Wednesday, August 29, 2007

State of the Nation

Pushed & prodded by my friend Pijush, today I decided to 'pick up the pen' again and write a blog post. Over the last few days, Pijush & myself had been discussing the overall state of our country, especially in light of the recent celebration of 60 years of our Independence.

At the outset, let me confess that I think that overall we have achieved very little to be proud of since Independence. It makes me sad to even write this sentence, but that is how I feel honestly.

First of all, the entire political system is in shambles. Politics may be 'the last refuge of a scoundrel', but politicians are important nevertheless because it is they who decide the country's fate. That's where I feel India's democracy has failed. Inspite of the recent electoral reforms, the politicians that finally get chosen have no merit. Elections are won on money & muscle power.

Politicians are like mutating viruses that ail our country. In early years of the nation, they trumpeted the ideology of socialism. The result - suppresion of the free spirit of enterprise, license raj and creation of behemoth puclic sector units (who bleed the nation more than they contribute to it). But at least the politicians in those days had some conscience, some credibility. Today's politicians have criminal history, more often than not. Political parties place their own agenda and the security of their vote bank ahead of the country's interest. An example - the same political party touting the virtues of industrialization in one state and condemning the same in another state. One has to use a microscope if one has to find any semblance of values/honesty/ideology in today's politics. Perhaps come up short, even with a microscope.

This being the root cause in my opinion, let me highlight some of it's effects -

>>> The Green Revolution is often used as an example of our achievement & progress. But inspite of the self-reliance it has given us, many many people in India still go hungry each day. An estimated 40% of all Indian children are malnourished. To top it all, some people still die simply of hunger each year.

>>> The health & social security system is virtually non existent. There may be some private health institutions that may be better off, but virtually nothing has been done for public health. Far from providing quality healthcare, government hospitals are hell-holes full of corruption, squalor & filth. Doctors battle against all odds to provide assistance to patients. An estimated 5 million in India already suffer from AIDS and the country is expected to have the largest AIDS population by 2020.

>>> We have scant regard for history & the sacrifice common people for the country. In my opinion, no country can be great without having respect for its past. Historical monuments suffer from lack of funds & maintenance. Soldiers who gave up their lives for the country are allotted paltry pensions - even which their families have extreme difficulty in obtaining.

>>> Lawlessness is the rule of the land (This incident from yesterday, is a case in point). In many parts of the country, it is the gun that rules. The tiny majority in the police that are willing to work are handicapped by lack of funds, archaic laws and more often than not, political interference. The rest of the police system is of course corrupt to the core and perpetrators of violence themselves.

>>> Socially too, we have gone backwards rather than forwards. Evils like dowry, killing girl childs, casteism etc still exist - shockingly even among the well educated. The political system of course adds to this by creating divides in the name of reservation and such like. If the idea was to shield the weak from the privileged, why not base the quotas on family income level? Primarily because that would not helped anyone's votebanks. So - be it in education, sports or jobs - it is not merit but caste that draws the lines. Appeasement is the mantra & it is mediocracy that thrives.

>>> Roads, infrastructure & general services are an area where the country has failed terribly. Contractors make roads that crumble in a few days so that they get a second contract. Cows roam the roads. Illegal shops & hawkers block pavements & roads blatantly. The only traffic rule is that there are no rules. And none of this is likely to change because the law makers & enforcers are scared to hurt anyone's sensibilities.

>>> It is said that the state of sports reflects the health of the country. The statement could not have been more relevant anywhere else other than India. In all sports, the governing bodies are run like personal fiefdoms by politicians. Cricket of course, has spurned money - but only for the BCCI and select few cricketers. It is shameful to see reports of the condition of former players. They remain neglected and struggling to make ends meet. In all sports, apart from few instances of individual brilliance, we have languished at the bottom. To us, participating is defnitely more important than winning.

>>> Our frustration with a corrupt system has in turn made each one of us corrupt. We take the law into our own hands without a qualm. We give & take bribes with impunity, we have lynchings in full public view. Parents spend money on unfair means to get their child into a coveted institutions. "Political demonstrators" come out on the streets at every opportunity - organize 'bandhs', ransack shops (in the name of stopping 'blood-thirsty' industrialists) and paralyze life.

The most unfortunate bit is the mindset that we, as Indians, have got into. In spite of the explosion of media in recent days - a vast majority of us remain ignorant about our rights, issues and in general remain impervious to what's going on around us.

Even when we, the educated few, come across an issue - we choose to turn a blind eye (myself very much included). We follow Kargil on TV with zeal, out blood boils with patriotic fervour when we see a 'Chak De India' or 'Rang De Basanti'. But none of us actually do anything of significance about these evils that ail our country. Unfortunately, the few who do - land up dead.

All in all, India maybe shining in the eyes of some in insulated environs of multiplexes, glitzy shopping malls & IT companies. But day by day, slowly but steadily, we are on the steadfast road to being a failed country & a banana republic.