On one my recent flights within USA, I had privilege of sitting next to a gentleman from India. I don’t know how many NRIs it takes to change a lightbulb, but I know for sure how many minutes NRIs need to start talking about corrupt politicians in India. One is enough. Two are ample.
So we started.
Certainly mostly people agree that Indian politicians are no shining examples of honesty. But this gentleman was really extreme. In less than ten minutes he must have uttered the word corruption atleast 50 times. In addition used some words to describe the politicians that I would not dare utter in front of my family members. By the end of three hour flight, I was utterly feeling like I bathed in poison spurting out of his mouth. The last straw on the camel’s back was when he said that British should take back India because Indians don’t deserve democracy. At that point I told him I very strongly disagree with him and I would put my thoughts on my blog and will send him the link.
So here is a reality check.
- We, middle class Indians, learn on taxpayer’s money, but if we get a chance, we immigrate to Europe or USA.
- While hundreds of Army officer posts remain vacant, we complain about unemployment.
- We pirate music.
- We pirate movies.
- We pirate software, (“Who buys Microsoft windows anyway!’)
- We don’t vote, almost half of us.
- We don’t prosecute. We avoid courts like plague.
- We don’t testify in courts if it is even slightly risky.
- When “Missing persons” pictures are being shown on TV, we switch channels.
- We are not that willing to donate money. We use corruption in NGOs as an excuse to not donate.
- Bone marrow registry in USA is seriously lacking Asian Indian donors.
- Middle class , in their zeal of finding risk-free-prosperity, is flocking behind Amway and Quikster. For some reason those people have fooled us in believing that we can make a big profit without taking major risk.
The above list shows that morally Indian middle class is as corrupt as politicians. No?
Middle class Indians are disgruntled about state of Indian politics and democracy. But here is the irony. Most of the macro indicators of a country’s progress, like GDP growth, average life expectancy, literacy, survival rate in childbirth, are consistently showing upward trend for last several decades. India has lost one but won three wars and now boasts fourth strongest army in the world. ISRO is scaling new heights in space exploration every year. Lot of this progress has happened due to policy Initiatives that came from politicians we all blame for corruption. And the biggest beneficiary of these upward trends has been, guess who, middle class in India.
The truth is when something good happens, we , middle class Indians tend to either attribute it to chance or tend to take credit ourselves. We are in denial that the root of many of these developments can be traced back to something gone right in politics. Here are a few examples.
- In 1960s, the corrupt Indian politicians combined several old departments and created ISRO , which is one of the worlds premier space research organizations today.
- In 1960s, the corrupt Indian politicians launched green revolution in 1960s that made India self reliant for food.
- In 1990s, the corrupt Indian politicians liberalized economy. This made computers cheap and opened up new world for educated Indians-the world of information technology.
- In 1990s, the corrupt Indian politicians launched pulse polio initiative. 80 million children were vaccinated for Polio, thus drastically reducing Polio cases in India. All the would-be Polio victim children who would have been liabilities on society, are now today assets of society.
- In 1980s, the corrupt Indian politicians launched the telecommunication reforms which led to creation of DOT, or Department of Telecommunication. This separated telecommunications from postal services. (They were combined by British, because in their time telecommunication was limited to telegraph, which came under postal services.) This change pretty much unshackled telecommunication sector in India.The deregulation and liberalization continued which resulted in opening up Television transmission and allowed creation of many channels. It further repelled an 1899 law that kept airwaves in strict control of government, thus allowing private sector radio channels.
- In 1970s, corrupt Indian politicians launched rural education initiative that resulted in almost doubling the women’s literacy rates. Another initiative for family planning helped slowing down the rate of population growth. (Yes, not as successful as we want it to be, but there was a big initiative and it made difference.)
- In 1970s, initiatives were launched to spread use of gober gas, thus reducing rate of deforestation.
- In 200s, Indian politicians repelled the Indian forest act passed by British in 1027., all the forests belonged to central government, giving British right to exploit those forests for war efforts. This changed and gave the aboriginals the rights of the forest. Middle class Indians argued that this could lead to rapid deforestation because the aboriginals would be cheated by builders and land mafia. In fact this has slowed deforestation because the jungle dwellers feel far more attached to their forest than we think.
- In 2000s, Indian politicians passed right to information act. According to this act, Indian citizen could request information on most of the government matters including tender process and government had binding responsibility to respond in timely manner or the matter could be escalated. This was a great tool. Many active citizens and social workers used this to expose corruption.
- In 2000s, rural employment guarantee act was launched that created more job opportunities for rural youth.
You can find corruption cases in each of the policy initiatives listed above. But what you are reading only about bad apples. No one prints about things that have gone right. No one prints about the bridges that did not collapse. Over the big picture, large time scale, these policy initiatives by corrupt and dirty Indian politicians have made far more difference than whining middle classes have made.
The If we don’t like something, we complain. But we never form a group and try to change it. Our excuse is the whole system is corrupt. Well, we don’t have to change the whole system. Just a small positive change can be a beginning.
The truth is we are naive when it comes to social change. We, somewhere inside, still believe in a Bollywood hero to come and take care of it all for us, without we risking anything. Like the Amway business above, we dream of risk free revolution. Democracy has given us tools like (and ability to create tools like) Right to Information act. But if we don’t use these tools, nothing is going to change by itself. Politics might be bad, but it is better than all other options. And Ram-rajya is only fiction, and things like benevolent dictator, do not last long.
Moral of the story – Large scale social change can only happen through a system improvement. System improvement takes time, takes patience, takes effort, takes honest and sincere introspection, takes positive activism. Which one of these have we provided? Just wanting is not enough. Are we motivated enough to spill blood, sweat and tears it takes to get there?
If corrupt politicians is our only ticket to get there, then may be we should stop talking about their corruption and see if there is anything we can do to help them in making this social change happen. Just a thought.