Home > Uncategorized > Is India ungovernable?

Is India ungovernable?


India is seething with frenetic activity in its small towns and countryside. Noisy traffic, chaotic roads, shops spilling out onto pavements, uncollected garbage that mysteriously clears itself, illegally tapped overhead power lines, all add to the visible chaos that greets an onlooker. Then there are the intense crowds, a vast sea of mostly young faces, racing hither and thither but going nowhere. Most are busy but have no jobs. It is a bit like the Brownian movement of pollen grains on the surface of water under a microscope. You see intense, ceaseless, energetic, swiftly darting particles in all directions. But collectively they are stationary, even placid, going nowhere. There is energy but randomness and lack of direction makes it useless. Vibrant, talented, resourceful as individuals, collectively we are a flaccid, indifferent, confused and incoherent society. It is not the lack of organisation that is a constraint. We are simply not coherent enough to generate a common set of objectives, agree on the resources required and find the will to execute the plan necessary to achieve those objectives. The matrix that integrates people with the resources available to create value above and beyond the capacity of an individual is somehow missing. It is as if you had 200 of the best musicians on hand but each had his or her own self-generated music sheet to play from. Playing together they produce a shrill cacophony instead of orchestral music. The collective is worth a lot less than the assembled individuals. What is missing?
We are a diverse nation, with many languages, many cultures and religions, old traditions and differing value systems. Our diversity adds another layer of complexity over and above that inherent in a developing, modernising society. To fashion a shared value system and culture that is conducive to purposeful collaboration between individuals and different segments of society is therefore a central imperative for us. Even as we have changed the development paradigm for ourselves over the last 20 years, the new model has neither been reflected in popular culture and the education system, nor does it inform our sense of values. Old socialistic shibboleths continue to be peddled in movies, school texts and the popular idiom, so much so that even routine conversation in terms of a market-based paradigm with other people becomes impossible. The mai-baap sarkar (mama-papa state) narrative still dominates all discourse with little attention paid to personal initiative and responsibility. Furthermore, the models that make collaboration between individuals as the central creators of value in a civilised society characterised by trust and fair trade are completely absent. Take the need for public transport or school buses in small towns. Municipal bus services in small towns, locally managed by the citizens themselves, would be the most economically efficient way of providing transport to citizens. No such services exist. Instead, expensive personal transport supplemented by private auto-rickshaws dominates universally. The reasons for this anomaly are many. Regardless, we have to overcome obstacles and create such services before we doom ourselves by wasteful pollution. Creating the ‘felt need’ among people themselves for such rational collective solutions to collective problems is what we are missing in our discourse. How can we embed enablers such as the one above in our discourse?
A society gives itself coherence through a shared set of values that are deeply embedded in religion, culture, and tradition on the one hand and the education system on the other. The Anglo-Saxon system of values that dominates the US was largely a product of the Protestant work ethic. To note this is not to espouse that system but to highlight how deeply these models need to be embedded before they are able to cut through the clutter of individual perceptions and idiosyncrasies making fair collaboration among people possible and productive. Where are our equivalent models embedded? The awful truth is that they do not exist, and where they do, say in the education system, they are largely informed by the Nehruvian vision of a state built economy where the omniscient sarkar (government) volunteers to provide everything from the cradle to the grave. If that sounds outlandish ask any young 20-something of his or her dream. It will invariably be to find a job, get married, buy a house, educate kids, and retire. Note carefully the emphasis on finding a job. It is always one job, a career, a cradle to the grave. Needless to say, in a modern economy that is largely fictional. If our expectations and perceptions are so distanced from reality, how can we expect people to arrive at a consensus that is a prerequisite for purposeful collaboration? No wonder most of our new ideas and innovations are stillborn, dead on arrival because the enabling matrix of paradigms to see and find value in them simply does not exist. An innovator among us dies selling just his initial concept to infertile and out of sync minds. That is our biggest weakness today — our inability to sell valid ideas whose utility is as clear as daylight but one that requires collaboration among people working as a team. The cost to society of an incoherent discourse out of sync with reality in incalculable.
We do not have the luxury of rewriting our religious texts. Nevertheless, we should research them for parables that can teach us the value of collaboration in a meaningful way. The most practical way to embed such knowledge is in the school texts. The state did this to propagate its preferred paradigms under Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Those texts need revision. Meaningful reforms will come a lot easier if the state takes care to educate its citizens properly.
None of the above is a substitute for visionary leadership and orchestration by a committed set of politicians. The lead for this must come from the top. The myth of a mai-baap sarkar equipped with an unlimited treasury that collects revenue out of thin air must be completely dispelled. The equation between taxes and social spending to eliminate poverty should be made explicit. Likewise, empty shibboleths like the ‘common man’ should be replaced by more meaningful terms like ‘taxpayers’ and ‘consumers’ that make fudging of concepts less likely. ‘Small’ is another carryover from the socialistic era that was used to perpetuate a license-permit-Raj and large scale tax evasion. Such examples can be multiplied.
As we grow in numbers, and management of society becomes increasingly complex, we will hit multiple constraints of the sort obvious in infrastructure today. Such problems cannot be solved without a certain degree of society-wide coherence brought about by a sense of shared values, common concepts, and known working models. If we do not embed these in our education system and teach people to use them intelligently, we will be forced to look at Chinese coercive models sooner or later through sheer tyranny of increasing numbers and escalating constraints. We must therefore wake up to imminent dangers now. Politicians too must be compelled to shed their model of a mai-baap sarkar with them as dispensers of state largesse. They must adopt a more rational model as leaders of people engaged in building the hard and soft infrastructure that enables individuals to live to their full potential.

The writer is a trader. She can be reached at sonali.ranade@hotmail.com

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 26, 2011 at 8:49 am

    great commentary on the malaise that affects Indian society today.

  2. September 27, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Immensely meaningful.I liked the penultimate para .

  3. September 27, 2011 at 11:56 am

    Just wanted to click the LIKE Button…!!!
    But Awesome….!!!

  4. Kailesh Rajdev
    September 27, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Governments can do best by only IMPLEMENTING LAW of the Land, to ensure Individual Freedom is not trespassed, provide protection to Individual Rights of Property and Choice. What we have repeatedly send is some form or other of social dictate. Either i the name of Communism, Socialism or lately Capitalist Democracy where the term of Capitalism was misused to suit those in Power. We have seen all sorts of mechanisms used to crush Individual Freedom – by Political interference or Religious influence – both results of lust of power. We forget we are all CHILDREN of NATURE, does Nature give you freedom? A child learns by itself, by observing adults. What change occurs till a child becomes an adult? I think the child gets adulterated !!!

  5. raj
    September 28, 2011 at 6:34 am

    Very well written. Even i have wondered at times why as a society why we pull in different directions and look disorganized and confused. As you point out, we don’t have the equivalent of a Protestant ethic embedded in our culture. Our chaotic way of life could also have to do with the long decades of colonization we suffered which must have made us lethargic as a society. I wonder though what deeper point you are trying to make in your observation that everyone just looks forward to a job and the works.

  6. September 30, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Correct analysis.

  7. Raymond
    October 2, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    At times India’s huge democracy does give the false impression it will fail and falter. The recent spate of attacked on the Congress Government has also raised a question mark about its life span. But I think the strength of india’s democracy is an example to the world and long may it be sustained and never become like those errant nations who rule their people without the freedoms the people of India enjoy. Very interesting article and idea.

  8. shashasingh
    October 3, 2011 at 6:02 am

    looks clear from outside India, Once you are inside the system you have no idea of starts n end points, we just get lost in it.

  9. Janvi
    November 28, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Erudite. Taut and so relevant. I’m a fan already!

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