Selling our souls

Selling our souls

wrong priorities

Two recent events have been quite disturbing to any conscientious person. One, of course, is the murky happenings in the IPL that is a part of the Board for Control of Cricket in India. Another is the arrest of the president of the Medical Council of India (MCI) for accepting a bribe in granting recognition to a medical college in Patiala.

One is an organisation which deals with a game whose players are the heroes for people. Another is a regulatory body for colleges producing tomorrow’s doctors. Both the events need much reflection and introspection regarding the direction in which Indian society and Indian economy are moving.

It is reported that IPL is a business of over Rs 10,000 crore. Until a few days ago, it was being commended as a testimony to the huge success of us Indians’ newfound enterprise and to the rapid strides our free economy was taking in different fields including sports.

Imported cheer leaders

The dazzle of lights, the glitter of stars and big businessmen in the stands, the showmanship before and after the game complete with the presence of high profile commentators to tickle the brains and imported cheer leaders to tickle the soul was all a heady mix.

Not known to the public until now was that it was a concoction of slush funds, ‘benaami’ transactions, wanton confusion regarding stake-holdings, rigging of bids, protection money sweetly called ‘sweat equity’, and betting and match fixing - fit for a script for a Bollywood gangster movie. Of course, like in such a movie, there would be several innocent characters too.

Similarly, we have a mushrooming of colleges teaching professional courses like medicine, engineering and business management. But very little of this endeavour benefits the poor. Few qualified doctors prefer to take up work in the rural areas. Government also does very little by way of providing primary health care to the rural and to the poor.

Young students tend to follow the path that promises gravy. Professional education, that has to follow a rigorous academic discipline, becomes a sleazy business venture like the recent case of the president of MCI shows. Economic growth, pursued without the social principle of equity, is a recipe for disaster.

The points to reflect upon are: Do we need a ‘growth’ of this kind? Do we need ‘enterprise’ of this nature? Do we need sophistication that is only skin deep? Do we need a radical change in the way we perceive money that makes heroes out of persons who could at best be ignored?

Lot of money flowed in the three IPLs. It surely did make some people’s coffers to fill up. On the positive side, it gave business to advertising industry, media channels, transport industry, hotels, and to other peripheral product makers/suppliers. But, much of the money has remained in the upper echelons of India.

It was an extravaganza that we could do without, particularly since it engenders wrong values and attitudes in a people that is just waking up to the possibility of getting rid of the age-old curse of poverty, illiteracy, and bad health.

Indian economy is not in the best of health, as of now. India has a huge public debt to service – almost 80 per cent of its GDP. India is now paying more to service the debt than any other item in the budget, including defence, education and healthcare.

Input of funds

No wonder, the basics of education and public health are taking a back-seat despite the protestations of the government otherwise. Illiteracy, with its very liberal interpretation, is at around 33 per cent. Right to Education and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan need a massive input of funds that are not visible yet. Public health infrastructure is suffering due to paucity of funds.

As per official statistics, 28 per cent of India’s population is poor; other methodologies put the figure at 10 per cent more i.e. at 38 per cent. 230 million Indians are malnourished. India ranks 94th in the Global Hunger Index of 119 countries as per a UN World Food Programme (WFP) report. 43 per cent of children in our country under the age of five are underweight and 70 per cent of the children in this age group are anaemic.

As it is, our good industry is not a great help to our poor people. The services sector, backed by the IT revolution, remained the biggest contributor to the national GDP, with a contribution of about 58 per cent. However, most of this does not reach our poor. The agriculture sector, on which most of the poor are dependent, contributes only about 17 per cent to the GDP. ‘Trickle effect’ is really a trickle with much benefit going to the rich and the rising ‘middle’ class.

Rapid growth pursued and appreciated for its own sake leads to all kinds of misdeeds –  corruption, wrong money, wrong administrators /controllers and, of course, wrong people in politics. More importantly, it leads to a situation where a negative person becomes a hero and people on the gravy train knowingly or unknowingly start making excuses for the ‘fall guys’ and anti-heroes.  
(The writer is a former professor at IIM-Bangalore)