International Gypsy

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Is India really shining?

I have been engaged in a fierce debate with a few Chinese bloggers on the Indian and Chinese political system. Howsoever proud I am of our democratic traditions, I have to admit that this debate has forced me to look at the other side of India - the India thats not really shining but rather sinking.

I wont make this post a comparison with China as there is no comparison left in economic terms - Chinese economy is 3 times that of India and none of the Indian cities can remotely match up to Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou - the gap keeps increasing every day.

Economic survey of 2010 says Indian economy would grow at 8.6% in current fiscal year and at least 9% next year. This makes India the second fastest growing economy in the world and the fastest growing democracy as we like to put it. IMF's economic outlook released in Oct 2010 placed India at fourth among world's largest economies after US, China and Japan. This implies Indian economy is bigger than Germany, the UK, France and Russia. A Citibank survey recently said India would become world's second largest economy by 2050 overtaking the US. India had 45 billionaires on the Forbes 2010 billionaires list. These numbers for sure would point to an India thats shining.

When I, however look at statistics on per capita income basis, India ranks 132 in the world trailing Congo, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Georgia, Namibia and many others. China ranks 100 in per capita terms and 2 in absolute GDP terms.

The most shocking fact of the entire India shining debate however is that India is home to the largest number of chronically malnourished children under the age of 5 - India accounts for world's 48% chronically malnourished children, more than twice than that of Sub-Saharan Africa. I bet no news network or newspaper talks about that. After all its free press and they have a right to ignore these shocking facts. I also have not heard any discussion on this in the political circles or in the entire debate building up to the budget. The Integrated Childhood Development Service (ICDS) scheme put in place in 1975 has not delivered any results even though it claims to be world's largest such scheme. Proportion of underweight children has reduced marginally, from 50.7% in 1992-93 to 40.3% in 2005-06. In the same time, the economy has more than doubled. This points to a highly inequitable growth.

I have been a firm believer in the capitalist system embedded in a democracy. I have always believed that you need to create wealth before thinking about distributing it. Till 1991, our economic system promoted policies that didn't focus on creating wealth but on distributing it from the rich to the poor. Those policies only led to the transfer of wealth from honest rick to the corrupt rich. It however seems like the trickle down effect is yet to set in even after 20 years of economic liberalization. What troubles me the most is that there are no debates or discussions on these relevant issues in the parliament. No one holds the government accountable for grave failures like these.

This brings me to the other side of India - our democracy. While democracy has never been known to be a meritocracy, Indian democracy seems to have taken this to a whole different level. Our democracy has become completely devoid of any ideology. All political parties win or loose elections on caste and region. No politician, not even the highly learned politicians like Arun Jaitley and Kapil Sibbal who gave up highly successful careers to join politics seem to be making a noise around the real problems - that is of malnourished children, sinking urban infrastructure, wide spread poverty in rural India, corruption and the lack of an efficient judiciary.

Our urban infrastructure is in shambles - Mumbai, the city that is home to one of the highest numbers of billionaires is full of filth and slums. I hear none of the Chinese cities have a slum. Delhi's law and order situation is so terrible that women dont even think about stepping out in the night alone. Everyone acknowledges that including the chief minister and parliamentary leaders but no one seems to be doing anything about it.

Our Supreme Court had to recently make an argument in an altogether different case that no government likes a strong and efficient judiciary and that might be why less than 1% of the government's budget is directed to building and improving the legal infrastructure. It is in Government's interest to let cases pending as government is the largest litigator. Court threatened if they should start directing the government on this issue. The sad part however is that no one seems to be bothered about millions of pending cases in the High Courts and Supreme Court.

Corruption seem to have become a part of every day life - while corruption cannot be eliminated completely but there is a difference in paying a bribe to avoid consequences of breaking the law and paying a bribe when you are on the right side of law.

The most worrying part of our democracy is our people themselves for whom the democracy has been built - middle class which forms the backbone of any nation seem to have become oblivious of the real issues and indifferent towards politics. Very few go and use their voting rights - that gives politicians an easy way out to play the caste and regional card and win elections while real issues of the day never come to surface.

When I look at events taking place in the Middle East, I often ask myself if that's what we need in India as well. Whats the use of democracy when more than 60 million children are chronically malnourished. Whats the use of democracy when a woman cant go out alone for a late night meal fearless in the nations capital. Isn't it time someone starts giving a damn about these real issues. We have done a great job in building democratic traditions and institutions and that has held us well for more than 60 years - we are still one country, judiciary is largely independent, media and people have freedom of speech, there is free movement within the country and every 5 years people do have a right to vote for the new government. Its time we make them accountable and efficient. India shining as of today remains just a slogan.

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