Some years ago when relations with Pakistan were in a good season, the Indian cricket team went on tour to the Islamic Republic. When they played in Lahore, many Indian cricket fans crossed the border to lend the team support. The Indian economy in those days was bursting with animal spirits. So among these fans were Indian industrialists who descended in private jets. A Pakistani friend said later that it was when they saw those private jets arrive that they first realised how far ahead of Pakistan the Indian economy had gone. It was good to see, she added, that it was not just Arab billionaires who were having all the fun. But, I knew from the way she said this that actually most Pakistanis were not happy about this.
As someone who knows Pakistan well, I learned long ago that nothing frightens Pakistanis more than the possibility that India could succeed and Pakistan fail. It may seem from Imran Khan’s recent rantings about the ‘fascist, Hindu Supremacist Modi government’ that it is Kashmir that Pakistanis care about more than anything. This is not true. Kashmir is not the ‘core problem’ between India and Pakistan as military men and jihadists next door like to say. The core problem is that if India becomes a mighty economic superpower and Pakistan remains a bankrupt nuclear power, then the whole exercise of breaking India to make a nation for the ‘pure’ could become meaningless.
India is already stronger economically, but we would have been much, much stronger if we had not reverted to economic policies that seek to redistribute wealth without first creating it. This is why for me the most important point that the Prime Minister made in his Independence Day speech was his tribute to India’s ‘wealth creators’. They are ‘the wealth of the country’, he said. True. And, they have been treated like criminals by regulators and tax inspectors who have been emboldened because of the search for ‘black money’ getting more importance than the creation of wealth.
The Prime Minister is now showing signs that he has noticed why the economy is in gloomy mode. He gave his first interview after winning his second term to a financial newspaper last week and said, “I want to motivate our industrialists to believe in the India story and in the long-term potential of the Indian market… I reassure all honest and law-abiding businesses of all possible support from our end.” There is a catch in the latter part of this message that he would do well to think about. The officials who adjudicate on which businessmen are ‘honest’ are often dishonest, greedy extortionists who revel in harrassing people who create wealth.
This is why we have seen businessmen publicly humiliated. They like to arrest people at airports. They like to conduct tax raids with TV reporters following their every move. What seems to add spice to their jobs is the fifteen minutes of fame they get from being momentarily in the public eye. This is probably why they never investigate why black money exists in the first place. If they did, they would quickly discover that at the root of it lie bad laws, asphyxiating red tape and intrusive regulations. Since the Prime Minister has now made it clear that he respects the men who create India’s wealth, it could be time for him to set up a task force in his own office to examine these things.
India has the capacity to become the richest country in the world if the business of doing business is left to businessmen. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee was prime minister, he unleashed the private sector and it was in that happy time that those private jets landed at Lahore airport, making Pakistanis nervous about what us infidels were up to. When they saw that it was prosperity that we were in search of, the planning for 26/11 began. It is no accident that it was Mumbai that was attacked and that Hafiz Saeed’s jihadists were sent to attack the Oberoi and the Taj. No accident that they had orders to target foreign tourists.
There is nothing that the military men next door would like more than to see the Indian economy collapse once more into that socialist sluggishness that kept us behind Pakistan right up to the end of the Licence Raj. I remember that when I first went to Lahore in 1980 I was stunned by how prosperous it looked compared to Delhi. At the height of those bleak socialist days, our capital city was defined by those bhavans at the foot of Raisina Hill. In their smelly, ugly corridors, officials beavered away at making India a place in which no businessmen would want to invest and no tourists would want to come. Those were times that were the exact opposite of ‘achche din’.
This article first appeared in the print edition on August 18, 2019 under the title ‘What scares Pakistan most’. Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh