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THE ALSO-RAN NATION
- Indians are by and large a bunch of oral eroticists

The 28th Olympic Games are now ended. In the battle for gold medals, China has almost drawn level with the United States of America, although in the tally of medals in all categories, it has lagged behind God’s Own Country. It is perhaps pertinent to remember at this point that a large part of the American glory is on account of the performance of black participants, still struggling for a place of dignity under the great Yankee sun.

To turn to a closer-to-home theme. With all the hoopla that accompanied the pre-games speculations, India is right at the bottom of the least medal-winning nations. In terms of physical and anatomical attributes, we Indians are no inferior to the Chinese; yet they shine and dazzle, while we fade away without even a whimper. There is of course sadness, but is not there a surging anger too at such a denouement' Globalization evidently has not clicked. Interaction with the rest of the world should have made us aware of our shortcomings in different directions, including in the arena of sports and athletics. It should have induced our administrators, including sports officials, to pass on to the nation’s young colts precise data on where their deficiencies lie and how to get rid of these. There can be no plea of dearth of resources standing in the way of importing the necessary technology and equipment to improve the country’s general standard in sports. But nothing helped. Before our athletes left for Athens, the national media did not have the least doubt that each member of Team India was a world-beater and it was a mere question of waiting a fortnight for the celebratory rituals to begin. That story of anticipatory bang-bang has met with sudden death. Some sections of the media have tried to heap the blame for the national disaster on foreign coaches and wayward officials. Here too there is hardly any breaking of new ground; the native adage is always in place: our failure to dance elegantly is due to the crookedness of the dance floor.

However, disappointment in sports and athletics is not an exception to the general rule. We are by and large a bunch of oral eroticists. We honestly believe words to be genuine substitutes for concrete achievements. The decision taken a while ago was to turn us global, but we remain, despite external embellishments, a collectivity of frogs-in-the-well. This latter species suffers from a singular inability to sift the essential from what is not so. The space devoted day after day by the media to report stock market activities is mind-boggling: watch is kept on share price fluctuations with rare avidity, as if a strengthening of share prices is as good as lifting the nation to heavenly abode. Consider objectively though the contribution of the share market to actual national well-being. The total employment the stock exchanges provide in the different bourses of the country would hardly reach one hundred thousand or thereabouts. Most of the buying and selling of shares assume the form of intra-mural transactions within the fold of, say, 3 to 4 crore of citizens: some of them gain from the transactions, most lose. The lure of easy profit-making still proves to be insatiable, even the chronic losers invariably go back to the market, to lose and lose again.

But there you are, the flip side of globalization, our government has been told that the key to survival in a globalized world is to modernize the stock exchanges and listen respectfully to the message transmitted by them. The stock exchanges have been modernized beyond recognition over the past two decades. Has it helped economic growth though' The only funds garnered through the share market to expand the country’s physical assets base is what is collected via the mechanism of initial public offers. In recent years, receipts from IPOs on an annual basis have hardly amounted to Rs 1,500 crore, which is 0.1 per cent of our gross domestic product. Both politicians and the media have similar other obsessions. One such is the alleged sinfulness of subsidies: supply of power and water to the poorer sections at below cost is supposed to be evil, so is doling out interest on employees’ provident fund accumulations at rates higher than what they earn. It will be reckoned as rudeness were it to be suggested that freezing direct taxes at levels way below what the wealthy can afford to pay is also subsidy, so too is the silent acquiescence in the refusal of industrial tycoons to return the hundreds of thousands of crore of rupees they had once borrowed from banks and financial institutes.

Economic policies give shape to the nation’s destiny. True, this is a cliché. Even so, the media as well as politicians would gain greater insight should they study, in lieu of share market fluctuations, the national rankings at the just concluded Olympics. The factor underlying China’s emergence as one of the two major sporting nations while we occupy the bottom of the list is no different from the reason the annual flow of foreign direct investment has reached $70 billion in China while it is less than $3 billion in the case of India. In the early Fifties, the two nations were, in economic terms, at about the same level. But over the past half a century, China has reconstructed itself beyond recognition. It initiated a massive programme of land reforms. It established an ideology-based social discipline. It poured enormous resources to revolutionize the health and education systems and to subsidize the conditions of living of the hitherto dispossessed and under-privileged. Once these tasks were accomplished, China’s national priority shifted to industrialization on a gigantic scale. The wherewithal was provided not only by high national savings but also by the steady flow of finance from the overseas Chinese residents in Europe, the US, Canada and the Far East.

As a result, China can now flaunt a lush domestic consumer’s market of five to six hundred million people. It has been, at the same time, able to lower production cost by marrying foreign technology with native creative imagination. Not surprisingly, foreign investors are making a beeline for China. We in India are still stuck in the begging bowl syndrome: the rate of domestic savings has been allowed to drop, the NRIs have played hooky, employment has shrunk, the consumer’s market commands hardly 100 to 150 million people.

Debate will continue whether some of China’s recent experiments are reconcilable with socialism. That is a separate issue. What is more relevant is that while cataclysmic events were taking place in China, our almost exclusive preoccupation was with that country’s “border perfidy”, furnishing a pretext to augment, often mindlessly, our defence and security spending, and downgrading the priority for education and health. We also taught ourselves to neglect the provision of minimum social security measures for our poor and weaker sections. What is even more alarming, five-and-a-half decades of independence have not brought the nation together, on the contrary, our divisiveness has intensified. All this has not apparently disturbed the equanimity of those who preside over the nation’s destiny in New Delhi.

Complaints are posted that parliament does not function and members pocket their salary and allowances without doing any work. Would it however make any difference if it met regularly and went through its set agenda' It is the agenda itself which is all wrong, a comprehensive bundle of frivolity and rhetoric. Ministers, for example, don the bravado to fly to Siachen, they lack the courage to visit Imphal. Persistence with such norm of behaviour will duly ensure our permanent occupancy of the bottom-most position in international ranking.

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