The idea of India is still nebulous and there are a myriad “Indias,” alike yet distinct and as a historian said — “There is something which can only be described as an Indian spirit.” If one were to ask about the predominant changes that influenced Indians in the last decade or so, it may be well nigh impossible to pinpoint. The new economy has created jobs and literally given wings to dreams of ordinary people. The new workforce is young, hardworking, energetic and full of joie de vivre. Corruption was always existent in India, but maybe for the first time, the average Indian has woken up to the possibility of the mighty being put to task. Those millions, who are educated and cynical and products of the new India, are seeking justice.
The idea of India is still nebulous and there are a myriad “Indias,” alike yet distinct and as a historian said — “There is something which can only be described as an Indian spirit.” If one were to ask about the predominant changes that influenced Indians in the last decade or so, it may be well nigh impossible to pinpoint.
A new “India” has emerged — resurgent, vibrant, self-confident, and chaotic. It is palpable; you can feel it and touch it. It is also a puzzle, with mind-numbing corruption, scams and no rural and urban infrastructure created in terms of good roads, power, etc, yet the economy is still growing at 8 to 9 percent, year on year! The sheer diversity in all aspects of India, confounds and makes it difficult to generalize, but yet, if I were to risk the attempt, here are a few ‘game changers’:
We want it all!
It is no longer a country of a billion hungry people to be fed. It is a country of a billion hungry consumers — yes, in spite of islands of prosperity still mired in a sea of poverty, illiteracy and malnutrition. With the invasion and deluge of television to the poorest homes there seems to be only one caste — the “consumer caste.” A mind-boggling 480 Indian TV channels — from news, cinema, soap, sports to kitschy — peddling everything from Nirma to Nirvana. In one fell swoop, transformed the entire country from remote villagers to slum- dwellers in cities, to aspire to and dream of a better life.
The dismantling of the Licence Raj and ushering of reforms destroyed the old aristocracy and feudalism, and brought in an entrepreneurial economy (though some of the old aristocrats have been replaced by a few oligarchs). It has swept the country to new ways of life, unmatched on this gigantic scale anywhere in the world, in the field of mobile phone connectivity and family entertainment even in far flung villages and homes which may be thatched and crumbling, but enlivened and lit by the television set. And uncanny and wily politicians are supplying single-phase power in villages for television viewing in the evenings, even though they cannot provide power for irrigation!
On the move
The new economy has created jobs and literally given wings to dreams of ordinary people. There is a heady cocktail of demographic mix across regions. The new workforce is young, hardworking, energetic and full of joie de vivre. Today, millions from rural areas are finding jobs not only in Infosys or Toyota, but in BPOs, construction, taxi services and coffee plantations. A developed economy and opening up of jobs have ensured that people crisscross the country looking for favorable avenues. I’ve gone for talks to the offices of IBM, GE, Yahoo, Google and SAP and have been impressed with the mix of people at all levels.
Unprecedented job opportunities, rising aspirations, mobility and the inextinguishable and innate entrepreneurial zeal of ordinary Indians and their resilience; and opportunities to start one’s own business created by the “new economy” is causing migration to small towns, district headquarters and state capitals, creating in its wake sub-human habitats in cities bursting at the seams. The downside of this is lack of basic amenities like sanitation, transportation, power and drinking water. But this tectonic demographic shift from rural to urban is affecting all citizens, especially the common man, who is often in a daze — helpless, mute, jostling and scrambling for a better future. And this migration from agrarian to urban life is inexorable and probably irreversible, because cities are doors for better opportunities and offer ‘hope’ to the migrating millions for a better future.
Amidst the multiple “Indias,” a new India has emerged — India of scams, scandals, corruption, politicians, fixers, middlemen and oligarchs. Though this always existed, it has now become so brazen, shameless and gargantuan and overarching in its scale, size and reach, it appears like a fait accompli to the common citizen. As Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American philosopher, said, “The ways of trade and politics are grown selfish to the borders of theft…and fraud. The sins of our trade belong to no class, to no individual… One plucks, one distributes, one eats. Everybody partakes, everybody confesses … Yet no one feels accountable. We are all implicated. He did not create the abuse; he cannot alter it…” Corruption was always existent in India, but maybe for the first time, the average Indian has woken up to the possibility of the mighty being put to task. Those millions, who are educated and cynical and products of the new India, are seeking justice.