Aug 14, 2008

India - Many Dreams

India would be celebrating its 62nd Independence Day in the backdrop of a highly turbulent domestic political and internal security environment, a slowing global economy, and a resurgent China that has — yet again — managed to defy legions of sceptics by hosting what so far seems to be the most spectacular and geo-politically among the most impactful one.
For me personally, the ongoing Beijing Olympics have made more impact than any other previous editions. For starters, the theme “One World One Dream” — utopian though it may sound — is extremely apt in the context of conflicts across the globe, forcing billions to live under the perpetual shadow of terrorism and war. India itself seems to be besieged with myriad tensions and internal conflicts — many of them of its own making — that have the potential to lead to a Balkanisation of the Republic if not checked immediately.
It is yet too early to imagine the immediate and the long-term impact of the Beijing Olympics not only on China but on the rest of the world. However, one of the most compelling messages for India can be actually taken from the short and simple inaugural ceremony speech of Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, who said that the Olympics are “about much more than performance alone. They are about the peaceful gathering of 204 National Olympic Committees — regardless of ethnic origin, gender, religion or political system. Please compete in the spirit of the Olympic values: excellence, friendship and respect”. This simple but extraordinarily powerful message can be adapted specifically for India by our political and civil leadership in myriad ways to douse the myriad internal conflicts and unclog the political logjams that are now once again stymieing the badly needed economic growth and social reform.
While at it, Indians must also urgently and very seriously reflect on an extremely relevant sub-theme of “excellence”. Anyone who would have had the good fortune to watch the Olympic opening ceremony “live” on August 8 would have been mesmerised and awed by the sheer audacity of imagination and the absolute perfection of execution within the architecturally breathtaking main stadium that will now become yet one more of the many globally recognisable landmarks of modern China. Yes, China may have used an unprecedented amount of money and its iron fist to achieve this outcome but that should not take anything away from the fact that no one can now accuse China of being capable of only churning out cheap, low-cost goods and services for the rest of the world. China may well have now joined the ranks of the few nations that set standards of creativity and excellence for the rest of the world.
Contrast this quest for excellence of China with the all-pervasive mediocrity that has engulfed India in just about every sphere but most visibly telling in the design and execution of public infrastructure and private spaces. “Modern” Gurgaon in the National Capital Region epitomises just about everything that is wrong with Indian infrastructural development: no semblance of any kind of master planning, no semblance of any kind of public transport, each new office building and shopping mall uglier and more dysfunctional than the previous one, every road including the much-delayed and so-named expressway more clogged and more pock-marked than ever, and just about every basic civic amenity, be it electricity or water or sanitation and sewage disposal or law & order conspicuous by near absence. The Commonwealth Games are less than two years away, and yet Delhi has never been more chaotic and disorderly than it is now. While the rest of the world continuously upgrades its infrastructure while ambitiously pushing the envelope, the only envelopes (and suitcases) we seem to be pushing are the type news channels purportedly capture in stage-managed sting operations. As China opens newer and more efficient airports almost on a weekly basis, the Mumbai airport temporarily shuts down on account of potholes even on the runways, and the operators of the newly opened Bangalore airport have to be told by the government to immediately start working on a new terminal since the airside passenger handling capacity of the newly inaugurated terminal is already woefully short of meeting even the current peak passenger loads!
India and Indians should stop blaming our democracy for all the ills that they face on the eve of the 62nd Independence Day. Democracy cannot be seen as the subterfuge for stalling reform, stunting economic and social growth, haphazard redevelopment of urban and rural infrastructure, and for accepting mediocrity all around. Alas, if this dangerous line of thinking is allowed to seep in the psyche of the hundreds of millions of very young Indians, they may well end up shunning democracy itself which itself is a horrifying spectre. By the time the Beijing Olympics end, they would have demonstrated how individual and national dreams can be achieved if only there is a determined quest for succeeding and excelling! I hope that the 1.2 billion Indians choose for themselves a powerful motivational theme: One India, Many Dreams, Unflinching Resolve!

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