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India What Ails India?

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
What Ails India?

Sep 29, 2010
author/source: Vikram Chhabra

India is making the headlines again. As its capital city of New Delhi gets ready to host the 19th Commonwealth Games, accusations of corruption, inadequate security, and apparent inefficiencies by the organizing committee have left the successful holding of the event in serious doubt.

The media has been quick to label the games as India’s Shame Games, and a majority of public opinion seems to agree. According to Moody’s, India’s overall rating as an investment and business destination has been severely impacted by the negative press related to the games. This is irrespective of whether the games are successful or not. Already several well-known athletes have declined participation, citing either security or hygiene concerns. Daily reports on the behind-schedule venue preparation, low-living standards at the athlete’s village, a collapsed bridge outside the main stadium, and a live snake being found in one of the village rooms, have only added to the woes of the management committee.

India’s experience with national shame is not a new phenomenon. Many of its attempts in the past, to hurl itself forward in its dream of becoming a global superpower have failed.

In 1962, as a direct result of the then Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru’s Forward Policy, India found itself in a state of war with the People’s Republic of China. Nehru’s Forward Policy was an extension of India’s desire to flex its muscles against its northern neighbor on a long standing border dispute. It was believed at the time that India’s rising status, as a superstar of the post-colonial world, made her a military and economic power to be reckoned with. The Chinese would buckle to their apparently stronger neighbor.

What happened was the reverse of what had been expected. In what remains India’s worst military defeat ever, the Chinese army smashed Indian defenses and occupied several thousand square-miles of Indian land. The Chinese achieved not only a military victory but triumphed politically and diplomatically as well. They voluntarily withdrew their troops from the occupied Indian regions and returned to the original disputed border.

India’s image was shattered in the world’s consciousness. Its ability to harness its internal strength, to propel itself to the next level of global power, was in put in severe doubt and remained so for several decades.

Could an impending fiasco in the Delhi Commonwealth Games mean another 1962 for India?

Internally India finds herself at odds with unending internal conflict, which to this day threatens her very existence. Human rights violations by the Indian state to oppress secession, as well as inaction against perpetrators of communal genocide of minorities like Sikhs and Muslims, continue to sully India’s image as a viable and powerful democracy in the global arena.

A vast majority of India’s educated middle class tends to ignore these ground realities. Centuries of caste and tribally based discrimination have left significant portions of the population in a state of undignified and inhumane poverty. The apathy of the educated middle class, in its quest for global recognition, is an unfortunate consequence.

Perhaps this collective apathy, to the suffering of others is rooted in the often misunderstood Indian spiritual concept of “Karma”. You receive what you deserve. People are poor or of lower caste, because of their karma.

Collective Indian apathy is seemingly extended, into a national indifference to corruption. Corruption has firmly rooted itself in the Indian way of doing things. A thriving “black” economy prevents the government from obtaining dire needed tax money to finance nation-building infrastructure. Most business is conducted under the shadow of a corrupt mindset, which has scared foreign investors.

Why does India find herself repeatedly in this foot in the mouth situation? Her strength remains as unused potential energy, and many-a-time, when the world takes a moment to notice, she fails to deliver.

Perhaps the answers lie in understanding the Indian psyche, which has developed and matured, over the centuries of her long existence, as an influential civilization of the world.

Dr. Amartya Sen, in his well received set of essays, titled “The Argumentative Indian”, insinuates that the Indian psyche is one which wishes to continuously intellectualize and discuss issues on an ideological level. Foreigners visiting India often come back with an image of a country where a great many people talk about what should be done, but where nobody is actually doing anything to fix the problems.

Many claim that this argumentative nature arose as most of India’s challenges were ideological. It could be counter-argued that in order to prevent foreign invasions, the Chinese built a great wall, whereas India argues over the implications of past foreign invasion to this very day.

Any attempt to criticize or critique the problems India faces is seen as an attack on national honor. It is immediately countered with irrelevant arguments on problems in other countries or how foreign powers like Britain, robbed India of her wealth.

Much of this has to do with the Indian desire to be recognized as a global power. This desire is rooted in her ancient history when Indian civilization dominated the global landscape. The latter period, of nearly a thousand years of foreign domination is an abomination, which India wishes to redeem itself of.

This raw, emotional desire seems to overshadow the overall indifference people have towards the real issues. Most middle-class Indians feel that India has already arrived, even though the rest of the world still has its doubts.

By today’s standards, a superpower must dominate the world in three areas: Militarily, Economically and in the arena of Sports.

In all of these three areas, there is much work India needs to do.

The lackadaisical approach of India in addressing her problems could also be related to a theory, which hypothesizes why cold climate northern countries eventually dominated world politics. The harsh winter they had to endure, led them to evolve into efficient societies, in which each person must be sufficiently disciplined in his or her job. Any failure by one threatened the survival of all. Thus, effective systems evolved, which grew in power, as people were encouraged to think out of the box and take significant risk.

India never had to deal with harsh winters. This, perhaps, is the reason behind the natural inefficiencies of most of the systems within its society. Life goes on, as the threat to survival is minimal. The proficiency in the skills of project management, necessary for big projects like the Commonwealth Games, therefore, never fully evolved.

India’s inefficient approach to issues such as terrorism has resulted in her being easy prey to attacks, such as those that occurred in Mumbai in 2008.

A few years ago, the United States Air Force conducted joint exercises with the Indian Air Force for the very first time. The Americans were very impressed with the Indians capabilities and technological advances. However, they came back with one impression, which was officially documented. Indians have great tactical skills, but they fail to think strategically.


Strategic thinking is the ability to see the bigger picture. It is needed, in order to solve the bigger problems that face the nation. Problems such as poverty, caste and communal divide must be addressed at a strategic level, rather than short term tactical endeavors.

The past can never be rewritten. Neither should it be forgotten. However for a great nation like India, to attain her rightful place in the comity of nations, her citizens must perform a paradigm shift in their way of thinking. The change required is in outlook, rather than the superficial imitation of others.

Pockets of change are occurring. India’s recent success of launching a lunar probe Chandrayaan is a symbol of her dormant ability to successfully manage difficult projects to completion. However, much more needs to be done, as the problems besetting the Delhi Commonwealth Games are so direly indicating.

Perhaps it is time to stop blaming corrupt politicians and bureaucrats for all the mishaps. The disease lies within.

source: http://i-zeen.com/articles/What-Ails-India


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Soul_jyot ji

There is also much that is good in India. Positive change comes about when we are able to build on the positives with conviction. Psychology has found this to be true in almost every field. For example, tennis players who engage in systematic imagery of the times when they have done something with skill and imagine themselves performing that way over and over become more skillful.

Criticism in a democratic society is a fundamental right and a necessity in order to root out the negatives and make changes according to public will. Change what is wrong by building a foundation on what is right. Public discourse in India does indeed engage in self-criticism. Has that been effective? or demoralizing?

From where I sit 9 1/2 time zones away, it seems to me that India's critics almost never celebrate her victories over history. Or build on her miraculous accomplishments. Maybe it is time for India to try that out.



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