Thursday, March 02, 2006

A great nation 26 February 2006

For a country that was widely regarded as 20th century’s great disappointment, it must feel good that the 21st has begun rather nicely. India is today one of the world’s fastest growing economies, and there is even talk of it becoming a great power. No doubt Mr Bush will also remind us of it this week. I must confess, however, that such talk leaves me cold.

I ask myself what is “great” about a “great power”. I learn more about India’s greatness when an old friend in New Jersey tells me that she has decided to return home to Tanjore because she cannot live without Carnatic music. Or my bania’s son says he is leaving for America because he couldn’t get admission into a good college here. He adds, “There are opportunities here for the best and for the corrupt, but anyone can make it in America.”

George Perkovich says that military might is not sufficient for greatness. America was a great power in the 1970s; yet it lost to a very poor Vietnam. Soviet Union, another great power then, stumbled against an even poorer Afghanistan. Neither are nuclear weapons essential. For then Pakistan would also be great. Hyphenating India and Pakistan diminishes us, but nuclear weapons, alas, are great equalizers. Nor is a permanent seat on the UN Security Council a measure of greatness. It would be healthier to lower its value in our self-perception because we are unlikely to get it soon.

My bania’s son is right--America is great because it is a land of opportunity. Sweden’s greatness lies in its welfare system that protects one from the cradle to the grave. Holland’s eminence lies in civil liberties. France is distinguished for its public support of culture. Norway is great because of its income distribution. Until recently, Japan’s excellence lay in job security. And England is remarkable for its sense of fairness.

I think India’s greatness lies in its self reliant and resilient people. We are able to pull ourselves up by our chappals and survive, nay, even flourish, when the state fails us at every turn. When teachers and doctors don’t show up in government primary schools and health centres, we don’t complain. We just open up cheap private schools and clinics in our slums, and get on with it. This makes us a tough and independent people. Fortunately, we are a young nation and the young Indian’s mind is now decolonised and liberated. You only had to look into Dhoni’s fearless eyes in Karachi last Sunday. But there also exists the fearful, old mindset, often among petty bureaucrats, who only know how to say “no”. Happily, they are doomed--you can tell by the way they sneeze or pare their nails.

Our democracy has released our spirits and brought us intimations of future greatness. Our economic success is more remarkable because it has been democratically produced. Our political freedoms are, of course, valuable in their own right, but they will also help sustain our coming prosperity. The shocking state of our governance, however, tells us how far we are from being a truly great nation. Moreover, we will only be able to call ourselves great when every Indian has access to a good school and a good health clinic. When our government realises that it doesn’t have to run these schools and clinics, but only to provide for them, will we achieve the Indian way to greatness.


Medical Blog said...

Hyphenating India and Pakistan diminishes us,
but nuclear weapons, alas, are great equalizers.

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