Monday, March 25, 2013

India: A nation of idiots (Part 1)

With a year left for the Lok Sabha elections (or less than a year, if you choose to believe the media driven hype of early elections), the media is going to go all out with opinion polls, articles presumptuously titled “State of the Nation”, as if a sample size of 1000 people represents the opinions of the millions that constitute the Indian electorate. Presumptuous or not, one must admit that speculating the results of an election is a deeply satisfying activity, especially in a country as diverse as India. There are a million contours to every election in India; admittedly, this article can only capture a few of them: the ones that appeal to a middle class, liberal youngster.

To say that Narendra Modi has emerged on the national stage would be an understatement. Young India’s fascination with Narendra Modi enthralls me. We might not uniformly agree on Modi’s qualifications to lead this great nation, but we cannot ignore the fact that he is a serious candidate. Young India’s stand on whether Modi’s record on development trumps the serious accusations he continues to face vis-à-vis 2002 is a larger sociological debate which invariably involves the facets of class and religion. All I can say is that as a resident of Ahmedabad, I cannot deny Modi’s record on development or the many desirable elements of his administration. Despite seeing Modi’s development first hand, I will not vote for him come the election. The reasons for this will be apparent as we go on.

Another habit the media gets into when covering any general election is the habit of declaring that the coming election is “one of the most important in the history of the Indian republic”. I fail to understand the logic of this argument, since every election is by definition a crucial one. The winner gets to decide policy for a considerable amount of time, and every policy has the potential of changing the fortunes of the nation one way or the other. However, it cannot be denied that India is at a crossroads. The problems facing the nation need not be stated again; they have been repeated ad nauseam in the climate of pessimism that has persisted over the last few years. My memory of the last general election was the theme of change that underlined it: young people, qualified people would finally get into politics and try to make a change. Reform would come, and India would be transparent, a slightly better place than the competitive race to the bottom it is at this time. Then the same old faces got elected, and those of us who held hope in change and reform pointed out to the presence of young MP’s (especially in the Congress), naively ignoring that most belonged to dynasties. The irony of pointing to the inheritors of a dynasty as evidence of upcoming change and reform was lost on us. The election of 2009 was about the status quo, with some smatterings of change tossed to us deluded liberals to keep quiet until the next election. And the cycle is set to continue…

For me, too much of talk on this election has centered on individuals: Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi (at least until Rahul baba virtuously declared that he wasn’t interested. That was an act of renunciation unseen in mankind’s vast experience with elected or unelected royalty) or any of the other names that have propped up. This points to the idiocy of the discourse on our polity, that we choose to focus on individuals rather than the ideas they represent. What is Narendra Modi’s idea for India going forward? Or Sushma Swaraj? Or Chidambaram? Of course, there is no point in asking for Rahul Gandhi’s idea for India since his ideas include silence, or few words spoon-fed by his MBA coterie or Mummy’s lieutenants. To be fair to Modi, he did express an idea for India; an “India first” form of secularism which unfortunately is illogical because secularism and nationalism are independent of each other. We might have a unique definition of secularism in this country (where it is synonymous with tolerance), but even tolerance and nationalism are independent of each other. History has shown us that focus on nationalism is deeply intolerant. I abhor the idea of a nationally imposed rigidity on our consciousness. The idea reminds me of the dystopia wonderfully illustrated in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty- Four. Besides, the idea of a civilization which embraced liberal thought when the rest of the world embraced savagery choosing to embrace rigidity is troubling (as it should be to anybody with the slightest historical knowledge of the Indian civilization, very different from the myth propagated by the tilak, chaddi and lathi types).

What then, of the economy? For a nation which gobbles reports which prophesize an economic superpower (at least the sections of our country which can read, and afford the luxury of reading reports which can simply be termed as prophecies), we have a tremendous amount of economic illiteracy. Notice the collective angst when petrol prices are increased. While there is an argument for a transparent mechanism (one of my aims when I started my MBA course was understanding how petrol or diesel is priced. I am about to finish the course and have a wonderfully exciting  job to look forward to, but I am no closer to understanding what goes behind the  price that we all have to pay for petrol), the bouts of irritation middle India shows is immoral. Why should the government subsidize my petrol when millions go to bed hungry? Surely, when I can afford the latest gizmos or religiously buying the latest Manchester United jersey, I can afford to pay more for petrol. The culture of subsidies in this country can be a good thing if the needy actually benefitted from it. Like most things in this country, something ostensibly for the poor is actually for the middle class, which calls itself aam aadmi without an ounce of shame. How do we balance the needs of development, the compulsion of sustainability and the need for transparency (which should be a basic requirement for a country calling itself the world’s largest democracy)? Which politician has answered this question apart from the usual kow-towing to big business? Not to mention the massive behemoth in the room that is institutionalized corruption. 


aditya.sunkara said...

well writn but i dont ag on he poit of subsidy. we pay taxes. what are they supposd to be used for? for providing the nation's pople with eminitis like roads water food electricity etc... as we are already buying these from government in form of taxes why the hell shouldn't we expect to have subsidy? Tchnically speaking we should live in a govt provided house with govt provided fecilities, yet we pay house tax, road tax, toll, water charges, electricty etc...and expecting a subsidy on few things we already bought ain't wrong i guess... please if you want to fight againsts subsidy, fight against reservations which are caste based first... then shall talk about having diesl petrol and gas on subsidy..

Srinivas Mandapati said...

Thanks for reading and making a comment. The point of subsidy, or any form of government support, is to protect the poor and the week so that they are not overly exposed to the vagaries of the market. It is a duty of the government towards the weak, not towards every citizen. Housing provided by the government must exist only for the poor, because in a country like India where levels of inequality are massive, the government should not waste its money on frivolities like paying for the whims of the better off. Besides, why would you want to live in a house provided by the government, since it will invariably mean living a house you won't be happy with? Subsidizing the rich (or the middle class) is immoral because it means that you are spending money that could be better spent on the poor.That money spent on the poor will mean that they can be lifted from poverty, which means better living standards for them, more growth for the country, a less unequal and therefore, a better India. Money, even for the government, does not grow on trees. If we have an economy where the state is bloated with unnecessary expenditure, we will become another Greece (or Spain where the tax payer subsidies football clubs).In addition,a few reasons why petrol price will be high is the fact that we import most of our oil, and climate change. Caste based reservation is a different issue which brings social justice into the picture. After 2000 years of subjugation of the lower classes, the point is how do we bring equality between a dalit and a brahmin, so that their lives are not dependent on the accident of birth. They should avail the same opportunities, so that their lives are decided by the choices they make, not where they are born. There is definitely cause for complaint in the implementation, but the idea of reservations as a form of social justice is a necessary action to bring about equality.