I have joined a new place on Monday, and I seem to have a lot of empty time on my hands currently. Hence, I decided to use this opportunity to use all my training to think "macro".
I have been thinking of the 'State of the Nation' for as long as I can remember. In fact, the thoughts have always been there, they just have kept getting refined with the passage of time and my gradual maturity (hopefully). So what I propose to do in my blog here is use a favourite MBA technique to analyze 'India', something which is called a SWOT analysis.
In line with the MBA-orientation, I will try to keep this piece crisp, and not indulge in the ramblings which I am really prone to.
"S" stands for Strength: Intellectual Capital
The strength of India, or Indians to be more specific, lie definitely in the mind. I guess what connects us as a nation the best is definitely the power of the mind. Our Olympics medal tally definitely denotes low athletic prowess, and the successful sports for us have been more mental - measured batting, spin-bowling, chess, shooting, etc.
There might be a brahmanical bias for academic/higher education in this statement, but the NRI community which dominates the arguably most-developed place in the world, the Silicon Valley, is a proof of our intellectual prowess. We would have possibly not achieved the respect we command wordwide, and the economic growth we enjoy (though it is primarily jobless growth to a huge extent), without this intellect, as represented by our high-end IT/technology success, our well-developed private managerial systems, and possibly the ability of our good students to be vibrantly active throughout their lives.
I can pick up specific communities which have done very well. The Jats are primarily a martial race, but the Sikhs, in spite of all the jokes abounding about them, are spritually very developed. The Kashmiris apparently have a Sufi culture, and while this does not do much for the mind, I think the positiveness of a faith can uplift the soul to a great extent. The Pandit Brahmans of Kumaon are literary doyens, and noone specifies this better than my favourite newcaster, Mrinal Pande. In her short stint with Star News (the previous NDTV-run version), rarely was she ever at a loss of a word in Hindi, or had to use an English equivalent expression. And although the Hindi was chaste, it never appeared artificial, so unlike the masala language used by the Hindi news channels of today.
The Pandits of Eastern UP and Bihar again are primarily scholars, and tend to excel in what remains one of the toughest and most stupid exams to crack, the UPSC entrance exams for the Indian Civil Services. While the reasons for their success are not entirely intellectual, it takes some power in the mind to even attempt the exam (maybe this is just a lame excuse from a guy whose credentials meant he should have attempted the exam, but never managed to muster the courage to do so). More important from Bihar are the middle-caste people. In a rampantly casteist society, the Brahmins have usually occupied the dominant strata of society - the religious trusts & temples, and the Government services. With the rise of opportunities in the private sector, the Brahmins were too lazy to exploit them, and this meritocratic slot was occupied by the other castes. Again, it might be basis a limited sample, but in my school hostel, the guys who topped and occupied the top slots at the premier engineering colleges of the country were these middle-caste Biharis.
On the other hand, the Bengalis are famous for their bhadralok culture - either they are Amartya Sen or Satyajit Ray, but they do tend to excel in a wide variety of intellectual pursuits. I am sorry but I cannot comment on the North-East part of the country very well ( and this is a very sad and racist fact), but from my limited knowledge about the region, these guys are great at producing cutting-edge music. The Assamese especially tend to be very creative, albeit lazy, folks.
If we move to the West, the Gujjus & the Marus are famous for running entire economies, from Las Vegas to Dibrugarh. The Gujjus dominate Bombay also, and the non-Gujju Bombayites are very professional people, unless they become Shiv Sainiks or something of the same ilk.
Bill Gates calls South Indians the second smartest-race in the world after the Chinese, and while I am in no position to pass my judgement on that comment, I agree that South Indians (of all the four states) are an extremely refined culture. Since the decline of Ancient India (primarily my Aryan perspective of India), the Dravidian section of the country has functioned as a very developed civilization, establishing trade and diplomatic relations with almost the entire Asian belt. In the recent past, for modern India, this re-discovery of the Asian roots was also promoted and propogated by a South Indian intellectual only, PV Narasimha Rao. In fact, I think if Dravid land was to secede from India, alongwith Gujarat and Bombay-Pune, it would be close to a first-world country, condemning us Rest of Indians to the third world status for the rest of the millenium. The only issues I see in South India are militant casteism and a fanatical hero-worship culture.
"W" stands for Weakness: Muddled Thinking
There is a famous saying, "the more things seem to change, the more they remain the same". As a nation, we are great strategists, but when it comes to implementation, we seem to seriously lag behind. And in a strange paradox, this I think arises from our inherent intellectual strength. We seem to be driven so much by dogma and ideology, that unless the course of action agreed upon appears right to us, we simply desist from giving it our full-hearted support. The Communists are a prime example of this, very bright and honest people with a genuine desire to bring about positive changes for the weaker section of the society, but simply unable to either move forward or allow others to do so, all because they are trapped in their own revolutionary thinking and tactics.
For us to move forward as a country, the biggest social challenge remains the same as at the time of independence - widespread and crippling poverty. And all our gains are not because, but in spite of, the state initiatives. The simple failures of our delivery mechanisms have been very well-captured by a host of economists, and we have not managed to explore a more efficient system, only because we are not clear of how to go about it. The co-existence of hunger-led deaths and rotting buffer grain stocks in this country means something is seriously amiss. And while we are good in high thinking, we lack the clarity to implement the same using plain common sense.
"T" stands for Threat: Population Un-control
We have trebled our population in the last sixty years. We were always a people-plenty country, but we are going horribly wrong with it now. We will soon overtake China in the race, and while experts talk about the pressure on resources, to me, the simple pressure of human beings on each other can cause an implosion. Indians tend to be very versatile, always ready to explore short-cuts, and the primary reason is we want to avoid competition (whatever might be the posturing). In terms of sheer numbers, my competition for my place in the world is immense, and it would make sense for me to avoid competition by taking easy, naughty, illegal, whatever means.
Economists say growth is the best antidote to poverty, and population control. Moreover, most of the developed world (apart from the US) and China is either facing or will face a labour-scarcity problem. India, with its young age-population, is expected to buck the trend, and continue on its rapid-growth path, which I think is bullshit. The problem is we are simply adding quantity, not quality. In fact the addition happening is of the wrong type. So whatever poverty-conquering development we are witnessing simply fails to register, because we keep adding more of the poor, be it in urban areas or the countryside. And the solutions to conquer population explosion fall prey to our weakness, a lack of clarity on the best way of going about things. We need to invest in job-creating development, primary education, healthcare, and women's welfare. But all these fall at the altar of implementation.
"O" stands for Opportunity: Ancient India
I am a history-believer, and of the firm opinion that it repeats itself. I will possibly put up my thoughts in a subsequent blog as to why the USA should be a model country for us, but for the time-being, if we simply accept the fact, our ancient thoughts, philosophy and systems were very close to what all America stands for today.
I am a soft Hindu, but my Swantantra-party type beliefs were hijacked by Congress, and the Hindu party BJP converted itself into a party of lunatics. I agree Hindutva is a way of life in the sub-continent, and thoroughly disagree with RSS' interpratation of the same. Traditionally, all our scriptures talk of and promote individualism, something on which the entire American system is based on. Individualism means being responsible for your own actions, be it in terms of career, romance, thoughts and belief, and it are these traits which bring about genuine democracy. The success of a civilzation is measured on the freedom to choose, and individualism helps you in making those informed choices, instead of having it imposed by your parents, teachers, government, whoever. While it might cause some disruptions in society, I have no doubts it this re-discovery of our roots which will help us claim our rightful position under the sun.