Where are those visionaries who inspired us?

In 1971, my wife and I decided to pursue graduate studies in Boston, leaving behind the social and economic trophies of our young lives.

India today is awash with trophies, accessible to a privileged few. Five-star hotels and hospitals, gated communities, and fashions to bedazzle the world are ready for the taking, if one takes the media, barring a few notable exceptions, seriously. That there is a total disconnect between many media advertisements and the lives of 95 per cent of India’s 1.3 billion people hardly causes a ripple.

Beautiful cities that I remember — Shillong, Darjeeling, Mussoorie, Nainital, Kodaikanal, even Kolkata — have succumbed to the triumph of commerce over taste.

Incomes have grown, so have the educational aspirations of millions of young Indians. Families from every economic stratum push their children towards private education at the school and post-secondary levels. Educational institutions thrive, so does the business of free-market education.

Education is in crisis, but ironies abound. The garage variety of Indian MBAs from third-rate business schools flood the job market with little to offer to the marketplace. Tata Motors, now the manufacturers of the upscale Jaguar and Range Rover cars, also brings the cheap Nano to the market. And Delhi’s roads suffer slow strangulation with upwards of 1,500 vehicles added each day.

While new highways spread out, elevated expressways rise to embrace the onslaught of vehicles, and the air grows thick and toxic. Politicians seem intent on fragmenting the nation, ostensibly to satisfy desires for regional autonomy (think of Crimea). What was once the State of Assam has been parcelled out into different States. Travelling through northeastern India is like swimming in a cauldron of tribal jealousies, ethnic hatred and intolerance. The Centre cannot hold, and things inevitably fall apart.

Whatever happened?

Where are the visionaries who once inspired us — Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar? Where lie the fruits of education that nurtured some of today’s leaders? Was our Oxbridge-educated (outgoing) Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, so oblivious to the bribery, corruption, mismanagement and decay that went on all around him? Whatever happened to the value-based wisdom he received from his favourite Cambridge Professor, Joan Robinson?

This wasn’t the India I left behind in 1971, hoping to return to teach 17th century English poetry. But this is the India I left behind in February 2014 when, surprisingly, I caught a glimpse of a ray of hope for political reform and social justice in the figure of Arvind Kejriwal.

His Aam Aadmi Party, though in power in Delhi State for only 49 days before it resigned in the face of an opposition alliance, did rattle the largely corporate-powered media, no question about that. From using the mocking, truncated name Kejri to ridiculing his populist style for lack of governance, the media have been vicious towards a party that came from nowhere to win the largest bloc of seats in the Delhi elections, and reportedly accepted no corporate donations.

Those who wish for change in India should wish Mr. Kejriwal luck, and perhaps a large amount of guile and political realism from the wisdom of Kautilya, the 4th century B.C. Indian strategist of statecraft who was as formidable as the later Sun Tzu and Machiavelli.

I was happy leaving India recently, although saddened to see the romance (yes, perceived even by the poor) having deserted so many places and objects that I loved. One day, I’ll be happy to return to Mr. Kejriwal’s Delhi, if not India, should his vision be kindled.


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