By Abhishek Gaurav
Come Narendra Modi, and everything will soon set itself right in India, at least that is the adage which was floating everywhere before the much famed Lok Sabha elections this year. Acche din or good times would usher in, misery and suffering would dissipate away, and India would discover the path of progressiveness that has long been evading it. Is it so simple, to write off your past? Can just one man or one government change everything for a nation that has for so long been characterised by suppression, nepotism and red-tapism? Had it been so, why did the earlier leaders fail to catapult India from the clutches of third world problems into the elite league of industrialized nations? Because it takes more than just a leader and government, more than just the policies and promises to galvanise a country. That extra bit which proves crucial in the growth map of any country comprises attitudes, culture and beliefs of its people which take years to change. Hence, they become critical to explaining the economic growth of any nation, particularly so for India where cultural tenets hold special significance.
Chew this, a country where parents warn their children, right from their early days, that if they do not study well, they may well end up doing some kind of business. Any society where entering into business is seen with such disdain, as it is in India, is bound to lag behind in the age of industrialization. The craze for white collar jobs has done more harm than good to this country, the young brigade put everything at stake for a handful such jobs, and end up feeling disappointed and marooned later on. As a nation, when we are struggling to create jobs, the continual advise of parents to their wards to somehow secure their future as soon as they can, by picking up any and every job that comes along their way, can prove fatal for the economy at large. India has always been notorious for blowing up its fortunes, no wonder, then that Indian parents suffer from this constant pang of insecurity.
The other big crippling factor, which I see, is caste and religion based politics. Development agendas and talks on progress often take a backseat and votes are polled for candidates who belong to the same community even though they may be much worse off than their counterparts in terms of capability. A perfect recipe for disaster, where identities matter more than credentials. Such a mindset has been moulded very deeply into our sub-conscience so much so that in parts of India, people enquire about caste even before starting a conversation. It is a common practice in semi-urban and rural areas to collaborate with those for business, who share the same identity, even if that means losing out on potentially talented individuals. The worst part is that this suffocating culture is not going away anytime soon.
It is ironic that a country that worships female forms in the names of Durga and Kaali, sees progressive and working women with a distaste. In many instances, they are deemed unfit for marriage as they would have a hard time managing their families alongside work. No wonder then, with these double standards and predominance of male hegemony, we have lagged way behind our contemporaries like South Korea, Singapore and China in terms of economic progress.
In the era of tech-revolution when other nations are marching ahead at unimaginable pace, we seem to be pleased with our laggard state of affairs, expecting very little from our policymakers and leaders. People are satisfied with the bare minimum even after sixty-five
years of independence, happy that they are able to somehow survive amidst the harsh realities of the times. There are patients dying because their ambulances could not reach on time.
Pregnant mothers who give in for want of adequate nutrition and care, farmers who commit suicide because rains failed them, millions of youth who give up because there were not enough jobs and the list is endless. That the last sixty-five years could have been used in a much better way to transform our human capital, is something that we all must acknowledge.
I do not wish to undermine our achievements in anyway, but just implant the realisation that we have, indeed, underperformed. We have not been able to live up to the lofty legacy of our forefathers which we so often quote. And our attitudes, beliefs and mindset is much to blame for this. The big question, however, is – can we make a comeback? Yes, we can. Acchhe din can come, but for that we’ll have to make ourselves acchha first. Because it takes more than a just a government or a man to change people’s attitudes. The country does need good leaders, but most of all, good and rational individuals.
Abhishek Gaurav is a B.S. – M.S. dual degree student in Economics at IIT Kanpur. He has a prior experience with the development economics centric research arm of MIT, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), primarily working in the area of evidence based policies. His interests lie at the intersection of economics, politics, policy and finance. He can be reached at: [email protected]