February 13, 2011 2:02:01 am
Those of our political leaders who have paid attention to the protests in Tahrir Square must be spending sleepless nights. Not because a floodgate of public rage is about to burst open in Delhi or Mumbai but because the reasons for the rage are so familiar to us who live in the proudly democratic republic of India. Allow me to list a few similarities. Open loot of public money. Political leaders who become fabulously rich while ordinary people remain horribly poor. Dynastic succession. In our case this idea has roots so deep and wide that there is almost not a single political party that is not a family business. Then,as in most despotic Arab countries,we have followed economic policies that have created a small super-rich elite while the majority of our people live on less than $2 a day. And,just like Egypt we have a huge population of young people most of whom will move to cities and towns in the next twenty years.
These young people are not as easy to fool as their parents were but there is no sign that any of our political leaders have understood that they need to urgently modernise their methods and ideas. Our two main national parties are so old fashioned that they seem to have become comatose in a time warp. The Bharatiya Janata Party still believes that rabid nationalism is the way forward. It must be conceded here that Narendra Modi shows signs that he has understood that governance is more important. In the Congress Party,we do not see a single chief minister trying to find a new way. Perhaps,this is because he could lose his job if he did anything other than pay deep obeisance to the Dynasty that has converted our oldest political party into a very successful family business.
In this,the Dynasty is not alone. Every one of our smaller political parties is now a family business with the exception of the Bahujan Samaj Party and this may only be because Mayawati has (as we say in Hinglish) no issue. What is more depressing still is that none of these regional parties have gone beyond their old fashioned ideas of winning votes through caste,creed and criminality. They seem not to have noticed that young Indians have other aspirations. In the village in which I spend many months a year,I notice signs of newness every time I come here. Old type village shops that sold everything from spices to cloth have almost disappeared and in their place have come modern shops that specialise in what they sell. This week I noticed a bridel butey saloon and a café in the verandah of a family home. In the village pond a rural entrepreneur makes money out of paddle boats shaped like swans.
The only thing that has not changed in the ten years I have lived in this village are those things that can only change through improved governance. The village school is as shabby as it was and recently wasted money on a half wall that seems to have been built to spend some politicians unspent fund. Village roads remain in a state of disrepair till just before the rains when they are repaired only so they can be washed away again. And,all the villages in this part of Maharashtra dump their waste by the side of the main road to let it rot horribly in the sun. This method of waste disposal can be observed across rural India. In towns and cities,waste disposal is if anything,more unsanitary on account of the appalling state of municipal governance.
On the long list of things that can only improve with modern governance,waste disposal comes fairly low down. At the very top has to come an urgent and comprehensive attempt to do something about the shameful fact that half of Indias children are malnourished. Things will only improve if the Government of India admits that its unwieldy and expensive child welfare scheme has failed. But,for this to happen you need people at the top with new ideas and so far they do not exist.
We may never have a revolution in India. It is not our way. But,what we could see in the not too distant future are increasing signs of violent social unrest. It is our good fortune that even our Maoists cling to an old and decrepit political idea. They are almost the only political force left in the world that thinks of Mao Tse Tung as a great leader and this is why their appeal is limited to primitive parts of India. But,unless our mainstream political parties make urgent changes in their programmes and policies they could become irrelevant by 2014. This might be our only hope.
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