Sunday, May 23, 2010

INDIA: OVERSHOOTING THE RUNWAY

Perhaps it is just a meaningless coincidence that an Air India Express Boeing 737 overshot the runway at Mangalore, killing 158 Indians, just as the United Progressive Alliance government was completing one year in office in its second consecutive term. But if you read the tea leaves, as it were, you might see a picture, a pattern cannot be wished away.

For the last six years, Air India has been toyed with and all but destroyed by whimsical decisions, unpardonable mismanagement and even commandeering of aircraft by Praful Patel's IPL-employed daughter. It all started with Patel changing the livery of Indian Airlines, only to merge it with Air India before the paint had dried on the aircraft, necessitating another expensive change.

Evidently no has noticed that while the new livery that adorned the tail of each plane of Indian Airlines depicted a rising sun, in the new albatross named Air India, the sun appears to be setting. May be another meaningless coincidence. But, it is common knowledge that ever since the merger of the two state-owned airlines took place amidst protests and warnings, the health of the airline started by the legendary JRD Tata has deteriorated as rapidly as the health of the minister and the babus responsible for ruining it has improved.

The airline is now saddled with losses of Rs 5,000 crores and a debt burden of Rs 12,000 crores. The government can't/won't sell it but will keep pouring thousands of crores of tax payers' money onto the black hole just because politicians and babus won't let go their diamond mine, helped unwittingly by the Left that continues to see things from an obsolete and defective prism that has unerringly shown a distorted picture all over the world. As a result, the whole airline has skidded off its runway and is lying broken and burning and dying in a ditch.

Those killed in the Mangalore crash were primarily bread winners who were forced to work under very difficult conditions in the Gulf only because their own country had failed to provide them with work opportunities that would have enabled them to earn even half of what they could elsewhere. One can easily blame the Left, particularly of Kerala, for this, but if one looks around, conditions in the BIMARU and other states which have been governed for decades by the Congress party are little different, in some cases worse.

Yet, as the UPA completes one year, its cheerleaders are out in force in TV studios, some going to the extent of praising Rahul Gandhi for effecting "direct transfer of wealth to the poor." Don't miss the condescending stink of insult emanating from the word 'wealth'. It consists of 100 days employment per year under NREGA at Rs 100 a day; you can add sundry schemes like farm loan waiver etc to complete this 'wealth' portfolio. So disconnected have the wealthy become from the poor that they imperiously think mere survival money is wealth for those wretched brothers of theirs who can barely manage a meal a day. Such being their concern for the left-behind-Indians, it is not surprising that there is virtually no direct effort to pull them up and out. The facile argument is that if the economy continues to grow at eight percent and above, in a few years the trickle-down effect will automatically radically alter their lives: the government need not do anything.

As we all know, employment is also linked to education. That is another area in which the state has failed miserably. Now there is much talk of the right to education being given to all Indians, but there is no clear road map yet on how to implement it in a meaningful manner and how to end the education apartheid that has created two nations within one. Kapil Sibal has got the right idea but since has never been touched by a government school, a handicap shared by most if not all his advisors, it may well happen that while expensive world class education will become more easily accessible to those who can pay for it, for the aam admi, things will remain just the same. And flights to the Gulf and elsewhere will continue to remain full

Politicians, babus and many of their cheerleaders in the media have already seceded from the state-run education and even employment system in this country. They have ensured that their children have access to the best schools and colleges within the country and in the West, and prime job opportunities across the globe thereafter. If some do come back, it is primarily because their families have created better opportunities for them here itself. They do not know what deprivation means and many see it for the first time in movies like Slumdog Millionaire, even though they drive past those slums every day. That is why with only votes in mind - nothing else - they come up with schemes that will earn the gratitude of fellow Indians living in sub-human conditions, but will do little to improve their skills, their knowledge, their employability.

Providing education and jobs requires a lot of hard work, compassion and commitment on part of political leaders and officials. Since they collectively have failed to show all these in sufficient measure for decades, they have chosen to buy their way through reservations, ignoring the fact that in the process they are dividing the society along more and more fault lines. Since even reservations are not enough to fill the huge employment gap, they are now simply giving petty cash doles to the poor for doing virtually nothing and, in the process, transferring real wealth to the already wealthy and corrupt.

Is the enormous sink called NREGA going to do anything at all to pull either the country or its people on to a different level in even a hundred years? All those mud walls and works will keep collapsing and will be rebuilt time and again. And everything and everyone will remain where they are. Those who can will keep escaping to the Gulf out of sheer compulsion. And some of them will never make it back home.

If this is the imagination with which India of the 21st century is going to be governed by those who have done and seen the best in the world, then there is a reason to worry, not rejoice.

When a leader does not do what he required to, what he must, at the right time, then the plane that he is flying misses its landing and is sometimes prematurely consumed by fate. Our leaders have already made a series of serious errors over the last six decades. But, rather than learn anything from them, they are only making bigger ones of the same type. And this applies to all parties and almost all leaders; exceptions can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Yes, cheerleaders have to cheer every shot of their team -- their jobs, their wealth, their rewards, their awards depend on how well they wriggle their backsides -- primarily because a match is on and the opponents' morale has to be destroyed. But they need also to realise that if this plane that is being shaken and rattled by huge self-created air pockets goes down, there will be no teams left. Time to apply the brakes of serious honesty and integrity. India is in real danger of overshooting its runway.
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Related reading:
1. Cast off comfort of caste
2. Khaoists: Plundering India's future
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