A Nation Teetering on the Brink of Anarchy, Divisiveness, Pervasive Corruption and Sinking Standards
Perhaps as a reaction to all this anarchy, the declared candidate for the top job of PM for the principal opposition party, the BJP, belongs originally to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a puritanical shadowy organization which propagates several philosophies & ways of life which can at times be decidedly Victorian. In a country which has the third highest Muslim population in the world, the RSS advocates unabashed Hindu supremacy and remains an autocratic, opaque organization outside of India's mainstream politics. The BJP which is its political wing and currently the principal opposition party nationally, needs the nod of the RSS chief for any and all key internal appointments. The man himself, Narendra Modi or NaMo as the popular acronym coined by his social media advisors goes, has a shadowy past and little is known about his early personal or professional life aside from the fact that he used to be a dedicated RSS pracharak ( evangelist ) and ran a roadside tea stall for several years. His claim to ignominy is that, as the incumbent Chief Minister, he connived at the riots between the Hindu majority and the most significant religious minority community in his home state of Gujarat in 2002 and possibly even held back the law enforcement authorities from acting swiftly and decisively to stop the carnage, when required. His claim to fame is that he has run the state of Gujarat efficiently, has won elections thrice after being nominated by his party to replace his predecessor who resigned as Chief Minister in 2001, and has initiated & implemented successfully several big-ticket infrastructure development projects during his tenure as CM. It needs to be mentioned though that Gujarat has always been one of the most prosperous states of India and while Modi's track record in terms of GDP growth has undoubtedly been pretty good, he has failed to address several areas of priority and concern over the years. He has also relentlessly used high-powered PR agencies and an army of social media publicists to project his 'achievements' even though several of them don't quite hold up in the face of rigorous fact-checking.
His opponent from India's oldest political party, the Congress, which has been in power for over 9 years now, is Rahul Gandhi, a member of India's first family in politics. While he spent much of his early life away from politics, living for quite some years in the U.S.A & U.K., he came back in his early 30s largely owing to the wishes of his mother, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, who had formally assumed the role of Chairperson for the party a few years earlier. His sporadic efforts for over a decade to rejuvenate the fortunes of his party in several states haven't quite paid off. His disappearances often from the scene of action have been the cause of much hand-wringing by party workers. As a Member of Parliament (MP) he has been mainly conspicuous by his frequent absences and his almost invariable silences during debates on high-profile issues. He has steadfastly refused to join the Union Cabinet as a Minister and has, till now, refrained from throwing his hat into the ring for the top job in 2014, even though there is a growing orchestrated clamour from his party colleagues to do so.
Neither of these two men have till now articulated any kind of plausible vision for where they want to take the country as Prime Minister, nor have they outlined any kind of coherent and long-term strategy for tackling some of the many priority issues and areas needing attention and sustained action.
Both these men hope to head a coalition government, if they manage to tot up the required numbers after the elections. NaMo (Modi) is widely perceived as a divisive figure and hence it is anticipated that the BJP will hardly be able to cobble together much of a coalition with him at the helm of such a coalition.
Over the last several years, instances of rape and molest have grown exponentially and threaten to spiral out of control in certain regions of the country. Considering that those reported to the law & order enforcement authorities constitute a small percentage of the actual instances, the authorities are at their wits' end about how to curb this trend. While some gruesome instances sparked widespread protests and revulsion, many other instances have been forgotten and buried in the labyrinthine machinery of India's creaking judicial system. Prosecution rates for all such cases continue to be pitifully low and the law regarding juveniles, who are getting increasingly involved in these cases, needs a much-needed relook.
Corruption at all levels continues to be pervasive. While big-ticket instances of corruption, particularly those involving politicians, are written and talked about extensively, indulgence in corrupt practices runs right through society. There seems to be a tacit acceptance of the fact that to get anything done, in a reasonable period of time, there is no getting away from greasing the 'right' palms. Activists who rail about corruption in society periodically are not above indulging corrupt individuals & institutions when the need arises.
Infrastructure, be it a network of national highways, healthcare, education or even basic civic amenities, is woefully inadequate still in large parts of the country, including many cities & towns. While schemes, at times grandiose ones, are frequently announced by national & local political parties & politicians, implementation is mostly tardy and spotty. Besides, implementation efforts mostly have no long-term sustenance, so in many cases, after initial signs of hope & cheer, things are back to square one.
Having lost out in manufacturing, largely to China, India has been trying to focus on the service industry. Efforts in this area have also been less-than-satisfactory. Among other factors, there have been inadequate government initiatives in the matter of developing certain sectors (e.g. tourism ), trained and experienced people are not easy to come by and, most organizations do not invest in much-needed training of personnel. Attitudes of enterprises and individuals in the matter of customer orientation leave a lot to be desired and experiences of the kind yours truly faced with a well established TSP are more the routine rather than the exception.
The Indian economy has slowed down significantly in recent times and for sometime in the future at least, will not be out of the woods. Inflation, current account deficits and a steadily weakening currency have been major causes of concern that the administration has been grappling with for a while. The Gini coefficient has been on the rise and widening inequities & disparities in society will in turn give rise to growing social tensions. The clip below outlines well the predicament India's economy is faced with presently.
Amidst all this doom and gloom, possibly the only silver lining for Indians is the strength of their democratic traditions & institutions which, despite several batterings in the past, have withstood the test of time. It will indeed be a pity if a large number of Indians, frustrated and disillusioned with the present state of affairs, decide that a spell of autocratic rule is really the pill India needs to swallow. Jettisoning democracy, as a panacea for all the ills mentioned earlier, would be akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater.