Weekly Column: Thinking Beyond
India’s tryst with destiny is yet a struggle and I as all my countrymen who heard the Prime Minister on the 69th Independence day would be struck by the earnestness of the speech like many other Prime Ministers of India in the past. I will be wide of the mark if I am not driven by the urge and the desire like many of my fellow countrymen to change the country for the better. I do admit that I have a list, not entirely my own, as we recently celebrated the 69th Independence Day 2015.
There are 69 things India is yet to get its freedom from, these are: Corruption, Child Marriage, Cigarette and Tobacco, Honor Killings, Crime against women and children, Stereotyping the LGBT community, Violence against animals, Plastic bags, Use of pesticides, Drugs and trafficking, Public portrayal of women, Urinating in public, “Saas bahu” episodes, Junk food, Violence in Cinemas and the list goes on. Yes like many of us I too have contemplated over the year’s bygone and my own vision of our tryst. In my last five and a half score years, the speech of Jawaharlal Nehru at the stroke of the midnight hour has always haunted me from childhood days. I have wondered if anything has gone wrong and if so, what is wrong with my own people, government, society and the country.
Let us not start with governance and policy in post independence India but for a change let me focus more on the trials and tribulations of the fourth estate and the transforming societal ethos. The first one of course is the uninformed policy discourse that goes on. Our media has been dominated more by assertions and not the hard facts, with the media indulging more on views – motivated ones rather than facts alone and with little scrutiny. The consequences are invariably disastrous as it has in the past not only created but also perpetuated myths and misconceptions. Many in our country believe today that poverty, illiteracy and ill-health afflict India more because of leadership failure at the top and less because of endemic and collective societal failure. We have been exceptionally good in creating rules, programmes, projects and proposals but have been disastrously bad in implementing these. I have pondered on this aspect as I do recall, as most of my readers would, that the values engrained in us through our schooling, from our parents and the society that emerged immediately after independence was of a very idealist fervor. Over the years that spirit is waning and the forces of cut-throat competition and globalization in the digital world of today has taken precedence over ethics, values and ideals. Thus it is not the government and the political leadership alone but the waves of change that sweep our civilizational landscape that have made all the difference to the changing times. I am yet to conclude whether the change is for the better but would like to bring forth the entire dialogue on development and growth that confronts our country. It is a widely held belief that the economic reforms that focused on growth alone have failed the poor, particularly the socially disadvantaged. The gains in poverty alleviation have done precious little in improving the malnourished and their health outcomes because of bad governance, corruption, high population pressure and growth. There have been decisive moments in our nation’s history when we had the urge to decisively demolish some of these barriers to our growth and development. There can be no doubt that India needs reforms urgently be it economic, educational and cultural to lift millions from poverty, deprivation, ignorance, illiteracy and ill-health.
It is true, that India suffers from a lack of ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious homogeneity. Also as pointed out by a University Professor abroad much to my chagrin, perhaps we also confront the issue of less than average cognitive abilities compared to many developed countries due to the viscious circle of illiteracy, joblessness and poverty. For these reasons, we have utter indiscipline, disorganization and perhaps lawlessness in the society compared to other Asian or Western countries. How a country with such disparate demography and social cohesion achieve the trust and affluence or is it more likely to be trapped in a catch 22 situation? But then the lack of homogeneity or rather the diversity, is what sets India apart and I had the occasion to expound the same before the United States Foreign Relations Committee in 2004 on Fulbright Visitors programme in Washington when one of the US Senators boasted of an America that was a melting pot for a heterogeneous diversity from across the globe. With all the pride, I could respond and roll out in much detail the virtues of a mosaic or a bouquet that was India where diverse beliefs, thoughts, religions, ethnicity and cultures flourish. In retrospect, to my mind, India should not even aspire to become more homogenous as the real strength of this great democracy is from its variety and diversity. As far as the remark of average cognitive abilities is concerned, I am more skeptical; as literacy levels improve, that will possibly show comparable or even better cognitive levels as amply demonstrated by a bold new tribe of global Indians. I agree however that India may not achieve western levels of affluence in the next quarter century but the overall growth and GDP Inequality may go down only with better investments in education. Low social indicators of India may be the harbinger in several states of greater social inequality and political instability.
APJ Abdul Kalam passed away on 27 July. I had the fortune of being with him for almost a week having invited him at Ahmadabad for the National Youth Festival on the 12th of Jan more than a decade and half ago to mark the Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. During one of his planned morning sittings ‘Suvichar’ with our youth, he was steadfast in sharing his unequivocal vision – “to transform India from the present developing status to a developed nation”. Later when he became the 11th President of India in 2002 I had several occasions to be with him. Sharing his thoughts and wisdom, I was always struck by his unflinching and greater aim of transforming India in every possible way. Delivering the first Independence Day speech as President of India, he had prophetically said, “The second vision of our nation is to transform it from the present developing status to a developed nation by integrated actions simultaneously in the areas of agriculture and food processing, education and healthcare, infrastructure development, including power, information and communication technologies, and critical technologies. This greater vision will aim to alleviate poverty, illiteracy and unemployment. When the minds of the people of our country are unified and fused towards this vision, the dormant potential will manifest as a mammoth power leading to a happy and prosperous life of a billion people. This vision of the nation will also remove the conflicts arising out of differences and small thinking”.
Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, displays a similar spirit like the late ‘Missile Man’, with his focus on the development of the nation. His tasks are enormous ranging from technology to agriculture and from the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan’ to ‘Make in India’ mission. These sentiments got well reflected in his Independence day clarion call from the ramparts of Red Fort, “I have started making efforts at making the government, not an assembled entity, but an organic unity, an organic entity, a harmonious whole – with one aim, one mind, one direction, one energy… Let’s resolve to steer the country to one destination,” he said and appealed to the 125 crore people of India asking them to eradicate poverty by resolving to move forward with the dream of poverty eradication from India”.
The future beckons us and of course India’s tryst with destiny is like a rendezvous with a distant dream or perhaps a prolonged struggle.