Independence Day?

On 15th August of each year we commemorate an event that in beginning to have less and less meaning to the common man – our Independence Day.

Many years ago, sometimes it seems too long ago, Nehru called out over the radio that we had made a tryst with destiny and that it had been fulfilled in some measure by our achievement of independence.

A lot of time has flowed under the bridge since those heady days when the Union Jack was lowered and the Indian tricolor went up. We plumbed the depths of being a socialist economy and then climbed on to the crest of the knowledge economy. What the roadways, railways and airways could not achieve, fibre optics and mobile telephony have and the nation is truly connected along its length and breadth. We have gone from three models of cars to a profusion in terms of choice. The buildings are bigger, the schools more expensive and Hollywood looks at India as a serious destination.

But these are just the sheen on what is essentially a rotting apple.

Starting at the core, we have essentially abdicated our responsibility as members of a democracy. Most of us hardly ever cast our votes and when we do they are cast on the basis of caste and not performance. Today a Mulayam Singh Yadav or a Mayawati or a Karunanidhi or a Scindia is assured of x number of votes based on their caste. They just need to swing the free votes to their side to win. The kingdoms may have gone, but the kings haven’t.

Then there is the culture of corruption that has embedded itself in us like a parasite. The people are corrupt and the officers are corrupt. It is a self-propagating ecosystem and no matter how much noise is made nobody really wants to change the status quo. Chip away at the noise and the anger and you will see that it comes from a sort of awe and jealousy at people who deal in crores rather than wanting to take on corruption as a whole.

The less said about the morass called education, the better. The government (read people) have failed miserably on this front. There is not a single government school in the country that can be held up as an example as a model school while there are thousands that can provide case studies on how not to run a school. For all the noise the Prime Minister makes about “education for all”, the fact is education has been priced out of the common man’s reach.

Food security is just short of laughable. If it wasn’t such a serious topic, it would provide enough and more fodder, pardon the pun, for stand-up comics. In our quest for rice and wheat, we have skewed crop production to eliminate everything that dieticians suggest as good food. In the last decade food prices have gone up almost 100%.

Which brings us to another sad chapter in Indian life – medical support. Large swathes of this tiny country (Yes, you read right. Let’s stop kidding ourselves, India isn’t so large) go without even the basic medical facilities. Hilariously, the state of Tamil Nadu has legalized quacks with the caveat that they should mention on their boards that they are “non-qualified medical practitioners”. There isn’t much further for us to fall from there.

66 years on, it seems that we have regressed more than progressed in fulfilling that tryst with destiny.

Yes, there are success stories in the midst of this quagmire of failure. The Amul program, Chennai’s water harvesting program, are just a few examples of when the people and governments have worked together to pull out of a crisis. Until we have more such stories, enough to volumes, we can celebrate all the Independence Days we want, but the truth is we will remain where we are a third-world country desperately trying to act like it has grown up. No amount of inter-continental missiles and nuclear bombs will save us from the threat that we are to ourselves.


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