The 'even after 60 years' argument is something that has come up in the last few years in India. The argument made is that not much has happened, socio-economically, in India since its independence in 1947. This show of disaffection is usually made by the erudite in their well appointed homes as the discussion veers on what the Congress I has done since Nehru and what the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will do with Modi. Those propounding this argument cannot see the incongruity staring in their face as they make these arguments. Simple things – they own more than one car, they live in well appointed homes, they holiday abroad, their work takes them abroad, the food and drink that they serve comes from varied parts of the nation and the world, they are able to translate their concern for the environment and for the downtrodden into something tangible.
This in 60 years! Okay 67 years.
The 60 year argument would have held water if it were being put forth by one of the many millions who are poor in India. They have a grouse which no one can deny – they are still poor, their access to facilities is still limited, their future does not seem to be in their grasp. But for the others, 'what is curdling their milk'?
So why does this argument have takers? There are many reasons, the ones that appear to be most prominent are – comparisons with developed nations, loss of traditional social structures, arguments that make initial superficial sense and historical grandiosity.
Comparisons with developed nations and others
The fact that we are a product (or are reaping the benefits) of what India as a country has achieved socially, educationally, technologically and politically in '60 years' is conveniently forgotten. We also are oblivious that it is these socio-economic achievements that have given people the wherewithal to compare the country's progress with other nations.
Comparisons are made to Singapore, China, South Korea and even to the US. One chooses to forget that these nations are either smaller, have different forms of political-economies, are homogeneous or have had a century or more of a head start.
This desire 'to keep up with the Joneses' is less to do with what the Joneses have achieved. It has to do with a belief of being at par with them in the ability, opportunity and situational section. So, the resentment is of not being able to achieve what the other has achieved, of falling short and being embarrassed when they compare themselves to others.
It is human nature to build on small successes. It is also human to inflate ability and therefore be ambitious and so reach for the stars. A taste of economic growth whets our appetite for more. That we have learned to 'walk' gives rise to our belief that there is an untapped potential to immediately be able to leap. This supposed ability is made all the more real when comparisons are made with those who we think have grown out of the same miasma as we and who are now fleet-footed.
People accept arguments that make initial superficial sense
I came to realise the potency of such arguments when discussing the healthcare system in India. The person said that the healthcare system immediately post independence was far better than what it is today. Who would argue with such an observation when debating India's sixty years? On the face of it, it sounds true; not only because I wasnt there to experience the healthcare system then, but also because this statement was coming from an expert . Not to mention the constant news of the floundering public health care system in the country adding a ring of truth to the possibility that the past was rosier. After having recovered from this googly, the unspoken truth emerges, the population was less, the variety of diseases were fewer, the avenues for disease were less - there was no such thing as 'lifestyle diseases'. But the life expectancy then was around 32 years, children died of small pox and thousands were infected with guinea worm while polio marred the future of millions.
Hmmmm! The fact that life expectancy has increased to 65 if not more today, or that polio and small pox have been eradicated suggests something; doesn't it?
There is no doubt that much has yet to be done, but just because much has to be done one cant ignore what has been accomplished.
Historical grandiosity and loss of traditional class structures
Some Indians love to live and promote the historical past, because there is no way to corroborate it. It gives those expounding on it limitless liberty to wax eloquent. It is easy to enchant people with the spell of the past and of regaining this lands lost 'glory' because there is no set definition of it. There is no list of requirements that have to be ticked to arrive to the conclusion and certify that the glory of the past has now been achieved. So people are sucked into one large amorphous “the ruler was just and kind, the subjects were good and fair, the economy was rich, the population was skilled and happy and there was peace and contentment.”
This seems to be a wonderland when compared to today -where people oppose dynastic politics, where the hold of the oppressive and rigid caste system has been shattered through education, where people demand their rights and more, where the poor can become rich, where the seemingly powerless have a hold on the powerful, where there are no subjects but citizens.
There is little wonder that the progress of the 60 years leaves some disconcerted and they wish to sell a version of history where they will be safe.
Can we deny how feudal our democratic country is? It is not only seen by the swords given to our politicians during public rallies, but also in how we address citizens whose forefathers belonged to the feudal set, even if these citizens are democratically elected representatives today.
The past which we are so proud of and cling so dearly to because our ancestors held positions of status is no longer relevant today. Democracy is giving everybody equal rights, today we are all accountable to somebody, we can no longer dictate terms and expect servility in response. The class system that held back people while ensuring others remained in positions of power is being broken.
The stranglehold of lineage is being demolished, and therefore the angst of 'even after 60 years'. Equality does not bring with it equanimity of acceptance of a new social order.
Economic growth leads to a churning of the social order, it will make the past seem more enchanting to some. The truth is if the past, sold disingenuously to generate disaffection, were so rosy it would have remained with us in the present as a reality and not as a construct of someone's uncorroborated memory.
Look out for my soon to be published travelogue ’1400 bananas, 76 towns and 1 million people'