By Ananya S Guha
The country is at cross roads. Although tall claims are being made about cleanliness campaign (swachh bharat), poverty eradication, demonetization, uniformity of goods and services tax, the changes are not visible. There are conflicting reports about the amount of black money generated; the goods and services tax have left those in small businesses in a quandary.
The inner paradoxes, that constitute the body politic of our nation, are all too evident. On the one hand, we reiterate repeatedly the secular ideals of a nation, and its rightful diversity. On the other hand, we are trapped in this diversity, by proclaiming again and again that history of the country was distorted and the enormous wrong must be righted. We mouth the platitude of secularism, but practice the ideology of sectarianism. There are many who lament this, and vocally protest against it.
The time has come to take stock and find out whether things are going from bad to worse, or have matters improved in terms of economy, corruption, and overall functioning of government departments. Three years, some say, are enough for a government to make changes.
What is the situation of poverty in India – has it decreased? What development has taken place in rural areas, in terms of housing or, communication? Has the rural urban divide lessened? If we are talking about internet connectivity, what is the state of road connectivity, in intractable areas, say of North East India? How are we going to overcome problems in accessibility of education, wipe out teacher absenteeism, and look at the education of drop outs and street children? Is our health care adequate?
Anyone having even an iota of love for the country must look at these matters dispassionately. But both rightists and leftists have failed to rise above petty party politics. And some of the intellectuals, writers, and artists are also guilty of the same crime, too. No one is willing to take an objective and unbiased view. Positions are taken, sides are chosen – thus dividing not only the body politic but intellectual opinion in the country. If we constantly point fingers at what is not done, why don’t we go and do it ourselves with ‘like minded’ friends? The mere venting out of one’s anger via social media is not a concrete solution at all.
The current situation in India goes somewhat like this: my way of an essential patriotism is right, yours is wrong; your nationalism is different from mine; your reading and interpretation of history is subversive, mine is right, etc. We shout at each other, especially on television platforms. In the midst of this, the poor, voiceless Indians go missing, who are perhaps not interested in such debates, but struggle hard, braving adverse and deleterious weather conditions or floods, to simply eke out a living. The middle class, whose grouse is endless, goes on shouting with much bravado, while attempting to climb the ruthless rungs of social and economic ladder.
It is time to rise above party and partisan politics, view matters with circumspection and objectivity, and think seriously about the vulnerable segments of society. We are being heaped with statistics from all sides. How does this help? To write erudite papers? To inundate the statistical bureau with more information and no action? For example, we hear again and again that the gross enrolment ratio in education is abysmally low. But what about retention rate after this? Can anyone quote the actual figures? Is there any concrete study on GST in terms of who get affected and who actually benefit? Intellectuals and economists must go into a mode of enquiry, dispassionately, without taking positions, a syndrome haunting our country.
The country continues to suffer and bleed. The diversity and unity of the country keep on eroding. The idiot box continues to spawn more idiots. A great deal of responsibility must be borne by the so-called intellectuals, who need to come down from their ivory towers to see the plight of the poor. The marginalized and the vulnerable are far removed from many of the lofty, and sometimes useless, debates that dot our imaginative landscape. The core issue should be poverty, housing for the poor, and employment generation.
Ananya S Guha is Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Shillong.
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