By Sanjay Jha
India is inspiring anger. Lots of inflammatory rage. And worse , of a rather pathological morbid variety. The controversial Commonwealth Games in New Delhi have already had several heads rolling, ironically enough, beginning with some western media correspondents. The attempt of the New Zealand TV anchor to make some trite barbs liberally dressed with racial contempt on our good old Aunty Sheila Dikshit ,Chief Minister of Delhi honestly did not surprise me. While some may casually dismiss that as a lame-dame (??) joke that boomeranged , it is germane to see it in a larger context. Juxtapose the same with the sadistic exhilaration of Australian policemen at watching an Indian train passenger getting electrocuted, and drawing conclusions to teach “ Indian students” a lesson in electrical shocks. Rather repugnant, you had say. In sports, even in our good ole cricket, there are several instances of racial bias against Asian players.
Since then the guilty Australian officers circulating the racist email have been sacked. And the Kiwi blabbermouth called Paul Henry has promptly resigned. Elsewhere, Indian students and workers in the United States of America are occasionally if not frequently subjected to surprise physical attacks, usually at random, and at least verbal intimidation is no longer just a one-off sporadic outburst. Even gruesome deaths have been widely reported, with the Down Under nation taking that title rather too literally for our unfortunate brethren. What is certainly frightening though is the increasing frequency of such instances of perceptible racial discrimination against Indians happening in a fairly well-distributed geographical spread; after all Melbourne and Minnesota are not really a stone’s thrown away. But just why the sudden spurt in the sustained, sometimes coordinated or frequently indiscriminate seething fury against India? Funnily, the answer came to me in our own serene precincts, in a private club of Mumbai. The analogy is startling to say the least. .
If you ever want to see a perfect case of local racial discrimination , come to a private club in SOBO, a lingering hangover of the British Raj. In a private club, soaked , seeped and soused in colonial history , from time immemorial there has been the tradition of keeping the consecrated membership as restricted as possible. “ Outsiders” were looked at with palpable nose-in-the-air snobbishness. Nothing wrong with that, excepting that the old teakwood in dingy bars began to loudly creak and new generation member’s children sought fine dining and fast-turnaround American Yo-standards rather than the detached grandiose service of the Raj era. Thus, the sacrosanct territory has had to perforce invite the “ new gentry”, more popularly bracketed as the “ nouveau –riche”. They are considered as cash-rich but class-deficit. They flash designer labels on their broad gym-toned chest muscles and are flagrantly displaying their ostentatious lifestyle at every available opportunity, including breaking speed limits within club premises in their BMW 7 Series cars. It is the battle of the rising new money versus the sedate sacrosanct old money. Or even fast money. They are treated with profuse condescension but under commendable restraint , and are only reluctantly admitted on account of pure economic compulsions of the club’s timeworn architecture. The general consensus is that the new-rich may have all the cash bundles but just do not qualify to share the same table with the classic conservatives. I personally believe India is similarly being welcomed rather reluctantly by the western white world, and even those in the southern hemisphere. And the virulent , violent reactions reveal that they are fully aware that it is an irreversible trend, but which like private clubs, will overflow any artificially-imposed embargos, despite Barack Obama and Ohio. The nouveau-riche is a long journeyman .
Thus, the fake sting operation against the Commonwealth Games ( the insidious foreign hand working feverishly on video cameras) and the repeated highlighting of our anarchic anachronistic ways of doing things. The Indian media rightfully exposed what was woefully wrong with CWG, but the foreign media tried to mischievously exaggerate the same. Breaking into that “ exclusive club” is made into an insurmountable task Remember, those who live in high ivory towers usually get threatened when the once inconspicuous little man boards the elevator to a higher duplex. .
In clubs, you will find a subtle well-camouflaged disdain for the new member or a well-considered and thoroughly researched approbation before receiving a welcoming smile. For them, the Bandra-Worli sea link has actually become a sore thumb, as it has robbed the coveted SOBO of its distinctive , inaccessible charm. Driving into South Mumbai is now such a cool breeze. Moreover, Bandra is now a close colonial cousin, not good news that.
India’s critics are rattled by the ostentatious display of our new glittering accumulation and our mostly disciplined students surviving and succeeding on hard-earned scholarships or bank loans. Our peregrinations abroad for making bagful of discount acquisitions during shopping festivals, intrinsic attempt to break long queues, talk in loud voices in stuffed-up Ristorante and simultaneously boast of being in the billionaires list, besides owning Zain, Corus, Jaguar, Land Rover and Tetley, makes many acutely riled. Worse, they need us now much more than they would like to. Even an Indian job posting is no longer a Siberian punishment despite its innumerable challenges.
Thus, just like the new kid on the block with either PE funding or a successful IPO closure (who gets to ring the bell at the BSE) receives a close inspection from the old family business patriarch , so does the once Third World country, donor-dependant and desperately struggling , now of course, counting a strengthening rupee and burgeoning foreign exchange reserves. The bridge is not too far despite swirling waters underneath.
US President Obama gets sleepless nights over Infosys’s quarterly results, while British Prime Minister David Cameron would like more students from India in the London School of Economics. Indian travelers are boosting tourism revenues of the Far East Asian countries, and even Switzerland’s beatific locales get nostalgic about Yash Chopra’s romantic adrenalin rush of yesteryears. We adroitly fraud the funds out of the IPL with cavalier ease utilizing Lalit Modi’s ingenious devious ways but all the foreign players ( including Australia) are queuing up to play under Indian entrepreneurs, some now even contractually barred by the BCCI . And courtesy Suresh Kalmadi, even our stinking toilets grab international headlines at BBC. The rules are changing. And how!
The advantages of being a disorganized freewheeling chaotic democracy are many. The West has virtually sterilized itself on account of its material pursuits, weak family structures, individualistic obsession and lack of adequate support systems, which have made large families an incongruous oddity in their land. In China, still the world’s most populated nation, dictatorial diktats have ensured that the one-child policy will continue. Thus, it is not just Europe and North America but even India’s perpetual adversary China that will soon start ageing with declining head-count of active work-force , which gives India a major control of labor-supply global markets which might significantly shift the crucial balance of power to India. For example, India’s working age population will increase by 136 m by 2020 , China’s will grow by a meager 23 m. The dragon will need superannuation benefits and health care, while the tiger will hunt for a new prey. Can India make its demographic dividend into a bonus issue?
The big lesson for India is that the age of glorifying “jugaad” is over if you want to be truly globally competitive. Agreed that there may be some local customary practices that may be unique to us , but that does not justify the absence of basic management principles and corruption-free governance. Lalit Modi of dubious IPL fame and Suresh Kalmadi of faux pas infested CWG manifest that the “ we will get things fixed and done but will just siphon off some of it in the bargain for ourselves ” attitude does not quite work. It is alright for billionaire industrialists and new-age CEO’s to wax eloquent on our “ Indian way” of doing things at corporate symposiums , but the truth is there is only one way of getting things done right —- the right way. We should promptly dispense with that trashy cliché of self-deprecation, “ we are like that only”. Such casual insouciance that celebrates our abjectly absurd even if eventually partially effectual success , can actually lull us all into a false complacency of sorts. We need to get our house in order. Let us stop panegyrizing our wheeler-dealer ways as if it is our X-factor, for heaven’s sake.
India should not worry about racism, because it manifests the insecurity of others that we cannot control. But what we need to do is to concentrate on winning the race. But a country with 50 m entrepreneurs will also need club memberships. Or maybe new clubs will just have to be created.