In a recent international survey India ranked a lowly 87 in the corruption index of countries, three stages worse than the previous year. In the World Prosperity Index she has regressed ten places to the 88th position, much below her biggest rival China, placed at 58.
The corruption ranking has certainly been aggravated by the Commonwealth Games scandals, while the latter is attributed to the still abysmal healthcare system which does not reach the marginalised, the lack of adequate infrastructural facilities and the limited reach of our education system.
This, at the same time when the country is viewed globally as a stable, forward-thinking economy and a prime mover in the Asian region, with the makings of a world leader. This, also at the same time when global leaders like Russia’s Medvedev, Britain’s Cameron, France’s Sarkozy and USA’s Obama are queuing up to lobby for major- league business deals with us. There is talk everywhere about our competitive edge in various areas, our youth, our huge 300 million-plus middle class with their mind-boggling purchasing power, our accelerating growth rate and our working democracy.
Yet, we have a lot to be ashamed of, even without the endless series of scams that are dug up with unfailing regularity by an aggressive media. Every nation has its share of scandals but for the most part the incidents of graft and corruption are confined to a plane where the common man is not affected. In India however, these evils so pervade his day-to-day life that he has to tread a long and costly path to get what he wants, be it a passport, a gas connection, a building permit or admission into school or college for his child, even recovery of money due from the government. And for people like you and me, to pay Rs. 10,000 for getting a perfectly legitimate work done hurts more than the Rs. 176 crores lost to the 2G scam.
Asian countries like the UAE, Singapore and Malaysia are thriving nations, much of their prosperity contributed to by the Indian diaspora and expatriates. If we can stand in a queue for our turn, pay our taxes correctly and on time, keep the roads and parks litter-free and follow driving rules, why then do we forget it all when we return to our native land? Why should we not try to get people back home to emulate what we have learnt abroad? We bring back fresh ideas for our new home that we are going to build, how our children should be educated, how we can beautify our immediate environment, yet the laid–back, ‘chalta hai’ attitude keeps us from exerting ourselves for the common good. That is why a small humanitarian gesture or an act of civic consciousness by an individual arouses so much admiration, so seldom is it seen among the general citizenry. That is also why the anguished letter from the former President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam, a scathing comment on the double standards of the Indian persona, should strike us with guilt and shame, and spur us to positive action before things get out of hand. Our country has the youngest population in the world, with 65 percent under the age of 30 years. What are we to teach them? Do we have any values to impart any more? Are we correctly equipping our youngsters to be world class leaders and human beings? Can they take a positive lesson from what they see going on around them or will they turn into venal cynics, taking what they can get out of the system but giving back nothing?
We have a lot going for us. We have the largest ever talent pool in the world, that excels in the latest developments in technology and every branch of science. If more and more Indian expatriates are returning to their native land, let it be not just for the earning opportunities back home against the growing recession and job losses in their adopted country. Let it be because India has become in its turn a land of opportunity and hope, let it also be because these new Indians feel that they could make a difference to the quality of life here.
The geography and the homogeneity of diverse regional cultures which keep melding and merging with each other while at the same time retaining their uniqueness allow us to adjust to new influences and this is our special gift.
It is unacceptable to me that we fall flat on our faces when it comes to corruption and moral character. To my mind, taking a beating under any other parameter is bearable, but in ethical standards and integrity, how can any self-respecting Indian allow it? To paraphrase Shakespeare, it would do well to remember that the good is often interred with our bones whereas the evil that we do lives on after us. So it might be with our India.