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Oh “India Shining”, Wherefore Art Thou?

A Catchy Sound Bite

India Shining was a slogan popularized by one of the leading political parties (BJP) during the elections of 2004. It was supposed to reflect the economic optimism of an emerging giant.

Prior to that, the Indian government had used it to market the country internationally. Since that time, it’s no lie to say that there was remarkable success in transforming the image of this country in the eyes of so many – within the nation, as well as far and wide, outside these borders.

In fact, many Indians seem to still believe that India Shining is the reality – if not now, then soon. To me, it feels like they’re fooling themselves – either immersed in naiveté or patriotic self-deception.

But Reality Bites

Here’s some of what is happening in this country that is leading me to this conclusion:

Economic Growth: Below expectations.

Inflation: High and rising.

Rupee: Down, way down…the lowest ever against the dollar last week.

Per Capita Debt: Rising steeply.

Industrial Output: Declining.

Trade Deficit: Growing.

Government: Paralyzed – by coalitions and many pockets of self-interest.  Except perhaps for removing cartoons from text books.  Big 😦 .

Alternative political party strength: Not very hopeful.

Corruption: Healthy. No, make that thriving.

Innovation: Huh?

Social Indicators: Declining. (Bangla Desh has overtaken India in nearly all of them).

India versus China: Sheesh…here’s one write-up on the topic – The elephant can not fly like the dragon unless winged.

Foreign Investment: Fleeing.

BRICS: What’s on its way – The “I “for India to be replaced by Indonesia.

Okay, so go ahead and ask me…am I not being a tad harsh here?  Isn’t the entire world experiencing a similar plight, especially economically? Aah, but while the entire world is experiencing this plight, the India growth story was supposedly intact and one of few exceptions.  No more!

Here’s something scary I just read.  The Financial Times asked a Western investor – What ails India? The reply: Everything. And then he went on further to say: “On every indicator we look at, there is a red flag. This country is close to becoming the Greece of Asia.”

Is that scary or what?!

Worried Yet?

People here need to get their heads out of the sand, stop being content with things as they are, stop believing all the hype about India Rising and India Shining, stop focusing all their attention on cricket and Bollywood, and wonder what is really happening to this country and what they can do about it!

Thomas Jefferson said about America – “I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”  For all its faults, that country’s various governments over its short history have done more to accomplish this (prosperity and the pursuit of happiness) than virtually any other.  And the beauty of that democracy is that it allows this to happen. 

A government that genuinely takes care of its people rather than of its politicians can affect the same positive outcome in India. This is a democracy too. Isn’t it?

Mammoth Potential

You say then, is there no hope for India?  

Hah! But then you are asking a Pollyanna this question. Of course, there is hope! 

What is left that we can hope for are the two P’s.

PEOPLEall that human capital (and so much of it so young!) – surely among them there are some true leaders for the nation.

POTENTIALall that budding energy and those resources, waiting to be harnessed.

Now, India  just needs something or many someones who care enough to put these together and make them work FOR this country.

As someone once said: “The potential of the average person [nation?] is like a huge ocean unsailed, a new continent unexplored, a world of possibilities waiting to be released and channeled toward some great good.”   

But as someone else once said  – “Potential has a shelf life”.

Sometimes, people (and governments?) mobilize towards solutions when a crisis looms. That time is now. Time for the real “India Shining” – the one that is waiting to be discovered behind an empty slogan.

Yes, I simply talk and write. And wish. But what I would do, if it did happen in my lifetime!

If only.

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Karnataka: The Unprecedented Descent

India Map Highlighting Southern State of Karnataka

What happened to Karnataka?

I have ties that go way back in Bangalore and Karnataka.  Way back, when visitors would delight in the beauty of this Southern capital city, its perfect moderate climate, expansive greens and gardens, the well laid out infrastructure and the peace and quiet.

So.  What happened?

Aerial View of Bangalore

Bangalore is being described as a dystopia. That means exactly what it sounds like, an “anti-utopia” or as far removed from utopia as you can get.  And the state of Karnataka is characterized as one of, if not, the most corrupt state in the nation. Unbelievable! How could it go from that extreme to this one?  What happened to being the rising star of India? The Silicon Valley, home of Infosys and a whole range of multi-national technology brands?

Typical Rush Hour in Today's Overcrowded Bangalore City

Explosion and Corruption

It exploded. It went out of control. And it became utterly corrupt. So sad to see!  And so sad for the people who live there to have to live through this devolution. Yes, like dystopia, this is the opposite of evolution.  One meaning of this word is “descent or degeneration to a lower or worse state”. What an appropriate meaning yet sad state of affairs for Karnataka.

How could a city and state that showed such promise and potential descend into these depths? That is the shame of the state, and if this happened to a one-time rising star of the country, the shame is shared by the entire nation. We want and need to see transformations that go in the opposite direction! [See why Bihar is worth celebrating in this respect. Yes, I said Bihar.]

1868 photograph of Bellary Fort

As I read the newspapers sitting here in Mumbai, the headlines this week are all about Karnataka and the current chief minister, commonly referred to as Yeddy. He has been asked to step down and leave by the party for illegal activities and corruption. So by the time this post is published, he should have departed.  But not until after robbing the state bare – it’s treasury and the environment.

Bellary is the location in the state which has been ravaged for it’s iron ore in the mining scandal, leaving the earth and environment massively damaged. Indicted in the special report are the Reddy brothers who I first read about in the NY Times, of all places. Three brothers who have helped loot the state and the environment, not to mention becoming political power brokers (and giving all Reddys a bad name, to boot!) with two of the three continuing on as Ministers of the state!

And then, here’s the ‘funny’ part, there’s no shame or remorse exhibited by the people who have committed these transgressions. The independent investigation that was conducted alleges that $4 billion was looted from the state over a few years. None of the politicians are denying it.  Instead they are pointing to the previous government and saying, “they did it, why shouldn’t we?”.  Sick.

What is Politics After All?

Politics is simply a business in India today. Except it’s even better than successful private industry. It is a business where you can thrive and prosper in power, and where your return on investment is sky high. And one where the moral guide of the typical Indian politician is at an all time low.  I hate to contemplate that it can perhaps sink to even lower depths.

And that’s the sad other side of the story of India Rising.

And Now for The Light At The End of The Tunnel  

As we look at this situation in dismay, thankfully it’s not all darkness. The fact that there was an independent and thorough investigation conducted – against all odds – by Santhosh Hegde, heading up Karnataka’s Lokayukta, an anti-corruption ombudsman in the states. The fact that such a body even exists!  These are things to cheer about. The fact that his report actually brought down the Chief Minister is indeed a victory for all citizens of India.

If Karnataka, no if India, is to turn itself around, then this kind of close oversight (with the right leadership!) is indeed what is critically needed for the country to really shine and move forward (Lokpal anyone?).

Across the nation, from the capital down to the states and cities and smaller government bodies, corruption needs to be viewed by citizens as simply unacceptable.  I know.; we have a long way to go. Imagine if politicians served the citizens as they were elected to do, and we elected only those whose mission was to serve. It’s easier said than done. And it will undoubtedly be a slow, lengthy and complicated process spanning many years, but hasn’t everyone had enough already of the alternative? When is enough really enough?

Until that time, India Rising and India Shining are but hollow fairy tales we can keep telling ourselves and others. They may fool us all for awhile, but alas, not for very long.

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India Map with Karnataka: CC-by-sa PlaneMad/Wikipedia

Aerial view Photo By Amol.Gaitonde 

Rush Hour Photo By Bhonsley

Tunnel: By Stephen Sweeney 

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