At most gatherings of the Indian diaspora conversations invariably turn to India. The progress India has made gets the mention with a healthy dose of pride along with a lament for the cancers and curses of caste, corruption and poverty. It is but natural for Indians to be talking about things Indian whenever they gather in homes, parties and meetings. Of course they talk about much that is happening in their adopted lands too. They are busy with their lives raising children, making money or just getting old as people do anywhere else.
Indian diaspora’s relationship with India is unquestionably eternal. Some may feel diaspora’s moral right to criticise India is diminished, if not altogether finished, when we leave India to settle in other countries. The fact is neither the diaspora nor India can dictate the boundaries of this relationship. There can be no boundaries to an affair of the blood, heart and soul that indubitably and unabashedly exists between India and its diasporic ‘children’. Embedded in this deep relationship is the hope and the desire to see India aspire to and achieve a more just and prosperous society. It is out of this desire to see India rise and prosper as a fair, egalitarian, inclusive and just society that diaspora desperately wants to see India as a corruption free country.
We have seen and lived life in what are essentially corruption free societies. We know how life, liberated from the clutches of corruption, becomes more creative, productive and less burdensome. One begins to regain belief in the invincibility of the human spirit. Poverty appears conquerable. Hope begins to make home in despairing hearts and all that counts is honest hard work.
We want India to take its rightful place in the comity of nations. It will not be able to effectively do so until it can rid itself of the twin curses of corruption and caste. Elimination of these two curses is a prerequisite to the elimination of the third curse: poverty.
Caste has always been a barrier to social and economic mobility. In the India after Independence its hold has diminished somewhat. But make no mistake, caste still significantly hinders social and economic mobility. For centuries it has been instrumental in “keeping low caste people in their places.” All the laws to date have only helped a relatively small section of the lower castes to climb out of poverty. A recent survey found that at least 27 per cent of the households in India still practice untouchability. It is not limited to just the Hindu households. Among Indian Muslims, Christians and Sikhs untouchability continues to thrive as well.
According to the pessimists “caste will always be there” and it is one of the “multiple identities of all Indians”. Caste has been an instrument of control, oppression and exploitation of the ‘lower castes’. As a result I find any room for it as part of any liberated Indian identity problematic and the assumption that when Indians “cast their vote, they vote their caste” totally abhorrent. I hope at least the oppressive and exclusionary aspects of caste soon disappear from the life of India. I very much admired Amitabh Bachchan’s response to the census question on caste last year when he declared his caste was Indian. We need to unleash the creative genius of all Indians but caste in all its pernicious poison just like corruption stands in the way of real economic progress and social cohesion in India.
Corruption entrenches poverty. It breeds despair and powerlessness. Hope withers. Public good shrivels into the background arrested by private and personal greed. The chasm between power and the powerless deepens. The gap between the rich and poor widens. The dog eat dog world no longer adequately describes the deep depravity of human relationships. The soullessness of Marx’s “cash nexus” appears compassionate and heavenly compared to the heartlessness of the man eat man world of endemic corruption. Corruption devastates the cultural fabric of society. It devours the vital institutions of law enforcement, politics and judiciary. Any systems of checks and balances crumble. There aren’t enough good men and women willing to stand up to battle corruption. Corruption wins every time: in politics and in most human relationships. It becomes all very depressing and inevitable. Most of us stop fighting finding refuge in the “personal needs” over the common weal. We tell ourselves it is not our fault; that is the way the world works; what can I do about it when almost no one else is fighting?
That is the place India finds itself in at the moment. Yes, there is economic progress but imagine what it could be if there was no corruption. The underground economy exceeds more than half of the over ground one. Other than Mumbai, the salaried employees and some corporations hardly anybody pays taxes. Government investments rarely ever reach their destinations in substantial measure let alone fully. Many Indians have long ceased to imagine what the country could be like; the India of their defeated dreams. What remained of their energy and enthusiasm has now been dulled by the internal antics of the Aam Aadmi Party and Anna Hazare’s campaign that appeared to have aborted midstream.
Prime Minister Modi has an obligation to lead the war against corruption in India. Being personally honest is not good enough. That is the least Indians expect from their Prime Minister just as they should demand of themselves.
His great oratory seems wanting against corruption. It seems he has failed to understand that an honest India will need much less government and governance. He remains silent. India is losing; corruption is winning.
India has a rich cultural and civilisational heritage; my heritage of which I am extremely proud. India is home to millions of wealthy people. It has more US Dollar millionaires than the entire 34 million population of Canada. It has much material wealth and abundant and brilliant human capital. But the majority of Indians still live in poverty. India as we know is a rich country of hundreds of millions of poor. Several hundred million Indians barely subsist below the unsustainably low Indian poverty line.
After 68 years of self government it is obvious the extremely debilitating poverty in India is deeply anchored in the evils of corruption and caste. Prime Ministers will come and go. As long as the twin evils of caste and corruption endure in India the blight of poverty shall remain. Therein lies the naked truth. And by the way great speeches are no substitute for hard work. Get to work Mr. Modi! You have the privilege of guiding, nurturing and governing an ancient civilisation and the largest democracy in the world! History is watching!
– Ujjal Dosanjh is former Premier of British Columbia, and former Canadian Minister of Health. Views expressed are personal.