Monday, July 8, 2013

5 Things Indians are Doing Right, Lately

Take any day, or week, India has no dearth of profound problems that have no easy solutions. Terrorism has transcended Hindu and Mulsim properties, and reached the door steps of hitherto unaffected Buddhist properties, as seen in the Mahabodhi attacks. An otherwise industrialized and progressive state like Tamilnadu can still burn when a Dalit marries an uppercaste girl. While in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, issues like Telengana looks like it will linger forever without an acceptable resolution, as seen in recent one-upmanship by each side. And in which other country would we have a case like the unique Ishrat Jahan fake encounter, where an investigating agency is pitted against an intelligence agency? And there is no dearth for natural calamities and their mismanagement, either. By the time the last choppers had arrived from Uttarakhand, it was time for Assam floods. Getting things right, the first time or even the tenth time, has never been India’s forte. Even when nations big and small provide numerous progressive examples, we have been loath to emulate. But if really pressed against the wall, India can start moving. And if and when we start moving, there can be serious momentum, as we are huge in size. But it is erroneous to think that a specific party or coalition is doing the good work, or not doing the good work. Politicians may claim many stuff, but in the Indian context, stuff happens because it can’t be delayed any further. So, here is a quick look at five things that have started happening, despite all odds:

#1. Yes, We Understand, Gold Can Hurt:

Finally, the realization has arrived. To quote an Indian proverb itself, even amrut can be lethal in excess. For decades, India and Indians glossed over eating gold for breakfast, lunch, & supper. But we forgot two realities. One, we can’t be greedy with something that needs to be imported. Secondly, it is always foolish to bet against the dollar. US not only controls 20% of world GDP, but its currency remains the foreign exchange of choice for economic leviathans including China & Japan. Euro has long back opted out of that race. The first reality finally forced P Chidambaram’s hand to squeeze gold imports to save CAD, while the second reality caused gold to crash against dollar’s rise, the moment America wished for it. But needless to say, a lot more can be done by India and Indians on the import front, if there is a will. What about Oil, which is a much larger and damaging import than gold?

#2. Only Cricket Can Cure Cricket:

What can cure the ills that have besieged Indian cricket? From lowly spot-fixing to serious match-fixing to royal daylight robberies by the administration itself, things look un-cleanable for Indian cricket. At least as long as this opaque monster called BCCI controls it, whether it is headed by Srinivasan or Dalmiya. Or is it? Not when Captain Cool & Co finally decides to deliver, but mind you, only on being pushed against a wall. Then everything falls in place, including cloudbursts from Shikhar Dhawan’s bat. IPL might be evil by design, but it took the IPL to force Dhawan out of a partly imposed and partly self-imposed hibernation from Indian team. In the final reckoning, only playing pure cricket with full might can cure cricket. Not managing cricket or gossiping cricket or glamourising cricket or analysing cricket or even investigating cricket. But should that mean Dhoni should be pardoned unconditionally for conflict of interest? It shouldn’t be that way, ideally. Anyway cheerleaders are gone for good, and it is a symbolic victory for pure cricket as well as the Indian culture.

#3. Justice Arrives Despite Delays:

If you buy assault rifles that can kill hundreds within seconds, in the name of self-defence, that too from terrorists that are plotting against the very fabric of India, you are in trouble. Irrespective of who you are. That is the simple message Indian judicial system delivered to Sanjay Dutt. The world might have laughed, as justice arrived 20 years late! But remember, this is India, where justice delayed is not fully justice denied. It takes time, as we are slow. But we will, one day. Not even the full might of Bollywood, politics, and the costliest lawyers could save Dutt from a 5-year term. Next on row, is a bigger superstar, who was DUI when he rammed his Toyota Landcruiser at 100 km/hour on to a bakery killing one and hurting three, all of whom were poor guys sleeping on the pavement. For years, Salman Khan evaded justice and almost went scot-free. But that is understandable, as this is India, but now his time has finally arrived, to be charged for culpable homicide and other charges. But the bad thing is that justice delayed is justice denied itself. And more than that, the cases of Dutt and Khan remain the exceptions, not the rule. And the super-rich Salman, instead of compromising and settling the case honourably - with some victims and their kin still expressing no enmity with him - has recently resorted to pursue his case vigorously by launching a dedicated website telling his side of the story, which has already run into a controversy as the matter is sub-judice, and attracted a separate litigation.  

#4. We Understand Disaster Management:

We recently pulled off a neat one. Against a natural calamity that instantaneously took the life of more than a thousand, and which could have taken the life of tens of thousands more, we did a little bit of disaster management. That ‘we’ is a misnomer. None of us had anything to do with it, really. The unbelievable work at Uttarakhand was primarily done by Indo Tibetan Border Police. And it was no easy work, by any measure. Needless to say, there were no land routes or airstrips post the cloudburst. And no choppers either with them. So, what ITBP did was hire a small private chopper, make a small team land, who built multiple helipads, on to which more private choppers were flown in. But with these small chopper sorties, evacuation was slow, exposing nearly a lakh stranded citizens - many of them senior and junior citizens - to grave danger. So what ITBP did was create a new 2.5 feet ‘road‘. Not easy, as the gradient is 80 degree, which means hills had to be chipped deeply. And at many places in this track, the citizens had to be helped with ropes and ladders. Meanwhile, other defence units like Army, Air Force, and National Disaster Response Force, were pressed into action, which also helped in distributing food and medicines. The toughest job before ITBP was to ignore dead people, console relatives of those who died, avoid hysteric stampedes, stay unemotional, and focus only on the alive. We can be proud that ITBP is a part of what we call India. We are still bad at many things. Our met guys are still not up to the mark. Not savvy enough to predict cloudbursts. Our leadership’s anticipatory measures are also poor. But Uttarakhand-2013 proved that we can rely on our disaster recovery teams.

#5. We Still Save:

This one is the queerest one in this list. Because, it is not a trait that we acquired lately. But still it should be very much here, because this has been the last Indian fort which still holds back against the onslaught of globalization. The West has been doing its very best to penetrate this stronghold of the Indian economy using varied lures including cultural tricks like consumption and overspending. After all why should anyone save the old-fashioned way? Aren’t everyone getting affluent? And can’t our kids fend for themselves? For a while, it seemed that India would be tempted, with our savings rate dipping drastically. But fortunately, India didn’t fall for the trap. Better put would be that Indians didn’t fall for it, as it was perhaps our nervousness with the country‘s state of affairs that refrained us. To put this in its right perspective, let us start with the savings rate of UK, our former ruler. Gross National Savings as a % of GDP stood at 10.75% in United Kingdom as of FY‘13 end. United States fared much better with the FY’13 savings rate coming in at 13.84%. Americans are obviously getting nervous with their own financial security. Brazil, which is often compared with India as part of BRICS, saved more, with this rate coming in at 16.15%. Compare all these with India, and we will begin to understand why this economy still ticks. India’s Gross National Savings as a % of GDP came in at a high 30.20%! Now, everyone knows why it is so difficult to compare savings rates across countries. Generally, high-tax regimes tend to have higher savings rates, to escape taxes. That is why China whose tax slabs range from 5%-45% has a higher savings rate than India whose slabs are from 0-33%. Ironically, low-tax high-income economies also tend to have high savings rate, because, well, what else to do with all that money! That is why countries like Kuwait and Qatar have high savings rate. But India’s case is uniquely impressive, considering where we stand - medium income and medium taxes. It has proved to be an insurance we created for ourselves.

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