Me-first Indians

My reading is that Indians are collectively unable to abide by the rules they have made.

As the year ends excitement mounts regarding our elections in 2014. So do anxieties concerning India’s  future as a nation and an economic entity with the potential to make Asia a continent of peace and a true exemplar of human civilisation. We Indians are the children of both hope and despair. Elders remember that Midnight Hour which prime minister Nehru spoke of on 14 August, 1947. His ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech is worth reading anew. But the free India we dreamed of has gone astray, lost its bearings, since it began its voyage into the vastness of time.

Indians of both eras, pre- and post-Independence, perhaps agree that we have made errors. We have almost given up the “Idea of India” as a benign force for humankind. What do others consider our main frailties, our present malaise, our failure to function as a liberal democracy at peace with ourselves and the world? It is a conversational gambit, not an opinion poll quantified as a percentage of ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘neither’ options in e-mailed clicks. My reading is that Indians are collectively unable to abide by the rules they have made.

Overweening egotism and avarice negate civic culture and order. We are patriotic enough, but lack nationalism. We have not internalised the idea of India as a federation or union of several tribes, ethnic communities, cultures, languages, religious faiths, citizens with equal common rights, and shared responsibility for the common good. ‘Me first’ is the basic law we obey as individuals.

Let our media take up this participatory introspection. It could be a prelude to the electoral head count.  NRI’s and foreign friends could also join in. As a junior diplomat fifty years ago, I bitterly resented the satires against India that prevailed abroad, and were even copied by our own kind at home. I spent hours persuading critics that “we are not like that only” in the cant phrase we sometimes use in self-extenuation. I liked seeing some recent TV discussions focused on this theme, with scientists, thinkers,  business heads and celebrities in the arts voicing their views frankly.

 There is a moral deficit in India, apart from the fiscal one, the sliding rupee, the price of onions and diesel, the extortion by estate agents. At the end of our street is a ‘circle’ where four main roads and two lanes converge. No traffic lights, no constables, helmetless two-wheelers and ‘autos’ bulging with school-kids and their bags, over-laden trucks trundling aslant and pedestrians trusting to luck and fate. Once, when I objected to someone throwing litter on the street, he sneered: “This is not Singapore, mister. Go there if you want.” Have we become so mentally colonised that we obey civic rules abroad, but spurn them at home?

 I too hail Sachin Tendulkar and Vishy Anand for their triumphs in cricket and chess. I feel sorry when they fail, but how nobly they have served by giving us pride and self-confidence, that inner conviction of “Yes, we can”. We seem to have lost it when China has been rising in world esteem.

I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but aim to be a ‘realist’ who dislikes cynicism as self-defeating.  Our ‘growth rate’ will not match the ten percent record of China in the 1990’s. The rupee will slide below the current exchange rate. The cost of living will go up, even if we cut subsidies drastically and ration consumer goods. Our main plus point is that India will flourish, not just survive as a dependent, however bleak our situation may be in foreign affairs and strategic security. Hail the Sachin spirit!

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