Monday, September 07, 2009

Manic Monday - Are we Indians truly worth it?

Andie McDowell, Aishwarya Rai and Eva Longoria look us in the face and say - 'Because you're worth it'. But are we really worth it??? India is reeling under swine flu. That said, I just saw some reports of Chikungunya cases being reported in AP. Even a bustling metropolis like Mumbai was not spared. Pune and Mumbai became swine flu spots. And the administration received well deserved flak for not having a proper process in place to check the pandemic! We are supposed to be the sunshine country of the future. Linked with China, poised for growth, harbingers of the world economic order! And here we are faced with drought, (which climatologists claim is a natural occurrence once every 5-6 years, scientifically), a pandemic, the world economy is hit and all hell has broken loose!

Dr. Amartya Sen in his book Development as Freedom has compared the India-China story and described how the Communist, populist regime of China pre-reform focused on 'people development'. One can attribute some level of the people-centric policies to the Chinese culture, where education and all-inclusive health care are principles ingrained into their psyche. Chinese and Japanese were supposed to be the lodestars of human civilization and culture in the ancient times, after all. So, an offshoot of this deep culture, stood them in good stead, whereby by the time China got ready for reforms in 1979, they had a prepared, educated population all set to exploit the reformed economy to the fullest and steam roll their way into the future.

Could we perhaps even attribute this process to communism? Communism, as a philosophy speaks of 'down with the owner-worker relationship' 'everything belongs to everyone'. So could it be that these deep populist, equitable distribution seekers could allow this philosophy to creep into the realm of governance and ensure all inclusive provision of basic facilities? Take Cuba, for instance - it is supposed to have the best education and health care system in that part of the world. The statistics speak for themselves. 4th highest in literacy rate, with literacy rate almost reaching 80%. Before the Cuban Revolution, Cuba had the third-highest number of doctors per capita in Latin America, the mortality rate was the third lowest in the world, infant mortality rate was the lowest in Latin America and the 13th lowest in the world, and life expectancy was some ten years higher than the Latin American average. Kerala - the Indian state with the highest literacy rate, and maximum institutional births in India. Although industrial growth has been dismal, quality of life for the people is rather high in comparison to the rest of India. The key again was inclusion in provision of health care and education, that resulted in overall upliftment.

So, while China was prepared for the liberalization movement, India in contrast, when she liberalized her economy, opened up the economy to grossly under prepared people, who were still majorly illiterate and perhaps never understood the modalities of a liberal economy. As a result, to a very great extent, it appears as if the whole liberalization regime was either too premature, given India's gross lack of preparedness to rise up to the challenge, or the developmental part has a lot of catching up to do, to make up for the lost ground.

That said, it is perhaps not enough to just develop pockets. It doesn't make sense to have the most opulent sea facing mansion on one end, and Asia's largest slum on the other end of a city's spectrum. Unfortunately, this spectrum is indicative of the pattern existing in India as a whole as well, with interior India still struggling for electricity and water, while some other regions grapple with issues of floods. It is all a bit murky, and a lot of sorting out needs to be done. But at least the administration seems to have its heart in the right place. There has not been a famine in India since 1947, and Dr. Sen attributes this to the fact that we have a democracy, that ensures that vote bank politics prevents governments in office from not taking adequate steps to arrest famine in the wake of food shortages. One just hopes for words to get translated into actions and we hope that a sunshine nation like ours may not still, after 62 years of independence, grapple with issues like drought, policy initiated 'food crises' or curable diseases turning into pandemics!

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