I am an admirer of Gurcharan Das’ writings. A marketing expert, a good journalist and an insightful writer. Sometime around 2000 I read his wonderful book ‘India Unbound’ about India’s journey from political independence in 1947 to economic liberation in 1991. The book was written nine years after the economic reforms were started by the Narasimha Rao government. Of course, the Congress and the media have connived to deprive Rao of any credit and continue to tout current PM Manmohan Singh as the architect of reforms. This lie continues to be perpetrated by the media. Gurcharan Das’ book is quite a must read to understand how people of an entrepreneurial nation were shackled by communist tendencies and the licence Raj. The book is a journey of frustration, hope, inspiration and aspirations of a nation. Indians were just about turning the corner.
If one goes back to 1991 it was just about the time when new TV channels, newspapers and magazines started coming into the market, followed by the internet and dot com boom. Coke and Pepsi were back. Star TV, Zee TV were among the first to hog your TV. Since then we now have well over 300 channels, national, regional and local. Even the local cablewallahs ran their own channels. These are just a few examples. Hope floated for millions. IT industry opened up the global age for Indians and talk of India becoming a super-power was being touted. A few years prior to 1991 the Telecom revolution was the first to touch the lives of Indians in every corner of the country. That was a singularly great accomplishment.
Twenty years since the reforms began it now seems that the reforms haven’t dynamically changed lives for most of our common men, women and children. It is hard not to deny that the reforms have led to nothing but crony capitalism. Population explosion, farmer suicides, stock market scams and corruption are the items that make the most headlines. If not these, then it’s the obsession with Cricket and Bollywood though these aren’t harmful in anyway.
The new century is dominated by two significant traits – the sacrifice of ethics and a culture of greed. We have people in politics, business and the media who constantly claim to love India and yet do everything that is anti-Indian. The PM, the leader of the nation, is seen as a wimp who will tolerate anything to merely survive in office. We have an extra-constitutional office called ‘Chairperson of the UPA’ with enormous powers and absolutely no constitutional responsibility. In the face of dying farmers we have had campaigns like ‘India Shining’ and now in the face of unprecedented corruption we are still running ‘Incredible India’. The single biggest debilitating crime has to be corruption. Corruption eats away a nation, destroys patriotism, breeds terrorism and destroys the security and defence of the country. And there are media-men like Raghav Bahl who talk of ‘Superpower’ as do many others.
The media, like Rajdeep Sardesai stated before, is under an illusion that people crave only for sensationalism, cricket and bollywood. A crumbling, deceitful and power-brokering media are sure indications of a banana republic. The number of journals or TV channels owned by politicians is on the rise, particularly in the south. Communist-style propaganda is what our media practices. And to top it all people like Rajdeep Sardesai even blame ordinary people for all the corruption.
I am reminded of a famous scene from the movie ‘The American President’, where in a crisis situation an aide tells the president how people ‘drink sand’:
Presidential aide Lewis Rothschild (Michael J. Fox): You have a deeper love of this country than any man I've ever known. And I want to know what it says to you that in the past seven weeks, 59% of Americans have begun to question your patriotism. They don't have a choice! Bob Rumson is the only one doing the talking! People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand.
The President (Michael Douglas): Lewis, we've had presidents who were beloved, who couldn't find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference.
That’s right, a majority of Indian people don’t know the difference Mr. Sardesai and Mr. PM. If they are constantly fed a diet of scams, masala news, false promises and a blatant disregard for the law, they will be tempted to get used to it and drink the sand. Not because it quenches their thirst, but because people in the public domain have fed them nothing else.
Some statistics are daunting. Unemployment has grown from around 6% in 1995 to around 9% in 2010 in the employable workforce. From a ranking of 66/85 in the Corruption Perception Index in 1998, India is now ranked 87/178 countries in 2010. Constantly talking about the GDP growth rate or the boom in the stock markets is the kind of ‘sand in your face’ that hides everything else. Corruption has become the staple diet of all major players in the public domain. There is nowhere for the common man to turn to. This fallen complaint box says it much better than words can.
At this current state of the nation the most important reform required is not in the economic domain. It is our justice system. A revolution is required to modernise and reform our justice system and courts. Freedom and liberty mean nothing when the judiciary has crumbled. The media and those in public life should be clamouring, campaigning and shouting from the rooftops for urgent reform and modernisation of our courts and justice system. This should be the highest priority for the government.
We will now have over a month of Cricket to put everything else on a back burner. You can rest assured our media will faithfully splurge on the big bucks of Cricket. It could also well be a much desired respite for the UPA government from all the scam and corruption charges. And at the end of the tournament we can get back to where we were. It may not be long before Gurcharan Das is forced to write a sequel to his book I referred earlier.
This time I have chosen the title for him – ‘India Undone’!