Can we imagine this scene in India? This kind of national euphoria over the swearing-in ceremony of the head of state? What a joke! In a country riven by regional politics, overt power-broking, and endemic political apathy. Of course, had this been Shahrukh Khan (an actor who once danced in his underpants at a wedding on a paid appearance) running a contest for one week at his house, the Indian public would have trumped these numbers and more.
Sure, Obama owes, at least in part, the almost religious fervor for his leadership, to Bush. For the indisputable screw-ups that created the the kind of perfect storm national emergency that made many overlook Obama’s color (democratic party: blue; his race: black). But the fall from grace and the growing economic insecurity that spurred Americans towards change are still aspirational goals in India. We hit bottom a while ago, and are now digging ourselves into a hole. The poorest amongst us are living like animals, debased to their lowest physiological and safety needs, and the financially secure Indians overwhelmingly lack sophistication, choosing peripheral self-interest over basic common good, consumption over creation, and frivolous entertainment over real culture.
India *is* in a crisis. Just cause our economy grew at nine percent (or six percent in recession) doesn’t mean that we can continue living in our la la land. Disproportionate growth came through unproductive bubbles¹,²: of passive, uneducated fat men and women sitting on vast tracts of land that suddenly became worth more than the cumulative income of their entire generation; of sensex (bombay stock exchange) going from 15000 to over 21000 in a span of six months (July 07 – Jan 08); of investment banks and private equity firms bringing pay scales hitherto unheard of in India.
There is heartbreak everywhere we turn. Collectively as a country, we have dehumanized the poor. Men dirty, disheveled, with matted hair and vacant eyes line up for handouts, of coarse rice and dal in Chandni Chowk, next to a large open dump. Little children are on the streets everywhere, begging, picking up trash, their innocence discarded, potential trivialized. Old and young men in urban markets lug heavy burden like cattle. To become old on the sidewalks of urban India, away from family for lifetime, saddled with weight – can anything be more sad? And we sit in a stupor, nary an uprising in sight.
We bypass the government, treating it as irrelevant or worse, a hindrance. And it is. Our government is corrupt, and filled with partisan and uneducated criminals. But we the people of India are doing nothing about it! The whole concept of the government is to pool resources for development projects too big for individuals/organizations. But in India, we don’t even seem to know what the govt should do, let alone debate on the how and where. Or we are too busy safeguarding our own narrow interests to care. The ideals of common good are so routinely flaunted, the flaunting itself a cliche. And no, the market economy will not save us. Capitalism is first and foremost self-interest. And a country without an underlying base of equal opportunity (or something approaching it) can’t claw out of the morass of overpopulation, poverty, and pollution through uncoordinated, and discrete vested interests alone.
As a society, we collectively legislate and uphold the need to contribute to the basic infrastructure of the economy. If I as an individual fail to pay my taxes, I can be prosecuted, even incarcerated. If mere resistance to contribution merits prosecution, then what of those who squander and embezzle our collective goodwill and resources? We all know that our politicians are corrupt, yet we repeatedly elect them by vote or default, legitimizing the illegitimate. We need to hold our public officials accountable, for every rupee wasted/stolen, every promise broken.
I propose a public audit of the government funds (state and center): from collection, to allocation, to disbursal. Down to the smallest municipal corporation and gram panchayat. With a complete list of those with spending authority, and authority limits. This information should be available to the public not as the fruits of an RTI (an onerous application process designed to disuade), but as a matter of course. When Amar Singh gives USD 1-5M to the Clinton Foundation, we should be able to identify the source of that money. When a public school is understaffed, the principal/parent should be able to verify the exact point where the money was misappropriated. When we see a Mercedes parked on the street with a GoI seal, we should be able to determine which account that money came from. A public audit will deincentivize those who enter the administration, vested in their own self-interest. Let’s get all the televsion networks, all the newspapers behind this idea, and and push through this change. It’s our money (literally!), and we have a right to know.
Please read another idea to drive administrative accountability here
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1. Overall growth rate of 7.6% GDP over the Q2 of 2007-2008. Sector growth rate (selected sectors): manufacturing: 5%; construction: 9.7%; trade, hotels, transport and communication: at 10.8%; financing, insurance, real estate and business services: 9.2%; community, social and personal services: 7.6%; agriculture, forestry & fishing: 2.7%, Estimates for 2008-2009 Q2, The Central Statistical Organisation (CSO), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation
2. Yes, there is slight fallacious reasoning here in my equating “construction” activity with skyrocketing real estate prices etc, incongruous pay scales in the finance industry etc. However, I feel the point holds.