Monday, August 17, 2015

India at 68 - Time to fully leverage diversity

India celebrates its 69th Independence Day today. The very first
moments of its independence Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru struck an
awesome aspirational note. Today, most remembrances and
commemorations are busy evaluating India's progress or lack thereof.
The aspirational element seems to be weakening. Don't get me wrong,
there is an awful lot to be proud of and an equally awful lot to be
worried. Despite all challenges India's democracy continues its march.
The state of the Indian union is far from perfect but it's holding up.

The most fervent desire of India's founding generation was to create a
nation that belonged to every single citizen. And ciitzens felt a true
sense of ownership. They wanted a nationalism that was not jingoistic
but humanistic. They wanted India to become the greatest exponent of
democracy. They were weary of majoritarianism, they were weary of
identity-driven oppression, they were weary of unfair markets and they
were weary of foreign intervention. Today, India has more or less
embraced the market as its vehicle for economic evolution and has
little fear of foreign intervention. India's sovereignty and
confidence in the community of nations is unchallenged. But
majoritarianism and identity-driven discrimination is still alive.
Most worryingly, hyper-active in the political realm. It simply
dominates there. This regressive nature of India's polity is
eventually going to be the drag in its pursuit to fulfill the dream of
its founders. Let's be clear that this drag is impacting millions of
lives. Millions who if fully accepted, institutionally and socially,
could dramatically enhance the nation's economic prospects through
their ingenuity and productivity. A polity that pays lip service to
diversity but contests elections on polarizing identity-based
campaigns is self-defeating. The deafening chorus of creating a great
India from this misguided polity is intellectually disingenuous.
Perhaps because their very definition of India itself is incomplete. 
Sounds weird that 68 years later we are still seeking the definition
of India's true nationalism. To some it's just territory plus
traditions. To others it also includes people. The ordinary, toiling
millions who are still surviving day to day. To me, it's all of the
above. Any definition of India that excludes any group based on
identity is an incomplete and thus, wrong definition. This isn't about
competing nationalisms but about ensuring any nationalism that is
prescribed meets a minimum threshold of humanism. And this isn't
necessary just from a moral stand point. The Indian economy's vibrancy
will completely depend on the vitality of its human capital. The more
our polity shackles this human capital by chains of identity the less
energy will be available for India to meet its true destiny. Diversity
isn't just a feel good concept but it's a very real ingredient for
success in a globalized and sophisticated world. 
I am still waiting for corporate India to throw up a critical mass of
progressive leaders who drive home this point about diversity. That's
one quarter from which we rarely hear much about the social conditions
that are needed to create an innovative, creative and skilled
workforce they badly need. If they continue to pander to political
outfits that merely promise less regulation and nothing more then it
is hard to see corporate India staying competitive. 
Its time to create that great confluence of progressive ideas that
pull in currents not just from the intellectual class driven by an
aspirational moral order but also from the entrepreneur and business
class with whom now lies the economic well being of this 68 year young
democracy of 1.2 billion people. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Gandhi's Martyrdom

67 years on from the day a cold-blooded murderer ended the Mahatma's life the emotions that surges is still grief. The depravity of his murder is still hard to comprehend. How could a being whose every fiber imbibed the best humanity has ever offered be assassinated? And for so many of us to see the Mahatma's murderer being openly celebrated simply sends shock waves.

It is arguable that no one in the current power structure can call the Mahatma's murderer just that - a murderer. I've struggled to overlook this aspect of the BJP/RSS combine. I genuinely want them to succeed in solving the nation's problems but the underbelly of their existence is just so corrosive for a pluralistic India. The country could certainly benefit from an economically right-wing yet socially inclusive political entity. But that will remain a pipe-dream as long as the hostile, majoritarian agenda is tolerated even if in small and calculated measures.

Today I want to lament the loss of a progressive political force that would articulate Gandhi in the 21st century. The AAP is still filled with contradictions although they've come a really long way but still remain ideologically unhinged. And, I would like to reserve my sharpest critique and disappointment for the Indian National Congress. Despite a positive governing record over 10 years they were utterly incapable of communicating with the people. The incessant scams didn't help either. For better or worse the messenger does matter as much as the message. PM Modi's team deserves a lot of credit to rehabilitate his image. That doesn't mean that the pursuit for justice for the victims of 2002 is complete. Far from.

On this Martyr's Day, as recognized in India, let's connect with the spirit of that movement of freedom that aimed for something much beyond a change of rulers. It aimed at freedom from discrimination, violence and ignorance. Battles against all three still raging. It isn't revolution that we need but a sense of national mission that finally delivers on Gandhi's dream. In his own words:

The India of my dreams is a nation where every man and woman feels that their efforts are going in making his or her own nation.

The ultimate homage to the martyrs will be to create that sense of belonging among all citizens and the diaspora as well.