A gift of maturity
A gift of maturity
There comes a time when a modern nation succeeds in lifting the veil on its potentialities. A time, when what it says and does can be measured against objective yardsticks that place it among the emerging winners. That it should also coincide with the end of the fastest- paced century in history is indeed a most favourable augury. Year 2000 for India, apart from notching up 53 years of nationhood with its corpus intact, ends up telling us we haven’t done half badly.
Let us take food first- in a nation of a billion plus souls that might have fallen victim to a Malthusian spectre long ago, we seem to have enough surplus wheat to trade it for bruisingly expensive oil. Issues of clothing and shelter, the other two pillars of basic survival, have also been much alleviated. This despite the fact that we have grown up with a notoriously inefficient “command and control” economy for at least 44 of our 53 years. But still, roti, kapda aur makaan are no longer breast-beaters in the exclusive realm of political rhetoric and Bollywood melodrama. They need to be seen as issues being addressed and objectives attainable by most, if not all, our people in 2000.
We still can’t claim satisfaction in several other essentials like electricity, water, transportation, communications, medical care, education, environment and so on. But the fact is, there are new and relatively innovative moves being made in all these areas. We also have had respectable growth rates in year 2000, and the CII projects even better figures for next year. We are, in addition, sitting on the largest foreign currency reserves ever. So, even though the first private insurers are beginning to stir with all the purpose of pensioners, and DTH’s too-little-too-late advent seems as star-crossed as the expensive electricity from Enron’s Dabhol project-modernisation and globalisation are definitely here to stay.
They have become an aspirational thing, which, as every yuppie on the cocktail circuit will tell you, is worth twice as much as mere gold. Did we really expect cellphone toting sarpanches this soon, or cyclists hurtling away in their first Maruti 800s, or porter-carried refrigerators in the satellite dish speckled hinterland of Himachal? And what about the savvy we are displaying at international beauty pageants?
But how does this maturing nation of ours define itself now? Could it be that Dewang Mehta of Nasscom is right? He has been credited with floating the attractive notion that what oil has been to the Arabs, IT will be to India. And then there are other suitors in the wings. Think of the emerging Indian stories in bio-technology, genome tweaking, cheaper Viagra, multifarious medical research and virtuoso surgical techniques for a start. The fact is, in 2000, all of it somehow breathes with a new confidence. This is because, for the first time, India has high-tech things to sell at a price that the whole of the developed world unequivocally wants. We have skills that have come of age to propel us closer to the head table of that all powerful Group of 8. The bomb, no doubt, also had something to do with it, as did the masterful control displayed at Kargil, but these I cannot take into the accomplishments of the year 2000. Still, since greatness is often preceded by signs and portents, they merit mention as significant milestones.
We ourselves, may not even remark on the breathtaking rescue of our peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, nor on the trend of NRIs and Western expatriates coming to live and work in India, or on Indian managers being exported or even on MNCs salivating at the size of our markets. And again we may not even notice that the foreign coverage on India has become distinctly less disparaging. But we must admit to noticing a US President, one of the most charismatic ever, albeit in his last year in office, spending nearly a week, wooing, as opposed to condescending to us this year.
And talking past the platitudes on democracy, we should be proud of some of the liveliest debates in the world splashed across newsprint and screen daily. We should also take pride in our election process that counts 600 million votes, mostly by hand, with unerring accuracy and impressive speed. Ironically, our virtues are sometimes brought into prominence by the misfortunes of others.
And talking of misfortunes, we have, at length and with all due ponderousness, finally stripped bare the shenanigans of cherished cricketing heroes. In the process, more in sorrow than anger, we have also learned to distinguish between our love of the game and a few of its flawed practitioners. It may be a fine point to some, but this too we have discovered about ourselves this year.
And most recently, we have seen a prime minister who heads a large and unwieldy coalition giving voice to the explosive view that a particular mandir should be built where a certain mosque used to be. And this simultaneously with taking the boldest peace initiatives seen so far to resolve the festering crisis in Kashmir. He has done both these things with courage, and got the NDA to keep him on his horse, despite many among them only agreeing to disagree. This then is the acid test of maturity because since when has power been comfortable with principle?
The fact is, we are no longer afraid to look at things that contradict each other. And having admitted them to ourselves, we are prepared to press on as best as we can. This is surely a gift of maturity. A most valuable gift that has come us this year in accumulation to those gone by. And I have no doubt that it is this gift of maturity above all which will animate our progress into the bold new century to come.
( 978 words)
By Gautam Mukerji
First published in The Pioneer www.dailypioneer.com on Sunday, December 24th 2004 in the Dialogue column