Politicians, bureaucrats, NGOs and, now, activists, may make India seem like a depressing and depraved nation to live in, with no future to talk about. Not really, if you look at India beyond the backyard of politicians.

These are difficult times… we seem to have turned into a scam-a-day nation. First, it was Anna Hazare and yoga guru Baba Ramdev fighting against corruption. Most people embraced the former’s movement, and looked at the other with some degree of scepticism. Soon, Arvind Kejriwal emerged as the “brain” behind the Anna campaign. But the two fell out; Kejriwal had personal ambition, while Anna was more in the Gandhian mould and didn’t ask anything for himself.

The India Against Corruption (IAC) that Kejriwal now leads has unearthed many scams beginning with the land deals of Robert Vadra, the alleged snatching of funds meant for the physically disabled by the Khurshids’ Trust and, then, the alleged land grab by BJP President Nitin Gadkari from Maharashtra’s farmers.

Loot lo India!

But soon, those under attack retaliated by accusing IAC members — Prashant Bhushan, Anjali Damania and Mayank Gandhi — also of land grabbing. It was nauseating to watch the slanging match between the politicians and Kejriwal and his IAC members. While the gullible were left confused and the cynical nodded wisely and muttered ‘hamam mei sab nangey hei (everybody is naked in the washroom)’, India’s ‘mango people’ have been exchanging texts and emails built around the theme of loot lo India.

The sordid drama that has been unfolding in our drawing rooms every evening and the mammoth profits made by the dramatis personae, running into a few hundred crores, must have made many toiling salaried people, including top professionals, wonder if they hadn’t entered the wrong profession.

Cutting through the slanging matches, slicing through hazy layers of who bought what land, how it was sold, mutation et al, what is the truth? Depressing as it might be, it has to do with corruption and the lack of ethics at the core of almost all political parties.

There have been stories ad nauseum about NGOs siphoning off huge funds meant for the underprivileged to buy fancy cars and build fancier homes. Remember how huge and shiny the pot of gold was during the HIV/AIDS era, when economic recession had not yet hit western shores and funds for NGOs working in the HIV/AIDS kept pouring in?

Now, we learn, activists too have joined that bandwagon. Ethics and morals have taken such a back-seat in modern India’s scheme of things that everybody — politicians, bureaucrats, NGOs, activists — will make a shy at looting the nation’s resources, if they had half a chance.

Quid pro quo

And, in this game, if you have to sleep with the enemy, so be it. So NCP chief Sharad Pawar comes out in staunch defence of Gadkari, expressing incredulousness at the land-grab charge and vouching for the great work he has done for Maharashtra’s farmers. And, then, there is Diggy Raja (Congress General Secretary and Rahul Gandhi’s mentor-in-chief Digvijay Singh) shooting a mysterious volley — the Congress has proof about the corrupt deeds of the kin of BJP veterans such as A. B. Vajpayee and L. K. Advani. But, of course, being nice people, we will never make it public, he says.

But, hang on, Raja Saab; pray, why won’t you tell us humble folk (Rahulji’s jijaji”s ingenious phrase on the aam admi shouldn’t be overused after all!) about the so-called sins of the named BJP leaders’ relatives? Because people in glass houses…?

Anyway, while being puzzled by such magnanimity among our politicians to cover each other’s backs, would ordinary Indians with no godmothers or Bhishma Pitamas give in to endless bouts of depression at the state of the nation?

Smart, vibrant, self-made

Not really, if you look at India beyond the backyard of politicians. Like the vibrant, smart and hardworking villagers I recently saw in some of Rajasthan’s villages. Or the brilliant entrepreneurs of Coimbatore who have fascinating rags-to-riches stories to relate.

Whether it is K. Srinivasan of Emerald Jewel Industry India or K. R. Nagaraj of Ramraj Cotton, or hundreds of similar self-made entrepreneurs, they have shown how wealth can be created, employment generated, and the livelihood dreams of thousands realised without their being taken for a ride, leave alone being cheating of what little they have.

Our politicians may make India seem like a depressing and depraved nation to live in, with no future to talk about. But if that is the case, why would Time magazine’s latest issue run India on its cover (Reinventing India)? Or the British High Commissioner to India James Bevan call upon Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad on Monday, ending a decade-long British official policy of no-contact with Modi after the 2002 riots?

Or diplomats and other officials from the world’s most powerful nation knock on Indian journalists’ doors to find out “what the young in India are thinking about the US”; or why Muslims in a non-fanatic city like Chennai suddenly launch an attack on the US Consulate building over a stupid video-clipping called Innocence of Muslims.

Forgetting everything else, let’s turn our eye on India’s most admired/respected industrialist and Chairman of the Tata group Ratan Tata, and what he had to say last week on a TV programme along with Howard Schultz, Chairman of Starbucks, with which Tata Global Beverages has formed a JV.

Addressing Indian management and engineering students, without any hype or bluster, Tata said in his characteristic understated, dignified manner that “social conscience” or a company’s ethics and values are not broadcast through “banners”, but have to come “from the very top”. His group’s acquisitions or JVs are done not only for “a business fit”, but also for identical cultural and core values. That a business leader has to “stand up and speak out”, as he did after the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 where hundreds were killed, even though it meant his ending up in the witness box of the Srikrishna Commission for five long hours. “The judge said: ‘You see Mr Tata, you should not speak out’; and I said: ‘I’d do it again, because you have to do the right thing’.”

He concluded saying he was “very bullish” about the future of the Indian economy, which is fundamentally “robust”. He was confident India would emerge “one of the economic giants of Asia… because we have intelligent human capital. The strength, the spirit and the youth of India are going to drive this country to new heights. I feel very bullish”.

Amen!

rasheeda.bhagat@thehindu.co.in and blfeedback@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on October 22, 2012)
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