In our recently concluded IIFL Enterprising India conference, we had noted historian Dr Ramachandra Guha, give a talk on Democracy and Nation-Building in India: Past, Present, Future. He started off describing himself as a man with moderate views who expresses it in an extremist fashion. I’ve had the privilege of reading all his books on cricket; unfortunately I have not read any of his books on history.
The big challenge facing the country, according to him is inequality. In the recent past, the gap between haves and have nots has widened. Humans are unequal and some amount of disparity exists naturally. Think of your class beauty and you will realize that inequality exists as an act of God. My own take on inequality is that inequality of opportunities is what is causing huge stress.
When I was a student (and maybe even now), it was believed that anybody who got admission into IIT got the seat on the back of hard work and intelligence. The selection process is tough and everybody has the same chances of getting through. But you will grudge a person who got a seat in an engineering college because of quota or because his father could pull some strings or because of capitation fees. String pulling is one of the worst things because it ensures privileges get passed on from one generation to another.
In the current context of corruption, nobody grudges the traffic hawaldar standing in the sun asking for Rs100 for a traffic signal violation. But what unnerves people and rightfully so is the highly ranked bureaucrat who with a stroke of a pen earns crores; the best example here is change of use of land from agricultural to non-agricultural.
Every competitive exam is now prone to corruption – papers leaks, selection committee setting and so on. Imagine an ex-CM behind bars for a teacher selection scam. All government posts are sold. Obviously, if someone has invested to buy a seat he will recoup his investment. I firmly believe this lack of equal opportunities is what is hurting the country and leading a feeling of general discontent. Imagine 17 lac people applying for about 1700 jobs in SBI. This is the real challenge facing India – lack of jobs or opportunities. The so called demographic dividend will become a curse if government does not address the issue of jobs and that can happen only when the economy sputters back to life. Most of readers will not remember but the hero in the movies of 70s was the good hearted unemployed youth who becomes the smuggler (remember Amitabh Bachchan and his angry young man image) fighting against the business man who misuses the licence to exploit. Reel life stories reflect real life – see the evolution of the villain – corrupt cops and politicians rule the roost now. The Karan Johar feel good movies will soon disappear and give way to angst of the youth. Hopefully government will wake up before that.
I don’t think anyone cribs about how much money Dhoni or Tendulkar have made because they have earned it due to hard work and talent. The cricket field is an equal opportunity employer because whether you are from Ranchi or anywhere else, if you have talent and ability to work hard and given a chance, then you have equal chance to make it big. And under the glare of million TVs it is difficult to leverage connections. The hypothesis will be tested when Sachin Tendulkar’s son Arjun knocks at the India team doors. One obvious advantage he will have over others is access – by having a surname. This could bring him unfair share of opportunities but after a certain level, he needs to deliver on the field. In the film industry too we have infamous sons of famous father.
Our policy makers should address these issues. At least in education, investment in primary education is vital. Kapil Sibal, instead of wasting time on trying to solve perceived problems in IIT and IIM should instead focus energy in addressing primary education. A good primary education set-up and free and fair competition would ensure that merit and hardwork are rewarded. This will go a long way in dispelling the current gloom and doom.