India with emotion

India is a vibrant country with much to offer. Its an emotional journey far too much for one lifetime. This is my view of this journey. Enjoy.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Rang de india

Rang de India
Friday, February 10, 2006
Rohan Guptan

Its been a couple of weeks since I saw Rang De Basanti and to be honest it affected me. There was a strange sense of bonding that one felt with the characters that one was not completely at ease with.

What was it that made sense at one level and was disturbing on the other?

Firstly let me explain the ‘connection’. As the son of an army officer there was a strong emotional bond with the Air Force pilot and the trauma that his family undergoes.

Secondly, having undergone the emotional upheaval of the ‘Mandal Commission’ in college there was an instant bonding with the ‘coming together’ of college students against the system. The defense minister was instantly connected with the then prime minister VP Singh. The images of the state using undue force against its people remind one of the stark images of hapless students being brutalized in Delhi. Thanks to Prannoy Roys’, Newstrack, the images reached an large audience.

In those days of the Doordarshan monopoly, those images could well have been stifled. All those who found the images in the movie to be too far fetched would do well to get hold of some old copies of Newstrack.

What disturbed me was the fact that I had moved on so easily from that feeling of oppression and angst with the system, to a free citizen in the new India.

What matters today is living life to the fullest and ensuring that all the benefits of the ‘new India’ are fully utilized. In today’s India, there are two factors that did not exist till a few years ago. One, the fact that the majority of the new generation do not depend on the state for most of their needs. Barring some administrative documents like a ration card or a driving license most of us are unlikely to visit a govt. office. The state in our perspective is merely an invisible facilitator to the new age industries that provide jobs that are based on merit and compensate us so that we can live lifestyles of their choice.

The second is that with the media overload, scandals such as the Mig spare part fiasco fail to make a mark. In the entire Tehelka expose, the only poor sods who got punished were the Army officers who got suckered into trading honor & a lifetime for a couple of thousand rupees. Another scandal. Another Mig. Pilot dead. Big deal. Dude are you coming to the third Bryan Adams concert in as many years?

That’s when it hits me. There’s nothing to get disturbed. Whats happening in India is actually a process that in the next few decades will result in the eventual rebirth of this country.

Take a look at the mammoths that have fallen by the roadside. Firstly the ration card. How many of us actually go to or know a person who goes to the ration shop. In most parts of India, yes people do go, but I’m talking of the RDB generation.

Secondly, MTNL. Just seven years ago you would have to wait at least a month to get a new connection. That too after several hands had been greased. Imagine a mobile company executive asking you for chai pani for a connection.

Thirdly, the Indian Railways. There was a time not so long ago when the Rajdhani was the source of much pride. People would gush on how much time you saved and how the food had improved. Now with an air ticket being available for roughly the same price, the writing is on the wall.

Hospitals, Life Insurance, Foreign travel, education, postal services, you name it, there is a private and more efficient service provider available as your first choice.

The state as a provider will slowly find itself being marginalized and this change will not happen by you and me joining the civil services, police and the armed forces. That process will take place without the struggle, by simply raising our standards and not accepting anything less. If the state cant provide it, use a private service that can. The government service will have to adapt or be left behind.

Secondly the people in the civil services, police & defence services are not living in a separate world. They too come back to homes like ours. The attitude is bound to change as they too will see the benefits and change will come from within.

The political class would do well to take heed to a crucial economic indicator. The great rural urban migration. As a huge number of people move from rural to urban centers, they are easily converted to the benefits of the new system. Each one becomes a catalyst of change when he heads back to his village.

Once the rural mass gets the bug then the system will per force have to keep pace with its people. Imagine a farmer who decides that there is a more efficient way to improve his lot without agricultural subsidy? Or a village that wants more than just free power for its pumps, because they have a captive power source. Once the tools of control are taken away from the politicians they will be forced to look at matching the expectations of the people at an entirely new level.

The scope for a clash with system as an individual will reduce as the system adapts to the new way of functioning. Anyone who has dealt with the passport office in the last few years should compare notes with someone from the eighties. As systems change, so will the process for redressal of grievances. The need for protest and violent suppression will reduce.

The change will not happen overnight, but then this is India. The country has changed more in the past ten years than perhaps in the past 2-3 decades. Not bad for a 50 odd year old nation.

Perhaps then Rang De Basanti is a marker of the process of change. A symbol of progress as India grows as a nation and makes up for lost time. It’s a wake up call for those still living in the past and a hurrah for those making the New India possible. Whatever your role in this, don’t fret about the past or worry about the future. Just enjoy the ride and come celebrate the new ‘Rangs’ of India.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The lost tribe of democracy

Saturday, October 16, 2004

We are the largest democracy in the world. All 1 billion of us. A vibrant fabric of a multi cultural society all living together in tumultous harmony. Barring the odd flare up when the heady cocktail of poverty, ignorance and politics takes over. Considering the diversity of opinion, culture, religion and territory, we are just fine. A casual glance at the world headlines on any give day and you will find countries with a ridiculous excuse for cultural diversity being unable to put it all together. Even in the so called ‘First World’ countries.

The socio economic structure of this country is heavily skewed towards the majority who survive in an impoverished state. Yes, we are a poor country. We need to have a socialistic outlook on most issues because we have a huge population that does not have access to very basic amenities.

We also have a fast growing middle class. A tribe of young eager Indians, who are growing along with the new India. We are fast learners and are quickly surrounding themselves with all the trappings of a modern society.

We are also the engine of growth for the economy. Consumer goods and services, Cars, Lifestyles, are all fuelled by our fast growing incomes. Most importantly we are learning to change attitudes. No longer is the status quo acceptable. New and exciting frontiers are being explored in all areas from education, careers and fashion. Entire lifestyles based on new age technology and attitudes are being created in the blink of an eye.

As a person who grew up in the eighties I sometimes wonder at the sheer choice available to a young person today. The height of new age technology in the eighties was someone who took ‘computer science’ in his +2 levels.

Most of us entered the middle class in the early nineties and went through life cycles (marriage-car-house) in barely a decade. Something that took our parents a lifetime.

So life is good. You bet it is. There’s not one other place I’d rather be in this world at this point in time. The reverse brain drain may be a small indicator that confirms this fact but overall I am more likely to meet individuals who believe that India offers more than adequate scope for achieving their ambitions, than someone who is looking to escape.

Today we contribute over 70% of the countries direct taxes. We are less than 10% in a country where over 80% of the population is involved in the rural sector.

The burden of supporting this underprivileged portion of our population lies squarely on the shoulders of the government. And over the years it has made huge investments towards this exercise.
Huge subsidies and direct investments have been made by successive governments. However the benefits of these still have not benefited the vast majority.

The public sector enterprises were gallant efforts aimed at alleviating the population from the depths of poverty and to ensure that the progress and benefits reached down to all sections of society. Both in terms of economic strata as well as geographic spread.

But, as the track record of a large number of these enterprises will show they have been a complete failure. Over the years they have failed to generate profits. Not that their purpose was that in the first place. We are after all a socialist republic and we have to ensure that socio economic development reaches to all levels.

However one issue that seems to be completely overlooked is that the Public Sector encourages the principle of dependence. It completely smothers individual enterprise. The PSU worker has become an expert in the art of ‘mai baap’. The government encourages this as it gives the political class control over the masses. Instead of being catalysts of local enterprise and prosperity they have become massive dens of corruption and ineptitude. Local youth are attracted to these incompetent organizations as they believe a life of easy money with no work is a better option than self reliance.

A more viable option would be to turn the majority of these organizations into technical training institutes where local youth can gain technical knowledge and experience. After a period of time they can be given assistance to venture out on their own and set up small scale enterprises.

A focus on public sector enterprise is based on sound principle. A focus on generating employment through these enterprises has ensured that a sizeable portion of the population has remained in the smaller towns and villages. The combination of education and improved earnings has produced a generation of educated individuals from which the new age Indian has emerged. Most o us have come from hers. A solid foundation based on social and cultural values has ensured we have adapted well to the fast changing world and are sought after employee.

If one were to take a closer look at this newest segment of population we would find a diverse mix, with each region of the country fining representation. As they enter this segment there is a gradual shift away from their region, religion, caste based attitudes to a more cosmopolitan and achievement based lifestyle. Each one has made the socio economic jump and this is a clear differentiator between him and the world he came from.

In this new exciting world, everything is within reach for those with the correct attitude. The only thing that stands between him and his goals is capability and he is more than willing to adapt in order to achieve his goals.

However if one were to take a look at the environment that he operates in you would find that nothing has changed. He is still faced with the same systems and processes that his grandfather had to deal with. Ration cards, election cards, municipal apathy, housing you name it. In a fast moving world possibly the system has failed to change. None of them takes into account the requirements and preferences of the modern individual. Again the basic principle of generating a sense of dependence is followed.

As a result the individual operates outside the system. A cursory check with most individuals working in a multinational in a city like Mumbai would throw up some interesting facts.

Most would be from outside the city. Most would have parents living in another city. Each would have realized that every public sector system has a more efficient solution. One does not have time for such things. The only thing one probably requires from the government is a passport and rubber stamps wherever the law requires.
Most would not have had the time to get basic municipal documents like a ration card or a domicile certificate. As a result most would not form part of any electoral roll. And therefore most would never have voted.

So focused are we on our goals that inconveniences such as rising prices, worsening infrastructure, slums, scandals, politicians stop affecting us. We forget to stop and raise a voice of protest, to question, to demand that our rights be respected.

No. That’s not our job. Our job is to go and achieve our goals and yes, pay taxes. The moment an individual joins a company the first thing he notices on receipt of his first pay slip, is the taxes. Did I mention. He and his like contribute over 70% of direct taxes. Isn’t it strange that the hand that feeds is the hand that is shunned the most.

We bear the brunt of all the ills of a fast developing economy. Inflation, Exchange rates, oil prices, interest rates, stock prices, and yes taxes. All have a direct impact on us and our income. Yet we are the only one who are expected to take one for the team.

Agreed we are a poor country and the rest of our countrymen do not have access to drinking water and such like conveniences that we take for granted. But, how is it that we don’t merit even a single sop.

Where is our ‘free power’ and employment guarantee scheme’ where do we run for cover when the US invades Iraq causing a worldwide increase in oil prices and our monthly fuel begins to eat up double percentiles of our salary. How is it that in the minds of the government, any policy
decision seem to only affect the people at the lower level and not the people who will ensure that the policy translates into actual benefits for the country.

Not a single political party has the inclination to address this issue. This is primarily due to the fact that we have become irrelevant. We have become so attuned to living within the system that we forget that we have the power to change it. Not only do we have the power, we have the right to demand what is rightfully ours. Every other segment demands and gets to some measure what they require. And we, the engine of this growth, the base on which the entire house is built are taken for granted.

We learn the new skills. We stick our necks out and aim for those new jobs, we spend our money on the products made by the factories that provide employment to the masses, we attract foreign conglomerates with our spending habits, we ensure that Foreign Direct Investment is at its highest, we venture into the stock markets, we take loans, and yes we pay the highest taxes. Direct and indirect.

Without us the finance minister would still be deciding which new license required controlling and which international bank could be tapped for some dole outs.

And yet before each budget we gather like the ever faithful, waiting for that inconsequential decrease in taxable income, that marginal additional reduction in benefits under some inane section.

Why? Why are we the ones to keep quiet? Why cant there be zero income tax? Why cant there be sops for money that we earn and save? Why cant there be additional benefits for investments that we make in government securities? Why cannot we be eligible for special interest rates for housing and large consumer good purchases?

Don’t these all contribute to the rapid growth of the economy? Will this not result in lesser black money? More money in banks? More money for the government to spend on the overall socio economic development of the country?

I guess not. Otherwise someone would have done it by now. Perhaps we would be a generation ahead as a country. Perhaps elections would be fought on development issues and not some inane socio-historical-religious issue that will not really benefit anyone.

Perhaps we wait for our Moses. Our saviour. Someone who will stand up to the system. Show us, and those who continue on the well trodden path that leads nowhere but in a continuous loop, the error of our ways.

Some one who will give voice to our concerns. Show those in power the correct way to harness our huge potential. To put this great country among the leaders in the world.

Till then. Keep up the good work. May we strive ever higher in spite of the many shackles. My best wishes to all my brothers and sisters of this growing family.

The lost tribe of democracy.