India@100: The PM speaks

Last Updated: Mon, Aug 13, 2012 19:36 hrs

Ramananda Sengupta takes a time machine to 2047 and listens in on the PM's thoughts.

New Delhi, August 15, 2047, Prime Minister's office, South Block

It's a hot August night, and the air-conditioning seems to be acting up. Damn this global warming. I wonder how this morning's mandatory speech, broadcast as a hologram on the ramparts of the Red Fort and other national institutions and on almost every handheld device in the country, went down with the people.

Not many people were interested, I'm told.

But then, I sometimes wonder how my predecessors managed it. I remember a time when they had to actually go to the Fort to deliver the address to huge crowds, bused in for the event. It's lonely at the top. It's even lonelier when every word I say is scrutinized and misconstrued, both domestically and externally. 

Take for instance, my remarks about last year's nuclear attack on Mumbai. All of us know that the terrorists who detonated the device in Bandra were from Pakistan. But does that mean we nuke Pakistan? Haven't people heard our great Mahatma's famous words, that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind? Speaking of blindness, why can't our people see that in this increasingly interdependent world, we don't have much room for maneuvering.
Of course, the military did a commendable job helping clean up the godawful mess after the bomb. The Americans and Russians offered to help only after I convinced them that we would practice 'utmost restraint.' But this restraint, or cowardice, as the opposition describes it, came about only because of the Chinese virus that stuck our command and control system days before the terrorist strike.

In other words, our military was unable to tell me whether a nuclear missile launched at Pakistan would actually reach them, or blow up in our faces.
Yes, yes, I know that our brass have been petitioning me for a while about funding to secure the system, but I also have a country to run. But that's not all. My own colleagues in the government had severe reservations, with my finance minister explaining that any strike against Pakistan would alienate a large section of our vote bank in an election year.

India, or the Confederation of Indian States, as we are now known, has changed to the extent that anyone born before the 1990s will probably not be able to recognize it. We are 4 trillion dollar economy, or were, before that terrorist strike. And the point is, even though Bombay, or Mumbai, is now a waste land, we are still among the world's top three economies.

But that is just one aspect.

Yes, we have 100 per cent literacy. But literacy and education are two different things. Yes, it was an Indian, or least someone of Indian origin, that found a cure for cancer. For AIDS. But our general public still lacks access to regular health care, unless they can afford the private ones, which are phenomenally expensive. And yes, our soft power - think yoga, think curry, think cycle-rickshaws - now extends way beyond Afghanistan and the far east, all the way to Africa and the United States.

MyCurry, our answer to McDonalds, and Desibrew, which as the name suggests, is another name for arrack, now have outlets in almost every big city in the world. 

Politically, however, we are still dependent on the age old systems, which means every vote makes a difference. I came to power on the plank of jobs for all.

But where are the jobs?  Corruption, another election issue, might have eased somewhat, but I still need money to win an election. 

My finance minister, who is old enough to be my father, was regaling me the other day about Independence Day of 2010, when he was but a strapping young lad, and I was barely two. Things were different then. India, in those days, had just 35 states, if you counted the seven Union Territories. Today we have 50 states. Scratch out Maharashtra, and we still have 49.

It seems the main issues in those days were Pakistani terrorism, Maoists, China, and caste. This despite the fact that a huge chunk of our population was either starving, or uneducated, or both. Terrorism, of course, has not eased, as the recent nuclear attack in Mumbai clearly demonstrates. As for the Maoists, they have either been bought out or killed. Their cause, anyway, went out of the window the day we achieved 100 per cent literacy. 
China, of course, is the world's largest economy, and our biggest concern, both strategically and politically. As for caste, while some people still insist that they are backwards or a minority, and hence deserve special privileges, most of our population has moved on. Like death, literacy and education are great levelers.

Divisive politics, however, still plays a role in state level politics, with some states even insisting on special work permits for people not from their state.

Perhaps my finance minister was right. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Jai Hind.

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