For people like us—very privileged Indians (VPIs)—the lockdown has viscerally brought home what yogis, quantum physicists and acid freaks (Steve Jobs, amongst them) have been saying for years: that space and time do not actually exist; they are merely constructs to provide amusement.
For most Indians, however, it is not amusement but terror—the pandemic and lockdown has been a horror show of uncertainty, fear and deprivation. Many VPIs have, of course, stepped up to the plate and have been providing support in different ways, and, in some cases, continue to do so, as a result of which the situation in the country is, while still terrible, not as bad as it could be.
Discovering a “giving” streak within us is all to the good, but the truth is that it cannot continue like this. It is not the job of civil society, however well-meaning, to provide fundamental support (including food, housing, healthcare, education) to the less privileged members of our society. It is by definition, squarely the responsibility of our government, which, as is tragically apparent, has fallen down on the job. To be sure, it is not only this government that has failed, but all others that have come before it, and, indeed, in the current circumstance at least, the governments in most countries in the world. The very few notable examples are some governments in Europe, Japan and the East Asian countries; China, which is always a trick to figure out, may also rank reasonably high in delivering value to the majority of its citizens, certainly over the past five or ten years.
It is apparent, looking around the globe, that the worst offenders are governments that are primarily focused on politics as opposed to governance. In some cases, like the US, it appears possible that the upcoming change of guard will bring at least a semblance of focus on the people. In India, whether Modi sweeps back in in 2024 or there is some hodge-podge that is able to dethrone him, the situation will not change, because, in either case, there will be no change from politics as usual. The recent natak in the Congress party confirms this in spades. And, without a fundamental shift, we ain’t going nowhere, but further down the tubes
To my mind, the fundamental shift we need has to be to free the government (and us) from the clutches of political parties. It is significant that “… the word political party is rarely used in the [Indian] Constitution …”, yet political parties continue to control and drive our lives in every way. I have always believed that political parties are primarily responsible for many, if not most, of our troubles. Once a party is formed, it has to pay rent for its office, which automatically leads to a need for money, which, of course, is just the starting point of the focus on money, money, money. Again, once the party is formed and has started enjoying the “fruits of office”, it needs to be able to continue to enjoy these goodies, which means it needs to focus single-mindedly on how to stay in power, which automatically pushes governance to (at best) second position.
What we need is a new politics where Parliament (and state assemblies and municipal corporations) is (are) loaded with INDEPENDENT members, who are educated, focused on governance and speak their conscience. Indeed, in 2009, Meera Sanyal stood as an independent candidate in South Bombay and her grassroots campaign gave the sitting MP, Milind Deora, such a scare that he had to get no less than then PM, Manmohan Singh, to provide verbal support. Unfortunately, Meera lost—and badly—but it was, in some ways, something of a turning point with educated, committed people beginning to see the need for them to enter politics.
While the intervening years did not see any such surge—the birth of AAP, perhaps, the only reflection of peoples’ demand for real governance—the situation today has changed beyond recognition. The government continues to announce grand schemes—some of which could, theoretically at least, enable us to build long-term strength—but it remains blissfully blind to the real needs of the people; it clearly believes that, given the disarray in the opposition, it will be able to continue to steamroll the electorate.
However, this time there are changes happening on the ground—all over the country, there are thousands of young, committed, right-thinking people, most of whom are directly involved with community service, understand that people need real support, not promises, and, who, in most cases, are building political capabilities; I know four of them myself, two in Mumbai and one each in UP and Bihar.
As VPIs, we need to find as many Indians like this as we can, support them (both financially and with other critical enablers) and help them change the country. From where we are, it would seem we have no place to go but up and for damn sure the current dispensation has neither the interest nor the ability to build a truly open, independent India.
As always, and appropriately, it is up to us!
The author is CEO, Mecklai Financial. Views are personal