We Indians have come a long way since our ancestors first arrived from Africa 70,000 years ago. We had our ups and downs, but we survived. For other countries winning is necessary for survival. But for us survival is winning. Kingdoms rise and fall, invaders invade flourish and perish, but we continue to survive. One thing that we have learned through the struggles is that survival is not about planning or being organized. That might help you win battles, but to survive you need to stay alive each and every moment helped by your intuition. Indians were never good with chess. But when Anand defeated the highly organized Russian chess players he did that through intuition and not through tried and tested formula of rigorous planning and strategy. He showed the world a new way of winning chess, the Indian way. Yes, we are short sighted like our policies. But when the opponent is strong no planning helps you. Instead we take one step at a time surviving the moment. We survived the Greeks, the Afghans, the Mughals and the Europeans. Not many can claim of surviving such an onslaught. But we did it, one invader at a time. Probably that is why we love cricket so much; it is played one ball at a time. It is obvious in the way we walk or drive, one gap at a time. While developed countries are slaves of rules, true democracy can be seen on Indian roads - power to people.
Many people woder about the identity of India. Some even say that India has never existed, and it was the Britishers who created India from various different tribes/kingdoms. Even today India struggles to find one single identity for itself. What defines India? Is it Gandhi’s non-violence, Nehru’s secularism or RSS’s Hindutva? None of them is the true answer. India is defined by its lack of identity. India never had a true identity, and that is what separates it from the countries bodering it.There are 6 major religions in India and 356 indegenous languages. It is that uniqueness of diversity that makes India one country. Many different cultures came to India and tried to mould India in their fashion. Absence of identity meant that we never had an identity crisis. Contrasting cultures were never a threat. While the Islamic State today struggles and fights to hold on to their identity, instead of resisting the change India on the other hand accepted and assimilated all the differences. India has always been a culture, a way of life, a concept that is not defined by its borders. It gave India its amazing disorganized diversity. It is this chaos and the extravaganza that defines India. The plethora of colour sound and smell, good bad and ugly, is an assault on the senses for an outsider. It can excite and exasperate a visitor, both at the same time. No wonder India is called the mystical land of the East.
Close to seventy years of freedom and India still have the problems of corruption, illiteracy and poverty. Looking at India today one can come to the conclusion that we have failed as a nation. But, we often forget the condition of India when we achieved our independence. It was a fragile nation and very few thought that it will survive. Our biggest achievement post-independence has been the story of our survival. We survived as a nation without breaking down to pieces despite the struggles, and today we can dream of becoming a global power. As Shekhar Gupta puts it, the concern of most Indians evolved from roti, kapda aur makaan (food, cloth and shelter); through bijli, sadak aur pani (electricity, road and water); to padhai, sehat aur naukri (education, health and job). That itself speaks of growth. Though lots of concerns still remain, our once biggest threat of surviving as one nation is now eliminated.
We are a population of 1.2 billion people and growing, 70% of whom are below 36 years of age. As high as 26% of the population is illiterate despite being a number that decreased substantially from 88% when British left. 70% of Indians live in rural areas of which 300 million are below poverty line . A large majority of our countrymen does not have access to basic facilities like health care, sanitation, education and infrastructure. Though 18 % of world’s population live in India, our country only has access to just 3% of world’s drinkable water. As population grows the farmland, whose yield is just half of that of China, becomes smaller. Though India’s GDP has grown, just 14% of that is spent on agriculture. The conditions of our farmers are amongst the worst in the world. Not unexpectedly the farmers have started moving to cities for a better life, if they have not committed suicide. They are changing their profession to take up low skill informal services as vegetable sellers, car washers, maids and taxi drivers. Most of them live in slums, a home to almost 70 million people. The growing population of the cities along with water and space shortage, increase in consumption of energy, increasing pollution and unmanageable wastage is making the cities unstable. This is a big problem and with growing population these conditions are going to get worse. Add to that our lack of homogeneity, high corruption, and poor governance. Sashi Tharoor rightly said that India is not a developing country, but a developed country in advance stage of decay. This is a problem unique to India, and hence needs a unique solution. To make progress India needs to stop following the models of other countries and create one of its own, harnessing her strengths to mitigate her weakness.
Over the centuries we have found a formula of stability. Ironically it is something that has been much loathed by the west and our own people - the caste system. More than the system the problem has been the status, the hierarchy, and the exploitation of the poor. It wasn’t meant to be that way. But some professions had more demand and thus the people in those professions grew rich and powerful. With power came greed and exploitation. There were always people who challenged the system and changed their profession, but they were exceptions. In that system, however, everybody had a job and they became an expert in their field as they received training from their own family. Compromise of freedom for stability had always been the model of civilization. Just like its people the country itself was divided into numerous small village republics where the elected elders had the power to decide the fate of their own village. They had to make the right decisions as their decisions gave them respect in the society, and thus power. The whole country was divided into smaller and smaller fragments, each dependent on the other. This complex system was very difficult for the British to understand and they tried to break the system and remold it to a shape they were more comfortable with. It was a recipe for disaster. Time has come when we move back to Mahajanapadas, to poorna swaraj. Once the power is returned to people, they will become responsible.
We have to find a way to educate our youth. The old system has to be removed by an even older system like the Gurukul. Teachers should help students develop not just knowledge but personality and free mind. Students should be able to choose from different schools of philosophies and not forced into one. Average number of years of formal education in India is just 4.4. That number should be at least 12 years. Once the basic education is complete people should be given training to develop specific skillsets. India had huge number of unskilled labour. But for the country to grow we need industries, that in turn requires killed labours. Only by developing skilled labours can we hope to compete against China. A bit of investment on this people will yield a lot better result for the government. Instead of spending huge amounts on the subsidies that leaves scope for corruption, that money should be used on things that directly benefit the people. This includes not just education, but also health care, social security and sanitation. Greek writers once wrote about how clean the Indians were. Oldest flushed toilets have been found from Indus Valley Civillization. Yet our cities are dirty and majority of our population defecates in open. That will change only when we take up the ownership. We will take up ownership only when we will be made responsible for it.
Agriculture sector has a lot of scope in India. Government should collaborate with other countries and help improve our yields and also manage the storage of grains. Our farmers have the potential to feed the whole world. Majority of Indians will get out of poverty once the condition of farming improves. What India also needs badly is energy. We currently spent a lot of money importing hydrocarbons increasing the trade deficit. The solution might lie in the rich thorium deposits of South India. India has one of the largest thorium resources and currently a lot of research is happening in BARC that will help create a nuclear reactor that can burn thorium as its fuel core. Once these nuclear plants are up and running it will solve a lot of our energy needs. Even though our research organizations do not have enough funds we are innovating. We are able to produce nuclear weapons, we have send satellite to Mars, all of these totally made in India. India produces a lot of usable patents. Think of the amount of innovation Indians can do once we get enough funds to develop research and technology. Birla is Asia’s biggest aluminium producer, Airtel has world’s fourth biggest subscriber base, Tata, Reliance and Mahindra has made it big globally. Indian generic drugs are saving millions around the world . Young Indians have led top companies like Google, Pepsi, Motorola, HP and Microsoft. Given the opportunity Indians can excel in any field.
But above all we need to create people who respect and take care of each other. The lack of respect is evident in the way we drive on the roads, or irresponsibly litter in public places. There is an increasing trend of orthodoxy that is coming back into the society. We have to throw away the Victorian conservatism and become liberal once more. We have to start respecting our diversity and difference in opinions. Unity in diversity is our strength. Despite all odds we can develop into a rich and happy nation in our own way. But for that we need to free our mind as Tagore once wished. Being the hero worshiping people that we are we need our heroes, including those in Bollywood and cricket, to step forward and help free the mind of Indians. For long our country has been known for its potential, it is now time for execution.
It is still true what Mark Twain wrote about India on 1897 in his book ‘Following the Equator’:
“This is indeed India; the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a thousand nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations—the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.”