I love my India! or India: The motherland, disappointing…

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http://ajaypamneja.com/blog/i-love-my-india-or-india-the-motherland-disappointing/

July 2007

I have just returned (26th July 2006) after travelling in India for two weeks. I spent my time in
Delhi, Saharanpur (UP) and Jalandhar (Punjab). Although having enjoyed my stay
with family and relatives, I have come back with a feeling of general
disappointment with the country I was born and brought up in. The booming
economy and flash new townships offering the comforts expected by an NRI from
the Western world cannot hide the missing components of a falsely claimed
‘prosperous’ society. India is indeed a land of contrasts and Grand Canyon sized
rifts between the rich and the poor. There are massive mansions and flash new
townships with squalor and filthy shanty towns as neighbours. This has been true
in the past as well, but then India was ranked amongst the ‘developing’ nations
and it is now a ‘major’ economy with an ‘open’ market wooing in ever increasing
foreign investments. What has this investment brought in for the nation’s
working class? I see more misery as they see no change for them, but massively
bigger houses and more fancy cars for their employers and the upper middle
classes. They are left to make do with struggling indigenous brands of goods or
the rejects from China which make their way into India, thanks to the new breed
of opportunists who have found new sources of cheap imitation goods to satisfy
the huge population which strives for the Western products, but can only afford
the 3rd rate rejects. India has always had a dual level of commerce with
substantial part of it not declared to the authorities. This massive grey
economy has been further accentuated with the opening of the markets to Western
companies. They (the foreign investors) saw the huge population as a massive new
insatiable customer base and their Indian collaborators saw it as another
opportunity to earn humongous profits in an uncontrolled and hopelessly
inefficient system. The tax collection systems are archaic and the people
responsible for running them still open to doing favours for the business
community in return for financial gains despite several claims by the government
to root out corruption. This is absolutely impossible to achieve in a country
like India where it is so deep rooted and has found a cosy home at every level
of public services starting from the very top in politics. It has been widely
argued for long that Democracy has not worked in India. Many reasons have been
cited including excessive poverty, huge population, innumerable languages and
regional differences and above all many religions. All the positive ideals of
Democracy have been twisted and turned by the politicians for their personal
gains. How else can you have state chief ministers lasting decades or handing
over power within their immediate family? Certainly not because they have
thought about the upliftment of the masses and put in place some exquisite
strategic development schemes and have been rewarded for it. This has been
possible only by the use of muscle power and having the wrong elements in the
society ensuring that the masses dare not vote against the current ruling party.
The politicians will stoop to any level including riots and silencing those who
dare speak against them. This is only possible because the whole system is so
badly infected and few have been educated of their rights. Any honest person who
wishes to speak against the system refrains from doing so for fear of reprisals
against them or their loved ones. I thought that this was the ill the world’s
democratic powers stood up to remove when they were trying to eliminate the
communists and fascist dictators. How well has India managed to embrace all
those evils into its democracy?

The favourite past time of most Indians is to moan about the corruption levels.
I believe that the relief will have to come from within the business community
who will have to find one honest person who really wishes to make a difference
and the community to support him/her and withdraw its backing of the corrupt
system for short term financial gains.

The massive land sale currently in vogue in most states in the country is
generating huge income for the state governments and in turn for the brokering
politicians, of course, most of it as private undeclared income. The developers
are raking in the billions by selling off much needed accommodation, often built
at sub-standard quality. The apartments in many of these developments, often
poorly finished, look awful even when keys are handed over to the first owners.
The finish quality has never been of priority for the Indian craftsmen. This is
not to say that they are incapable of doing so. My other major concern is that
these developers and the local politicians seem to forget that they also need to
attend to the sustenance of these townships; the utilities, the transport links,
the roads. Sanitation is often poor and not much better than that found in some
African nations which are so badly debt-ridden. The developers of such
residential townships do not seem to think of this as their responsibility to
provide the supporting infrastructure. The politicians seem to only think of
these as promises prior to elections which are conveniently forgotten soon after
they have been elected back (for the 10th time). How else would there have been
road schemes started 2 years ago still awaiting completion of the construction
phase or water supply schemes with roads dug up but no sign of workers and
completion for months or even years. Yes, broadband has arrived for the consumer
at home, but have you seen how it is delivered; with CAT 5e cables hung on poles
in the open, exposed to the elements, stretching across the street at times at
height no higher than 15 feet from the ground. So next time you have your new
custom built hand-made computer desk delivered to your home in a truck, you will
have to carry it in from the end of your street as the truck will be unable to
enter your street unless you want to damage the precarious supply of utilities
to the whole of your street. This is the state of affairs in Delhi, the nation’s
capital. No joke.

Talking about the commercial activity in India, there have always been two
elements to the revenue generated by any business; one declared and other much
chunkier undeclared business. This has, I guess, been in existence from the days
of the Raj, when the business community wanted to pay as little in taxes to the
British rulers as possible. This, I am sure, has always been known to the
authorities who have turned a blind eye, otherwise how would they get all those
huge donations, which have now proven to be the root of most ills in the
society. A massively new thinking is required to eradicate this from our system.
This grey economy is also well supported by the systems to make major capital
purchases for businesses and also private property. It is well known that the
recorded price is never the actual price, which could be several times higher.
This is no underground system but an open way of performing business in India.
This gives you an idea of the scale of the grey economy in India.

Any schemes to better the public services seem to take years in India to
complete. Even the scheme has had the relevant authorisation given, which in
itself could take years, and funds allocated to it and payments made to the
contractors, it could take years to complete the project although the digging up
may start soon, but the dug up road/site will not get completed for years (or
even moved further from the initial stages). Who cares about the inconvenience
caused to the residents or the motorists in the area? A development site will
remain an eyesore with heaps of building materials lying around till they rot
for years. Why do most shopping malls look like they have never been completed?
The Delhi Municipal Corporation awarded massive contracts to private firms
recently to keep the streets clean, but this public money again seems to have
been used to line a whole hierarchy of pockets as the streets are as dirty as
ever and act as the disease sources as they have been for the last 30 years in
parts of Delhi. Even this is beneficial for the local governments. The state
offers an appallingly poor health service. Most of the population relies on huge
amount of doctor’s surgeries and medical diagnostic centres to offer them the
medical services so often caused by the state by not offering the basic
sanitation and clean environment for its constituents. These doctors and other
medical professionals are amongst the richest in India and for obvious reasons,
are popular allies of the politicians. The spirit of the Hippocrates’ Oath every
doctor takes on becoming qualified no longer exists.

No wonder every poor working class person (and ones below) feel left out and
disenfranchised from the system. The booming economy and foreign investment has
brought nothing for them. Very few businesses in India plough any funds back
into the community. This is not the culture here. A rich man’s charity in India
extends only as far as offering servant quarters to their live-in aid who they
brought into their family as a child and has been with them for several decades
now with one short annual break allowed to visit his/her family in the rural
India.

Now compare this to China. A country with much higher population than India only
a couple of decades ago. A ‘forgotten’ Communist land till some American
corporates saw the potential offered by massively cheap labour a few years ago.
The authorities also used this for the benefit of their land and with some
strategic planning and forward thinking now excel in most fields and are ahead
of India in most fields, including science and technology and manufacturing. The
basic infrastructure in the land is of international standards. The poverty,
squalor and massive shanty towns much a part of all major Indian cities are
hardly visible even in the interiors of the countryside. Now ask a poor man in
India – Would you rather have the right to vote or clean streets and sufficient
food to feed his family?

Also see the link below, which is not a fair comparision – comparing a small town called Jaipur with the cosmopolitan Beijing, but nonetheless…

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