.

Egypt’s upheaval certainly has something disturbing for the Indian

intelligentsia, albeit subtly. It is a message which no patriotic citizen can
afford to ignore. Seen from within, India, on the one hand, is
experiencing a debilitating crisis of governance—the present
government is facing mounting criticism for not doing anything
substantial against growing corruption and inflation and for not
undertaking any purposeful structural reforms that could augment the
inflow of foreign capital on a sustainable basis—and on the other hand,
is facing the challenge of guaranteeing food to one of the largest
concentration of poor people in the world. Amartya Sen, the Nobel
Laureate, argues that singular focus on headline growth numbers
makes no sense so long as the condition of the chronic

undernourishment that is stunting the growth of half the country’s
children is not addressed satisfactorily. So, what matters the most is
whether higher growth in economy is changing the lives of the poor,
else, the risk of insurgencies arising out of the surrounding inequalities

Which is why there is always a fear of revolt against the state if the
basic needs of common men are not met, that too, amidst plenty in
some quarters of the country. Fortunately, India, unlike Egypt, is a
democratic nation. But democracy by itself is not a guarantee against
the risk of insurgency, particularly in the light of the already existing
Maoist activity across the country. Indeed, such glaring inequality
across the nation is a strong incentive for the Maoists to bring more
people under their influence. And no one can afford to forget the fact
that the wealth of a society matters a lot to the sustainability of

The moot question is: Can the India of today afford to remain
indifferent to these undercurrents? To be honest, the answer is: No!
For, the more glaring the economic inequalities are, the more intense
would be the political disturbances. It makes great sense to bear in
mind that be it democracy or autocracy, it doesn’t make any difference

when it comes to the power of people’s self-knowledge. It means, the
state has to govern. And it is the responsibility of all the political parties
to make the party in power work towards this end. Else, the writing is
clear on the wall.