Memos for the future
Charles de Gaulle once said of Brazil, rather brutally, that it was the country of the future, and would always be. The same verdict has often been passed on India. Here are five projections in the geo-political and the domestic scenario, public health, sports and culture, of the forces that will shape India over the next 25 years.
A multitude of promises if voted to power, but how many are fulfilled?
The lost idea of India
IN Giuseppe di Lampedusa's masterpiece, The Leopard, Don Fabrizio likens modern Sicily to a centenarian being dragged in a bath-chair round the Great Exhibition in London; he is indifferent to the sights and sounds, "thinking of nothing but drowsing off again on beslobbered pillows with a pot under the bed". India's future politics is also likely to be a tussle between those asleep and those half awake. The externals of public life will remain predictable: violence, communal tensions, corruption, lack of civilised discourse, scant disregard for the rule of law, diminution of the stature of public institutions, devaluation of the idea of citizenship, and increased criminalisation of politics.
All these signs of decay have hardly jolted us out of our languor, or to use Lampedusa's evocative phrase, from our "voluptuous immobility". Caught between prophets of imminent apocalypse and peddlers of optimism, we expend little effort towards self-criticism, and consequently, on a movement towards self-possession. A single instance would suffice to illustrate this point. While Gujarat was burning in 2002, the chief minister of a southern state refused to do anything about the communal carnage because his legislators were questioning the wisdom of interfering in a place as "remote" as Gujarat. Politicians and members of the burgeoning Indian middle class often speak about Bihar or Uttar Pradesh as if they were not part of India, or in ways which suggest that it would be desirable if these States were not part of India.
Politics and India
Indian politics has lost the idea of India. While the Buddha might have spoken of the nation as nothing but a speck of sand in a vast desert, there is little to offer as an alternative at the present moment. To understand how politics will unfold in the future is to understand correctly the idea of nationalism. From the idea of inner-directedness, self-government and self-determination of an individual, the quest for human autonomy gets magnified into the moral autonomy of groups and nations. Today's nationalism is not about a large entity called the nation. Rather, it is nothing but a "pathological sense of inflammation", a grievance about the real and imaginary wounds inflicted on people and collectivities, and a sense of not being able to choose one's own destiny. This trend of little nationalisms, often without a sense of moral destiny, will litter the future landscape of the country.
The loss of language is another significant feature of the future politics. It is signified by our inability to invent a new political vocabulary and experiment with new models and theories. Most political ideologies in circulation today stand either discredited or ineffective. Promises made in the name of liberalism, socialism and Communism remain unfulfilled. The inability of governments to deliver has led people to resort to primordial identities that at least promise hope of redemption and a paradise in the next world, if not the basic elements of human life and dignity in the present life.
Religious, tribal, ethnic and racial identities will assert themselves with greater force in the years to come. A secular culture has not been able to create its own traditions or emotive anchors. It is a culture that flourishes on a negative identity it tells us not to do a great number of things but enlightens us little as to what we ought to do. To know what we ought to do is to possess a moral core. In the post-modern world, preoccupied with contesting every perceived centre of power, the severest casualty has been our ability to judge between right and wrong, beautiful and ugly. Moral, ethical and political relativism will push us into a modern-day version of the Hobbesian state of nature, where there will be a war of all relative truths against all other relative truths.
Power in its most brutal form, armed with the religion of technology and devoid of a moral universe, will determine the politics of the future. Any primordial entity, be it religion, feudalism, caste or ethnicity, will be able to assert itself if it manages to impose its will on the polity with the help of technology and managerialism.
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No health without wealth?
HEALTH and wealth. Two sides of a coin. You can have health without wealth and vice-versa. But in an ideal world, we should have both. Are we heading for that ideal world in India? Even if we see a wealthier India, not quite a Sone ki Chidiya, but at least a nation where no one dies of hunger, there is no guarantee that we will be a healthier nation. On the contrary, as we well know, wealth and prosperity bring with them their own generous servings of diseases there is a virtual epidemic of diabetes already in India and other lifestyle-related diseases are on the rise.
SAMPATH KUMAR G.P.
Hardly any money to spare for healthcare.
The crucial question for the long-term health of a nation is how its wealth is used. In 1947, the Indian State committed that it would spend 12 per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health care. Sadly, that was one of the many commitments never fulfilled. Even in the best of years, the proportion of GDP spent on health care has never exceeded three per cent and today it stands at an abysmal 0.9 per cent. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), India is 171st out of 175 nations in the amount of public funds it allocates to health care. Even Nepal and Bangladesh do better than India.
The public health system
Why should it matter how much of India's GDP is spent on health care? The majority of people depend on private health care facilities. But they do so, not out of choice, but because there is no alternative. Even wealthy countries like Canada have excellent public health systems. The importance of this for a poor country, where people have no money to spare for medicines or doctors, is self-evident.
The absence of an efficient and accessible public health system is reflected in the shocking health statistics that tell the story of the real India of the millions of children who never live to see their first birthday, of thousands of women who die while giving birth, of millions of ordinary people who cannot survive communicable diseases. We should hang our heads in shame that even as we boast of our prowess in information technology, 63 out of every 1,000 children born in India die in the first year, 47 per cent of them in the first week. India also has the distinction of having the highest number of tuberculosis cases in the world. Every child born in this country has a one to two per cent chance of getting infected with TB, and almost 10 out of every 100 children in the one to nine years age group has tuberculosis. This is the picture with just one of the many communicable diseases.
India has thousands of hospitals and lakhs of doctors. For a population of a billion, we have 17,000 public hospitals, 24,000 government-run primary health centres and 140,000 sub-centres. But studies have revealed that only 38 per cent of PHCs have critical staff and there is a shortage of 42,000 doctors in government-run hospitals.
So if you want treatment, you turn to the dominant private sector, and you pay. One study found that 40 per cent of people in hospitals are forced to borrow money to pay for their expenses. Yet, even as the public health system falls apart, there is growing investment in super-speciality private health care. We have people from other countries coming here to fix their teeth, while our children die of conditions like diarrhoea.
Furthermore, the pattern of development we have chosen will ensure that we poison our land, water and air. No amount of sophisticated medicines or five-star health facilities can save us from the havoc that such environmental pollution can wreak on the human system. Yet, we are almost willing ourselves to certain ill-health by building cities where the private automobile gains precedence over non-polluting public transport, where lifestyles dictate the generation of enormous quantities of non-biodegradable waste, and where the desire to hasten up natural growth cycles in agriculture guarantee that the food we eat and the soil on which it is grown are irretrievably polluted.
If we continue down this road, we will be left with a nation divided between the unhealthy poor, suffering because they cannot afford health care, and the unhealthy rich, suffering because of their lifestyles. This is not a future we would wish on our worst enemies. And yet we are fondly planning it for our children and their children.
IN habitually using the term "nation-state" to describe our collective status, we assume these two entities to be indissolubly twinned. In actuality, nation and state are distinct and even mutually contradictory entities, held together by a silent, flickering and unnamed hyphen. That hyphen is culture.
Culture, the glue
In the Nehruvian formulation, culture was the glue that would hold together the fissiparous, bewilderingly multiple and mutable group expressions that constituted the nation, under the aegis of the state's unifying machinery of control and distribution. This culture would bind India's expressivities to a dirigiste administration that could use them to produce a strong emerging-power identity for the country. On the one hand, such a national culture provided a space of belonging for a people churned by the enthusiasm of Independence yet shattered by the Partition. On the other hand, it gave the new postcolonial state an aura of splendid genius, a compensatory self-inflation to set against the poverty and industrial backwardness of a newly liberated colony.
Will the digital divide be transcended?
This hyphenation strategy worked well from the 1950s to the 1990s, but was productive only so long as the state maintained a liberal, inclusive attitude. Despite occasional departures dictated by expediency, successive Congress governments adhered to this charter. Even so, culture was often reduced to emporial spectacle in official productions, especially during the 1980s, becoming a theatre of romantic nationalism. And there were always crucial elements that got left out of this narrative, such as Dalit self-representations and the newly evolving urban folklores. As the schism between nation and state opened wide in the late 1980s, whether in the North-East, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, or rural Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, the mandarin-scripted national culture began to look tragically absurd.
An official national culture is a fossil idiom, and cannot compare with culture actively produced through the dialogue of individual reflection and social performance. Worse, an official national culture can change, sometimes drastically, when one ruling group is displaced by another.
These dangers of an officially legislated national culture became manifest during the 1990s, as the Mandal and the Ramjanambhoomi agitations mobilised different genres of resentment, and the annihilationist forces of the Right seized state power. Theirs was a vision that accorded primacy to culture, but in a dangerously narrow way. To them, Indian culture was identical with Hindutva culture (not Hindu culture, that immensely rich and plural tapestry which is far beyond the tunnel vision of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak).
The hyphen between nation and state became vocalised during the Bharatiya Janata Party's ascendancy, but alas, with deplorable results on either side. The state became an instrument for the promotion of Hindutva, and the obdurate nation was sought to be trimmed, in Procrustean fashion, to disenfranchise those who did not subscribe to such a conception of culture.
With the BJP's vulgar religiosity went a vulgar spectacularism, staged in counterpoint to the catastrophes of collective life. The war mythology of Kargil was played at full blast, to drown out the Orissa supercyclone; the pomp of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas papered over the pogrom in Gujarat. National culture became a celebration of aggressive self-assertion. At the same time, an overt censorship by mob or more subtle coercion through social sanction came into force against a wide range of cultural producers: painters, scholars, writers, musicians, storytellers, dancers and filmmakers.
This neo-tribalism of the Right gathered momentum even while the processes of globalisation led large numbers of people to seek their identity and location in new spaces. In globalised India, the individuated self, extending itself beyond what it regards as a constraining state and a limiting national identity, is the base unit of the mathematics of the imagination. It premises itself on an aspiration graph and a consumption pattern that seem incompatible with the pieties of any of our established political parties.
We cannot predict the locations that Indians will assign to themselves in the next 25 years. How will they name and represent themselves as they explore spaces of aspiration beyond the nation-state, and yet are held down by the nation-state's protocols? Will the hyphen float free, to link self and context, rather than nation and state? Will there be a multiplication of subcultures of resistance, which will counter to whatever official culture happens to be in place? Will high culture drive into the cul-de-sac of formalism, preferring museality to the contaminations of experience? Will culture emerge from performances meant for small communities rather than mass audiences, as the Great Public gives way to innumerable specialist publics? Will the digital divide be transcended, in such a way that children in shantytowns will project their images and accounts into the world-stream? I conclude with the hope that India's cultural producers will preserve their tactical gift of revelation-by-surprise, eluding both the commodifiers and the regimenters, the colour-blind ecclesiarchs and the colour-drunk publicists.
Four preconditions for greatness
THANKS in part to physical size and the sheer weight of its population, its rapidly growing economy and its technological and military profile, India is today undoubtedly a power to be reckoned with in world affairs. What gives India added currency is that the world itself is in a state of flux. The core achievements of the United Nations system including respect for state sovereignty, the Geneva Conventions, the ban on aggressive war and military intervention are being undermined as the United States attempts to rewrite the rules of the international system on the basis of its military, economic and political strength. At the same time, the U.S. is finding that its ability to impose its own will on the world whether under the guise of promoting democracy, opposing terrorism or stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction is limited. It had the power to override the world on the question of invading Iraq but it has not succeeded in stabilising its control over Iraq. It can incite international opinion against Iran and North Korea on the nuclear weapons issue but it does not have the ability to wage a war against these two countries.
A technological and military profile that is respected.
A choice before India
What these examples tell us is that India today faces a choice. It can either accept the unipolar world order being fashioned crudely and unsuccessfully by Washington and seek accommodation within it; or it can help in the construction of a world order that recognises the limits of American power and seeks to build, on these limits, an international system that is genuinely multipolar.
In practical terms, this means India's principal foreign policy challenge will be to engage with the reality of U.S. power while, at the same time, acting in concert with other countries and powers to contain and limit the expression of that power. The balance called for is a difficult one. The Vajpayee government erred on the side of excessive engagement, especially when it endorsed Washington's destabilising missile defence programme. The Congress (I), on the other hand, which, while in opposition, acted as if it understood the need for the containment of U.S. power, is today not deviating significantly from the foreign policy of the previous government. There is clarity on some fronts, such as recognising the significance of the European Union's Galileo satellite positioning system and signing India up for it, but not on others. There is, in particular, unwillingness in New Delhi to recognise just how cynical and self-serving Washington's war on "terrorism" or the spread of nuclear weapons really is.
Engagement with the world
Apart from rationally structuring the terms of its engagement with the U.S. so that its short-term policies contribute towards the strategic goal of building a multipolar world, there are three other steps India must take to ensure its rightful place in the international system.
First, it must be at peace with its neighbours, and particularly Pakistan. If this means making unilateral trade and economic concessions, so be it. Allowing Pakistani manufacturers duty free access to Indian markets will give a big boost to bilateral relations, as will taking a liberal approach on the question of trans-Asian energy pipelines that traverse Pakistani territory before entering India.
Second, India, which is a reluctant nuclear weapons state, should continue to leverage its nuclear status in order to push for global disarmament and the criminalisation of nuclear weapons first-use under any circumstances. This would also involve being at the forefront of international attempts to prevent the spread of the arms race to outer space, something the U.S. very much intends doing under the guise of missile defence.
Finally, India must think of globalisation in a multidimensional manner. Of all the possible spatial and factor-of-production axes along which international economic collaboration can take place, the West has imposed an unequal bargain, in which developing countries must open their markets to foreign investment and products while being unable to export labour or many categories of products to the developed world. This is not just unfair but irrational as well, especially given the greying of populations in Europe, Japan and North America. In the next 10 years, then, India must take the lead in pushing for easier international labour migration norms, as well as in establishing new and mutually beneficial circuits of trade and investment within the developing world with Africa and Latin America, in particular.
A sporting chance for the rest
NANDAKUMAR N. MARAR
INDIAN sports remains a race between cricket and the rest, with cricket leading by a huge margin in the popularity stakes, quite apart from its governing body's famed ability to take care of itself, its affiliates, stakeholders and performers. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) understands market forces and evolves accordingly, distributing a percentage of the money it earns from selling telecast rights or sponsorship to State associations, as grants, and to players, as appearance fees, besides extensive exposure for the team sponsor.
Rajyavardhan Rathore -- a flicker of hope.
Cricket is now viewed as first choice by youngsters of sporting inclination, as well as by television channels wanting to grab public viewership and companies looking for a promotional tool to advertise their brands. And cricket will keep calling the shots for a long time to come, with 116 days of home cricket and 696 days of international cricket scheduled over the next three years.
Every nation faces this one-sport dominance situation: basketball dwarfs everything else in the United States, including athletics; football is Brazil's pride and eclipses even cricket in England. India is no exception to the rule; the only difference being the shrill voices that seek to demonise cricket as an overpowering sport and the BCCI as a monopolistic governing association. Instead, other sports federations should be lifting themselves up by learning from cricket, reaching out to people, and answering the door when opportunity knocks.
Other disciplines, including those that figure in the Olympic Games and flicker into life sporadically like shooting, after Rajyavardhan Rathore's triumph, or weightlifting, associated with Karnam Malleshwari can command a bigger following and develop credibility only if the federations that rule non-cricket sports in this country begin to emulate Indian cricket's positives, instead of harping on the negatives of a market monopoly.
There is no reason why other sports should remain on the sidelines for the next 25 years. A huge interest base exists among youth, waiting to be tapped. Television channels are vying with each other for TV rights to high-profile events, advertisers keep tabs on famous faces. The route to recognition is for Olympic sports to emulate cricket and organise events round the year to keep sport in the news, resulting in enough opportunities for achievers to turn news-makers. The Indian Olympic Association (IOA), as the figurehead of India's sports federations, can create an environment in which other sports become the people's choice over a period of time.
The All India Tennis Association's (AITA) efforts to hold ITF events and help players pick up ITF points for entry into junior Grand Slams is a worthy example. The National Rifle Association of India's (NRAI) proactive approach in arranging or equipping shooters for international competitions is a positive step. Television rights and personal endorsements will follow for those capable enough of making a mark: tennis players Sania Mirza and Karan Rastogi, and shooter Ronak Pandit, for example, are three promising juniors on the verge of hitting the big time.
Indian sports can become popular with the masses if their champions are viewed as success stories, living comfortably off the game and benefiting from spin-offs such as advertisement campaigns. The federations in charge of governing the various disciplines have to accept that it is match-winners and crowd-pullers on the sports field who drive viewership and attract sponsorship; not the image or clout of politically connected administrators.
People pay to watch Irfan Pathan steaming in to bowl at stadiums, and live on television, because BCCI does not mind one of its hottest performers making money on the side, as long as these commercial activities do not interfere with cricket interests. This is apart from the playing fees guaranteed to him for taking part in Tests, limited-overs and Ranji Trophy games.
Like the Pathans of Indian cricket, there are other youngsters out there with the ability to become youth icons. World amateur snooker champ Pankaj Advani, hockey goalkeeper Adrian D'Souza, chess ace Koneru Humpy are names that spring to mind, who need timely monetary support and the freedom of expression to turn into trend-setters.
Contrary to the public perception about the sources of cricket funds, the BCCI runs the sport on private money raised from telecast rights and sponsors. Taxpayers' funds are not channelised into fuelling cricketing ambitions. It is the non-cricket sports, Olympic events in particular, which bank on government subsidies for the development of players or teams and infrastructure.
The federation administrators take pride in such international successes as Major Rathore's shooting silver at Athens, Malleshwari's weightlifting bronze at Sydney 2000, Leander Paes' tennis bronze at Atlanta 1996. But they shrug off responsibility for failure, as when the national hockey team stumbles, women athletes and weightlifters test positive, or the football squad is elbowed out at the Asian level.
This phenomenon of power without accountability towards taxpayers, and the government's inability to make the federations and the IOA answerable for far-reaching decisions, is stunting growth. Individuals escape the system to reach the top on self-initiative: an excellent example is Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand, an Indian idol with worldwide credibility, popularity and earning power. India's choices in this field will remain restricted, unless the non-cricket sports move out of government protection over the next two decades and dare to reach out on their own.
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