Sunday, August 14, 2011

Is Abadi really Barbadi?

I have a thing about 3G. As if the struggles that the common man is being subjected to by an indifferent and arrogant set of "elected representatives" is not enough, the latest inroads by 3G threaten to eat into family time as well. Computer and Internet addiction have already been receiving much attention as causing severe damage to our social structure, but an unhappy Abhishek at every street corner? Things couldn't have gotten worse. But on a serious note, it is perhaps not right to point a finger at the population figures as the cause for our downfall or barbadi.  It is the demographic numbers that have placed India at the cutting edge of outsourced business processes. It is the numbers that make us droolworthy to global exporters and retailers. And it is the numbers that will see the downfall of the few who have exploited their positions over the last several decades to corner wealth, to abuse natural resources, and to steal what belongs to each one of us Indians.

Do friends of friends on Facebook or Google Plus qualify to be called friends? I was faced with this question as I watched 100s of my "friends" meet up at Necklace Road in Hyderabad this morning, (a Sunday on the Raksha Bandhan - Independence Day weekend) to participate in a walk protesting corruption in governance, and supporting the civil society movement to bring about anti-corruption legislation.  This group of young men and women, mostly professionals, have no affiliation, have not sought any publicity, have no agenda. They coalesced out of the anger and helplessness that has been building up among the Indian educated middle class and spilling forth on social networks.

Where is this frustration coming from? The anger is not just directed at corrupt governance, but at the entire social inequity that has developed in the last several decades. With an evolving social fabric, where the omnipresent media has leveled the distinction between rich and poor in their reporting of lifestyles and aspirations, the middle classes no longer are satisfied with their middle class aspirations. When they further realize that much of the wealth of the rich has been procured through corrupt practices, they are further outraged. The same applies to the poorer classes. A common experience for commuters using autos in Hyderabad is the change factor. The auto driver no longer feels the compulsion to return change for the nearest ten rupees. He believes that if you are traveling in an auto, you do not have need for the change. When confronted, they are either candid in voicing their assumption that it is just a few rupees, how does it matter, or they are angered at being confronted.

The last few years have seen two things happening at the same time. The rich-poor divide has been growing at a faster pace than ever before, while the aspirations of the poor have been fast catching up with that of the rich. Add to this the revelations of corruption at every level, and the total impotence or indifference of the law and order machinery to address it, and you have a volatile mix. If the rioting in London is any indicator, we are best advised to learn our lessons fast. The generations before us have lived by values different from ours. They were to a great extent contented with the necessities of life.

Our times are different. We are bombarded by the lifestyles of the powerful and the wealthy, and made to realize that not being powerful and wealthy is the problem. We resent our parents for not having left behind enough for us to possess. The powerful and the wealthy further complicate matters by using their power and wealth for personal gain with total disregard for social or ethical concerns. Their pursuit of selfish aggrandizement fuels the insecurity of the masses. If the rich are worried about the future to a point where they keep creating more and more wealth for themselves, maybe that is the right thing to do. If the rich do nothing to address the economic inequities in their own backyard, why should we? With a recession behind and in front of us, and bombarded by the rush for stocking up on wealth as a philosophy, one would be foolish to not join the race.

Not only are the people accused in the recent scams unperturbed by their fate, they blithely go about their lives in jail, smiling at the media cameras on their days out, flashing victory signs as they hold governments to ransom, demanding that they be allowed to attend parliament, and threatening to tell all.

The tell all is however not something to be worried about. The rot is so universal that nobody who is part of the system will want to address it. This is applicable regardless of whether the person is involved in unethical practices himself or not. If he is involved, his reasons for not wanting to address it are clear. If he is not involved, any attempt to disturb the supply chain will result in his welfare being endangered.

The saddest comment in this regard is the Prime Minister's reply to Anna Hazare's request that he (the PM) intervene in the way the civil society's right to protest was being violated by the authorities. The man who has always been respected as a man of values, our PM, Manmohan Singh had to reply that he was unable to help him.  It is a matter of time before the helplessness of the common man to find justice is translated into the kind of social unrest that the rest of the world has been witnessing in the last few years. 

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