The Cyclical Nature of Hope
Andy Mukherjee’s essay on losing hope in India has generated a buzz amongst many people. I was thrilled and taken aback to read this particular essay. Here is a person born in the 70s, worked in India, became a respected journalist goes on to declare publicly on Bloomberg that he is losing hope in India. Mukherjee has witnessed one of the most exciting parts of Indian political history. He has seen the assassination of a prime minister, the liberalisation of the economy, constant change of governments in the 1990s, the coalition governments and the rise of Modi from 2014 onwards.
Mukherjee may be right, but only a few people might share the same opinion as him. As a person born in the late 1990s, I don’t have much memory of coalition government, people did complain of scams, and the anti-corruption movement by Anna Hazare was welcomed by many people including me. Modi capturing power at the centre was seen as a phenomenon victory of India and gave hope to many people. Those expectations of a better India soon evaporated into propaganda and PR stunts, disappointing many people, including me. This ‘new evolution of India’ is where I share Mukherjee’s stance and agree that we are indeed sliding down on a few indices and the idea of recovering those scales are not foreseeable in the short-run.
Most of India’s working-class population are born after 1985. They don’t have a memory of the license raj, which restricted creative innovation and free trade. Most of the urban children born after 1985 are reaping the benefits of a liberalised India. They have witnessed these IT companies coming to India and make these huge buildings that are entirely antithetical to the rural life. Cities like Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad have reached new heights because of the IT boom that followed in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
On a side note, I often call these huge IT parks the ‘Wakandas’ of their respective cities as they are so unique and different. Some of these places include BKC in Mumbai, Magarpatta City in Pune and HITEC City in Hyderabad. But we cannot rely on these Wakandas for long as the IT boom has stabilised and we are not going to see the same kind of investments we did during the 2000s. We have to remember that the economy was already slowing down before the COVID crisis hit us. India entering a technical recession has already destroyed the aspirations of many people. The next generation, who were supposed to reap the benefits of liberalisation, is going to be extremely disappointed. Most non-privileged urban youngsters will carry a lot of resentment within them, joining them will be young migrant workers who will continue to work at sub-standard wages. Such a system will continue to add to the pie of wealth inequality that has been growing since the 2000s. Mukherjee talks about this:
Workers will eventually return. But getting back to pre-Covid levels will only pull 40% of a billion people of working age into the labour force, Mahesh Vyas at the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy says. At least 10 million jobs are needed annually — matching China’s rate between 1990 and 2014 — to raise the participation rate toward the world average of 66%. But the post-pandemic developed world will nurse a massive unemployment hangover.
Mukherjee feels (I am speculating) that we are turning the clock backwards. He feels we are going back to the 1990s and truth be told the current eco-system around does indicate that. Religious bigotry is on the rise, Atmanirbhar Bharat seems to be invoking the fear of a closed market, the 2020 Delhi riots prove that remnants of 1947 continue to polarise our society. The powerful perception of one leader conjures another strong former leader who had suspended fundamental rights for three years. It would be unfair to say that positive things have not happened during this period, but the fact remains that bad news travels faster than good news and at this point, the bad news is triumphing over the good. One can stay positive and be like Gandhi’s three monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil and say no evil. However, many people confuse bitter truth with sin and then invoke the three monkey clause and remain positive throughout life. Many of us ignore it and continue with our lives. However, there are so many of us that cannot ignore it. Yet, we have come a long way since from other evils.
One has to turn the pages of history to recognise the brutal inequality that had surrounded us. Muhammad-bin Tugluq who shifted the entire population of Delhi to Aurangabad, Maharashtra to Britishers who transferred 25 per cent of India’s GDP in the Queen’s coffers and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who undertook a massive drive of forced sterilisation are some examples that show how the ruling class mistreated their subject/citizens.
Many people believed that the Britishers were a boon on us. It took Dadabhai Naoroji some 50 years and a parliamentary seat to prove that the Britishers were draining India’s economy. His book ‘Poverty and un-British Rule in India’ proved this point very clearly, yet some people had doubts. Exactly 115 years after Naoroji’s book Shashi Tharoor came out with ‘An Era of Darkness’ to remind people that Britishers were not really the good guys.
India is evolving, and this evolution is churning out the worst of the people. As we form our tribes in social media, we tend to dislike these other tribes. Polarisation continues to bolster these tribes with more significant numbers. Such a number is not just restricted to India, but it is happening around the world. The documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’ shines a light on this particular issue.
Mukherjee is right when he says the 1990s dream has ended. We might never see a double-digit growth the way China had seen. Not with the kind of optics driven policies that we have now. The economic issue forms the base of the problem, on top of the base we have social and human rights issue like suspension of fundamentals right in J & K, the fringe becoming the centre, the questionable role of the judiciary, the passing of bills in parliament, the othering of a community and many other issues that are pertinent for maintaining peace and harmony in the society. It is unfathomable that people are just fine with it. Many are scared, and many others are ignorant. However, the majority of people have given silent consent to the government. We have seen that siding with the government has privileged perks like the Supreme Court immediately taking up your case and discovering personal liberty.
Few continue to question the government secretly; some people are genuinely not happy with the government policies but are silent as they will be labelled anti-national. Team Baan (Arrow in Hindi) are responsible for disliking the PM’s Mann ki Baat address. Unemployed youth, marginalised societies, women and minorities are the ones that are affected by the present-day atmosphere. It is only them that can demand and bring changes. The anti-CAA protests and the farmer’s protest are an example that built-up resentment can lead to people marching on the roads.
For me, hope is cyclical. I look at history and see how far we have come when it comes women’s right, technological progress, the potential of the next generation and evolution of technology at large, and all these do give me some hope. Then there are days when my mind wards toward crony capitalism, rising inequality, the state of our education sector and the suppression of judiciary and media. Such things make me wanna question the future path, is it going to be good or not?
It is still shocking that a person who has had the privilege of being a respected journalist is losing out hope. It is regrettable. I fear that there may be many others that will continue to lose hope with him.