16 August 2014

The one about the country

Earlier this month, I had a fantastic conversation with a dear friend on how messed up India is. Here are 3 tiny bits from that conversation which might have some relevance around Independence Day :

  • The Partition - One People, Two Nations

Many parliamentary debates and history lectures have argued over the pros/cons of partitioning British India. My personal belief is that undivided India would have been a logistical/administrative nightmare. Current day India is exhausting to manage and I can't imagine how more territories would in anyway be of help.

Yet, that does not mean that the partition on the grounds of religion was the most effective one. I think that created issues for both nations - on one side we had a theocracy aiming to become a democracy and on the other a democracy which had bouts of the idea of Hindustan.

Perhaps, a divide on the lines of language would have worked better. From the little they teach us about the history of our neighbors, I believe the idea of a particular nation was around language. However, a division on the lines of language doesn't imply fair distribution of resources. Nor does it guarantee administrative efficiency; which is the original aim of the division.

What is done is done. Perhaps, it is the destiny of these two (later three) nations, to be divided. But as many Google and Coca-Cola initiatives have shown, we have a common history and a somewhat similar culture.  The common Indian and Pakistani does not hate the other; they just both want Kashmir. The misfortune is that we can never resolve Kashmir and hence this mystery and love/hate of the other will always remain.

A strange thought enters the mind. What if we were not partitioned? What would that mean for South Asia? What would that mean for Afghanistan/Taliban? Or this global war on terror - would Osama still be in Abbottabad? Or would the Hindus and Muslims of undivided India have killed each other off? I don't know what to imagine, but I know that the world would have been a different place.

  • All rights and no duties, makes Indians Indians

My long standing belief is that British rule really messed up the development of political thought in the country. My hypothesis is that the masses during the freedom struggle desired only independence and nothing else. But what they got in return was independence and a lot of other goodies.

And that's where I think the Founding Parents of this nation went wrong. They did too good a job at framing the constitution. They picked the best from the world and gave it to us on a golden platter. They made sure we had rights, that the judiciary was independent, that minorities were taken good care of, a quasi-federal structure et al.

But the masses did not want that. I mean, if you would ask them of course they would say yes! However, it wasn't like they demanded it, fought for it or understood its real value (or the lack thereof).

Not to say that people know the value now or that elsewhere in the world, development of political thought was better. I feel that the freedom struggle was a fight for independence and not a fight for political rights/duties. So, the significance of these rights was undervalued over most of our history; almost taken for granted.

I think the latter fight is happening now (about 70 years later) with the India Against Corruption movement translating into something bigger; all from the support of the people (fingers crossed)!

Again, a strange thought comes to mind. Would India have been better if we had followed the China model? I think I like the Indian inefficiency. I like the dissent, even though it comes at the cost of delay and the loss of life/property. But maybe that's just sour grapes. Or that I am blessed with economic resources and hence for me political rights are more valuable.

  • But beta, why spend so much?

(Does not apply to all Indians, focused on a specific section)

My gut says that Indians are the biggest kanjoos (miserly) people in the whole damn universe. They don't spend. And when they decide to, they will think ten times. And when they finally do, there is a good chance they will regret it.

The fountainhead of this behaviour is unknown. But as always, I have a theory. It might not be true, but it might convince you. I think it all started with the Hindu idea of desires are bad. Or more like, materialism is bad and you should lead a simple life of minimal needs. Or that the value of a person is measured in his spiritual wealth and not material wealth. None of us actually think like that, but that's how all psychology works - you just blame the subconscious.

Irrespective, I think Indians are poor spenders. Or at least, they are not like the Western consumer who would borrow to buy. We like to earn the money first and then spend it on alcohol (and maybe beat up the spouse alongside). Perhaps, the only time Indians borrow to spend (not including house, car and education loans - those are investments) is on their child's marriage. Because that is the only time we allow ourselves to be judged for our material possessions.

It could also be that the consumerist generation has not arrived (or maybe I am the anomaly). I spend in a more liberal way compared to my mother and perhaps the next generation will go a step further (not my kids!). The previous generations focused on setting up the economy after the British robbed us and hence were miser spenders. The newer generation has greater access to goods and has no pressure to save (other than the wise words of their parents); consequently will spend more.

Either way, an attitude to spending is crucial for India's economic growth. We talk of more industries, more jobs and more goods and services. But the crucial thing here is demand.  If you don't desire things, supply will go waste, businesses will lose money and people will lose jobs. The workers will have no money to buy goods and hence will starve. But theoretically, there will be no goods because there will be no businesses. It's a complex cycle, but you get the drift. If you don't spend, GDP does not increase. Hence, our economic growth depends not only on the efficiency of the government and the enthusiasm of the entrepreneurs but also on our desire to spend.

The tragedy of the whole equation is that Indians are not good savers either. The money they so diligently save, they invest in the least profitable areas. A large pie they will spend on the wedding. The other part they will invest in gold, fixed deposits and real estate (in that  order). It is rare that they will invest in good business (via the stock market) - neither directly nor through a mutual fund. And when they do invest in the stock market, they will do it with the mind of a gambler, the skills of Yudhisthir and with the dream of doubling money in a month. And while they lose heavily in this pursuit, they wreck the game for the others; because now the stock market is this dangerous place that breeds greed and not an avenue to invest in good business.

Would I trade greater saving for greater spending? I don't think greater material possessions guarantee greater happiness; the rich and poor are both unhappy. But then nor does greater saving. The more you save, the more you deny yourself the world's pleasures and the harder it is to guard your wealth. We are in a strange middle ground, but I hope we pick sides soon. Travelling in two boats cannot be good for anyone.

With that, I conclude my rant and customary post for Independence Day. I am a sporadic patriot, with pangs of hating and loving this country. But unchanged is my view of our quirks. I always find them strange and unique. Perhaps, that's true for every nationality.

And maybe on their national holiday they remember their quirks too.

You might like to listen to this.

Image Source : http://www.journeymart.com/gifs/holidays-ideas/festivals/independence-day-india.jpg

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