India is on its way to squander its opportunity to lift itself from poverty to the front bench of the world, its moment to make a mark and a development that could have defined our era. This tragedy is set to happen not because of any worldwide conspiracy, or even acts of nature, but because we, Indians, collectively, failed to imagine. This failure, if it occurs, will be crushing, era-defining in itself, as this will possibly destroy India, and alongside, the ambitions that it represented, of creating a modern democratic nation out of a population long used to subjugation and dependence. Seen that way, it is more than India's economic future that hangs on the balance now: Beyond the grim possibilities of the failure of the India project is the spectre of dissolution of hope, that a subject nation can ever overcome its dependencies, and people, long used to fatalistic ways of life, can be really free and govern themselves fit for the modern world.
But, it is not about slowing GDP growth rates, though at 5% a year instead of 8% a year, it will take India decades more to overcome abject poverty. It is not just about unemployment, though India has created no new jobs between 2004/5 and 2009/10 (though it created 60 million new jobs in the previous 5 years). It is not even about middle classes feeling queasy, squeezed by high inflation, corruption, and high interest rates. It is also not about failing governance, though some of India's leaders, both at the Central and the State Government levels, are pathetic caricatures and completely devoid of any ability to lead. It is not about being overtaken by China, threatened by Pakistan, squeezed by the Europeans and ignored by the Americans. It is not about the populist handouts to the villagers, corrupting greed of the industrialists, pampering of the minorities or the polluted environment of the cities. Each of these problems, big hairy issues that India must address, can be solved, have been solved by other countries as they waded their way through the development ladder. But, India has another, deeper, issue that it must solve before it can move forward - an issue which rarely gets discussed - and this is about the idea of India itself.
The idea of India was a beautiful construct. Despite the denial of today's demagogues, it is not about resurrecting an age-old civilisation but construction of a new one, which embraced modernity. It was an idea full of lofty dreams, that people, once free, will never be able to go back to bondage, and the magic wand of democracy would bring out the best in all of us, the involved, responsible citizens. It was bold in its construct, as it took an imagined notion, a geographical hotchpotch with varied languages, religions, food habits and world views, and bonded it together with values, both ancient and modern, both real and imagined, and ideas, traditional ones such as tolerance and modern ones such as constitutionalism. Idea of India was a fusion, of modern and western with age-old and Eastern, of poetic imagination and scientific tradition, of reason with devotion, of sacrifice with ambition.
But, at the same time, as all these ideas always are, it was a responsibility. At its birth, India was not a given nation, but a responsibility bestowed on its citizens. It was a plot of land with dreams of a cathedral, not the family house one inherits and then gives out to the developers. But, in this, was India's greatest folly: We sought to build a paternalistic state, in the image of our emperors and rulers, to protect our dreams. This was surely the most practical thing to do: But its most unintended consequence was today's India, a people who take the notion of India as a given, a land to be trampled upon and a name to boast about when convenient, but not something to be sculpted, protected and make sacrifices for.
In essence, I am arguing, that the greatest danger to India today isn't its lack of growth or the moribund or lacklustre governance: It is the apathy of its citizens, who forgot the responsibility and sought to maximise individual gains. It is an old-fashioned idea, but very real the moment one sets foot in India. Indeed, there is pride in being Indian, something not just the residents of India feel, but also for the non-residents like me, as we renew our identities every passing moment: But we take the identity as a given, not to be interrogated, built upon and to be engaged with. And, in this passive acceptance of the idea of India, lies its greatest existential danger.
There is another problem with India: It is a distant state for most of us. Having taken it for granted, we have collectively devolved our citizenship in the hands of lumpen elements, those who sought to capitalise our collective apathy into a profiteering opportunity. By disconnecting from the conversation, we built a nation of echo chambers, in which each group only listens to itself and the notion of a nation to be built becomes progressively surreal.
I strike this desolate note not because the country has failed to effect 'economic reforms' that would have brought growth, not even because the government seems to have failed and government ministers are getting caught in scandals. Rather, I wonder why we are tearing ourselves apart on the foreign investment bills and labour law reforms, but failing to notice, which Veer Shangvi points out in his column in India Today, that our law enforcing agencies are demoralised, untrained and poorly paid, our courts are failing (as Fali Nariman writes in his brilliant new book), and that we have abandoned our responsibility to educate our citizens and given in to the dark arts of the education mafia.
So, in essence, India is an abdicated nation, an anomalous idea whose ownership has to be reclaimed. It seems a full-blown crisis will be required to wake us up, and given the perilous state of India's finances, and the precarious nature of its polity, that moment of awakening may not be far off. But, then, this is also the ideal messiah moment: A time when leadership is sought and often emerge. The chaotic state of the nation may put off many, but it is an opportunity for a new idea whose time has come. This is indeed not a plea for a strongman administrator, the one we have at hand seeks not to construct but to destroy the Indian dream, but involved citizens: This is about a nation that we need to take back ourselves, not give it away to voodoo all over again.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.