( India ends Y 2011 with breathless anticipation about it’s future. This should be our season of hope).
By Sanjay Jha
Three things sell like hot cakes in India; sex, Shah Rukh Khan and fear. The recent virulent propaganda against FDI in retail is symptomatic over our still xenophobic ways, appropriately craftily exploited by wily politicians. Do you really see the young spiked gelled hair Salman Khan clone sitting in the loss-making kirana store in Darbhanga, Bihar managed by a septuagenarian sentimental father? By ostensibly using the bottom of the pyramid argument we keep them in the bottom of the poverty-pit much longer. We are still susceptible to the pseudo, time warp / ideological rigidities of conformist politics. But if India is changing, its politics will have to change faster as it has a lot of making up to do. It needs to set higher standards to smother the hullabaloo of the hypocrites who discredit its constitutional foundations, halt healthy debates. The loss is more than merely financial.
While India paralyzed itself over FDI in retail, 36% of PDS wheat and 31% of PDS rice was appropriated by private partners from hapless, innocuous farmers at all India levels by middlemen. Are we perpetuating backwardness, the widening chasm between India and Bharat ? Infrastructure development , land allocation, child/adult education, corruption, supply chain systems, public health and legal laws are compelling challenges. How can we meet them by our daily dosage of calumny and public flogging?
Vociferous, vitriolic attacks is becoming the standard norm; the year has witnessed physical assaults on several leaders, not necessarily the apotheosis of incorruptibility perhaps , but the apprehension is what if they become violent? Worse, there seems to be a wave of self-righteousness unambiguously endorsing vilification. Is India in desperate need of a moral infrastructure before constructing sleek airport terminals?
Team Anna are ingrained drama queens. Anna Hazare announced fresh agitations post-Ram Lila itself in August 2011 if three clauses were not incorporated in the Lok Pal Bill. . But he will keep his promise, whatever the few logical , convincing deviations in Lok Pal Bill draft; it is enough of a flimsy pretext for some more dramatic outpourings. What is extraordinary is the insouciance with which anti-corruption crusaders parade their arrogance. It seems de rigueur. It reflects both our masochistic propensity to be subsumed by mendacity as well as our perverse satisfaction at seeing powerful men being mortified. Either way, there is something nauseatingly immoral about it. There is a disturbing anger being assiduously fermented by some forces; it could boomerang . The politics of contempt and hate has human , biological limitations
The sudden vertical ascension of the Indian economy particularly in middle-class consumerist India has not kept pace with slothful, inefficient, tardy and often corrupt public services. A galloping aspirational India holding 3 G mobile phones and multiplex tickets romantically expects an equally extraordinarily improved government standards. Overnight. At the root, this irrational expectation mismatched with potential delivery capabilities is the real problem that UPA is battling with, or any government would face. But instead of accelerating change through consultative dialogue, reducing red-tape and increasing reforms through a visionary roadmap and planned execution some outside civil society forces are creating claustrophobic pressures, fully aware that changing antediluvian processes takes time. Crucially, it is actually a proxy battle for power, fought through subterfuge, vicariously. Creative destruction is misunderstood to mean destroying creativity; the government is being denied elbow-room and space for innovation. The truth is it is genuinely trying hard. But it needs breathing space, and less of both skepticism and cynicism.
Authoritative leadership that is hugely reassuring usually counter- balances intransigent public protestations. As Egypt /Occupy Wall Street movements demonstrate rudderless mass uprisings may create volcanic eruptions but have a limited shelf-life , and are at core unsustainable. But these sporadic outbursts, I concede, could become a tactical ploy for future pressure groups. In India, they get accentuated by the prowling beast of political opportunism. For a strong center, India’s unity in diversity is a singular asset, for a confused, phlegmatic one used to getting frequently gobsmacked it’s a liability.
We all know Mohammed Ali, Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson but do we remember their contemporary middle-weight boxing champions of the world? That’s what India is , the powerful middle-weight player, we have not yet qualified for serious heavy-weight bouts. It is too early to get cocky. Perception matters; we cannot expect to be the all-seasonal flavor for foreign investors. . India’s currency depreciation, high inflation and slow reforms could all result in a sudden downbeat sentiment. The oppressive gloominess spread by some is self-defeating, frightening. In an interconnected world, every whisper can reach a crescendo.
We are in a peculiar predicament that is unlikely to change for at least another decade; India is neither a free-wheeling capitalist economy like the Americans ( with 600 mln BPL without social security we cannot afford that model ) or the controlled growth of China ( courtesy our chaotic, though vibrant democracy). The sooner we accept that hard reality the hype over our demographic dividend being our USP will quickly calm down.
It is a chimera , as yet. Over 40 % of profits of top 100 listed firms still comes from state controlled ones. India’s growth story is not unsurprisingly therefore pregnant with contradictions. Farmer suicides and multi-storey billionaire homes co-exist because they are a natural corollary of our grudging acceptance of enhanced liberalization. There is nothing vulgar about the contrast, it is really inevitable given varying degrees of access to opportunities.
Paradoxically enough, this government has actually been India’s most responsive, people-friendly , and transparent one in its parliamentary history ( created an unprecedented Lok Pal joint drafting committee, passed several pro-poor reforms, is processing historic legislations on land acquisition, food security and sports development ). The PM himself disclosed his personal assets ; how many Indian CEO’s with the Golden Peacock awards have done that ? If it successfully maneuvers in troubled waters till 2014 , we could yet witness the currently hobbling UPA sliding smoothly on a skateboard.
VS Naipaul famously talked of a million Indian mutinies; what we need to unleash is a million entrepreneurs, dreams in their eyes, passion in their hearts and an insatiable stomach for risk-taking. Like a Flipkart.com e-commerce company that uses vertical integration to distribute books speedily at best prices. And several novel seeding in the social services sector. India’s growth lies among its people. Employability and entrepreneurship are crucial.
India is throbbing, thriving amidst a tempestuous, turbulent storm. But then that has always been our history. But then it also needs to overcome dark clouds of negativity, despair. As Cassandra’s converge, India desperately needs prophets of hope. Optimism. Faith. Self-belief. People who are like the masters in Richard Bach’s classic Illusions “ what the caterpillar calls the end of the world , the master calls a butterfly”.