Monday, May 4, 2009

Hindustan, Schizostan

A week spent in the field, deep inside rural India, and it's hard not to return feeling that we're a nation characterized by even more schizophrenia than our cities suggest. We're going to be a nation of a billion cell phone users with no electricty to charge the phones. A million Nano's and no roads to drive them on. Bijli, sadak, and paani (electricity, roads and water) are going to be election mantras for ever because actually delivering on them hardly seems to be necessary for getting elected. Yet when market forces are unleashed the Indian entrepreneur and private sector never fails to deliver value. You only need to find yourself in a State Tourism hotel (i.e. Government run) in small town India before discovering that there's a privately run option next door to see the difference.

Tavleen Singh hits the nail on the head when she says:

" In other countries, when school teachers do not turn up to teach they are sacked. When public services like hospitals and health centres do not do their job they are closed down, and long before major towns like Ankleshwar and Baruch end up looking like slums, something is done to stop this happening. When I drove through them last week on Narendra Modi’s new six-lane highway, I was gripped by a sense of despair. If we can build six-lane highways why is it so hard for us to come up with systems of waste disposal? Will we wait till all our highways are lined with rotting garbage before we realise that something needs to be done?
Probably. It has always been that way. In my view this is because we have tried to build the edifice of a modern, democratic nation without laying the foundations. The foundations can only be created by investment in human capital. You cannot build a modern democracy if 45 per cent of your children are malnourished, you cannot build a modern democracy if your schools do not have teachers and if your public healthcare is mostly a means for corrupt officials to make money by handing out construction contracts to their friends and family. You cannot build a modern democracy if you have not been able to provide that most fundamental of human needs: clean water. Yet, this is what our political leaders have tried to do. And, we have let them.

We in the media are almost as much to blame as the political class because we spend far too much time talking about stupid things and ignoring what is crucial. Throughout the election campaign we have spent so much time discussing the foibles and failings of the Gandhi progeny that we have found little time to talk of real issues. I got so tired of hearing important journalists discuss the badness of Varun Gandhi and the goodness of Rahul and Priyanka that I stopped watching the news channels. How many times did we hear serious discussion of why our public services are such a mess or why after 60 years of Independence our political leaders are unable to provide clean drinking water? Or why unplanned urbanisation has put Bharat Mata well on the road to becoming a continent of slums by 2050?

Having said this I must add that all the big changes that I have seen on my travels in the wilds of India that is Bharat have been wrought by the arrival of television and the cell phone. It is because of these two technological marvels that the 21st century is beginning to limp slowly into even our remotest villages. Thanks to technology, the poorest, most underprivileged Indians have realised that they do not have to live this way. And, that there are many Indians who do not live without clean water, electricity and roads. They know that there is only one real issue in this election. Governance. "

Read the whole article here -

However, I'm not sure if knowing that governance is the real issue actually affects voting behavior. Maybe so in states where people can see that its possible to escape from the quicksand of poverty. But not so in less developed, Bimaru type states where prospects for the average person are so bleak that a few cases of booze or petty cash disbursements that take care of the next couple of meals are more than enough to buy votes.

No comments:

Post a Comment