It has been nearly 70 years since we became free from British Raj. We have progressed ahead since then – The Green revolution, economic liberalization and more recently, the technological wave that is markedly changing the lives of every single India from the white collared professional to the rural farmer. Yes, India with its 1 billion population is all set to live out the economic downturn that has hit the world – It is among the last frontiers left for western economies to participate in and fuelling their own growth
Over the last few years, the key question that has vexed me – What do Indians really want? It must be sounding naive as there is no straight or one answer to this question. But nevertheless, this is the very question whose answer all of us should be seeking and working towards – Politicians, bureaucrats, Media, corporates, start-ups, industrialists, farmers and everyone else. The real answers lay hidden not in political speeches or media uprisings about inconsequential issues but in coffee chats with colleagues or visiting the rural hinterland and talking to the villager about the real issues faced by them. We should aim to get honest answers backed by facts keeping aside political idealogies or media stories. After many discussions, I have been able to describe this in few words – A Valued and Happy Life. Sounds too obvious, na? Yeah..
A Valued Life
So what is a valued life?
The average Indian cares about how the family, society, state, media really treat him or her. It is the feeling that the society at large is willing to invest energy, time, money among other things to improve the well-being of the average Indian and help him or her contribute more effectively and productively to the society. Life then is not measured in terms of insurance cover for which the premium can be as low as Rs. 12 or something but is much more valuable. It is essentially the society treating each individual as an asset who can contribute to the development of the country and take it newer heights. Be it a sweeper, doctor, engineer, blue collared worker, dancer, farmer, teacher, social activist, milkman or anyone else – They all want to be part of a system which amplifies their effort to the extent that all citizens are benefitted and they themselves feel their life becomes valuable to the society at large.
Now let’s look at the actual situation today
The state, in general, and large corporates (with their massive financial and political backing) inherently have adopted a discriminatory way of governance and execution. Some lives (most notably – politicians, celebrities, executive management etc.) are considered more valuable than others on account of their qualifications, wealth, position etc. and they weild significantly higher influence than others on the society at large – Let’s call them “Valuable Contributors”. The average Indian feels extremely marginalized and incapable of making significant and productive contributions.
Take the example of the corporate environment – I see most people happily do what they have been asked to do without ever bothering to challenge the status quo. Ofcourse, rocking the boat has its consequences but not shaking it translates to growing indifference to positively influence the system. The few who do try and rock the boat are summarily dismissed “Valuable contributors” while the society and general environment continues to be shaped by these few people. Critical thinking seems restricted within some circles and is not encouraged among the larger population to lift the entire society to the next level.
Many times, I encounter situations where people are extremely good in doing what they are asked to do but incapable of evaluating the best course of action. This is indeed worrisome as they are constantly fed by the state, the media, their bosses, their leaders and scores of others on the best course of actions. Few people cross the chasm to becoming the so-called valuable contributor but it remains to be seem if they still continue to remain unbiased in their decision making and believe in the original premise
Now, let’s look at the alternate scenario
Just imagine – if the investments made by the Valuable contributors harmonize those of the average Indian, the resonance created will be too great to ignore. What if the average Indian can not only do greater but more valuable work in the same amount of time. This cannot happen purely because we give them a smartphone with a patchy internet connection. It will require the society to focus on few key enablers for Indians –
- A developed city should be built in 5 years and not 50 years if it has to make any meaningful impact to lives of the current generation
- The society should pivot heavily on food security through a strong focus on improving agricultural productivity. Agriculture should be mechanized and govt. should support larger acreage to sustain the well being of its farmers.
- Affordable Housing, Transport, Power, Water, Food, Education, Health, Broadband, Equity for all citizens should be the society’s sole goal. Everything else is just a big distraction
- Law Enforcement is the fulcrum on which judiciary should operate. Judiciary should serve justice that is not just perceived and deemed to be fair but is fair – Even developed nations like Singapore and US have capital punishment for heinous crimes and law is implemented in the strictest manner
It’s imperative that these investments are ACTIVE and not PASSIVE like that of a financial investor. The leaders should oversee and course-correct their investments and planning based on what’s actually happening on the ground. Similarly, it’s the duty of the followers to point out what’s working and what’s not. If we look at all major Asian economies – Japan, Korea, China, Singapore, they all developed themselves on the back of domestic investments into infrastructure and human productivity. Given the interest rates are at all time low, oil prices are down and economies globally are struggling for demand-led growth, there couldn’t have been a better time for India to invest and prosper.
A Happy Life
Having travelled a fair bit and worked with people across the globe, I must say that Indians love to take themselves and their work fairly seriously. It’s possibly because they identify themselves with their work – an inherent need for them to prove their worth to the society. There is ofcourse the most obvious need – Rise up the ladder and earn more to sustain a better lifestyle.
Principally, we can attribute this behaviour to being able to lead a happy life. Happiness comes in different forms and shapes – both internal and external. As a child, I used to feel happy whenever I visited Matheran or went on a school picnic to Esselworld. It still amazes me to see children in the Five Gardens at Dadar Parsi colony enjoying the fancy slides and swings. For a parent, the wellbeing of his or her child would be topmost priority. For others, practising Yoga can lead to tremendous peace and happiness.
Now, let’s look at the current scenario
Having travelled a fair bit across both east and western hemispheres, I have always felt India’s greatest asset was its social web – a society where we love to celebrate festivals together, where we still respect elders and are willing to take care of its aged people. Now, I say this in the past tense as all this is changing dramatically with the influence of the western lifestyle courtesy access to 24 x 7 global media. The next generation of start-ups further promote the on-demand, live in the moment lifestyle and the urban India has readily taken to it. This is promoted so aggressively by our media in almost an affirmation to the uber-like lifestyle. Our movies seem to constantly reinforce the aspiration of being rich. Somewhere, amidst all this hoopla, the real happiness is getting diluted.
Now, let’s look at the alternate scenario
Just imagine – if the entire effort of the society, state and its citizens went towards ensuring that we lead a happy life – Who wouldn’t want to live amidst nature, water bodies, green parks, sports facilities, chirping birds? Given a choice, most citizens would travel by public transport if one existed to meet their demands than have to abide by an odd-even rule. We would have more time for our families if we could all return from work than spending hours in traffic. We would all love to take our leave during the year rather than shoring it all up to end of Dec every year.
For long, India has worked on a cost arbitrage model for its human capital – mostly operating at lower income levels on lower productivity jobs as compared to their western counterparts. However, in the new scheme of things, Indians will actually be doing jobs that are comparable to their bosses or western counterparts both in terms of value and quality, enabling them to command higher income.
So Finally what does it mean?
In sum, the state and the society at large has a significant role to play towards ensure the average Indian get what he or she wants. A single-minded focus on the above will go a long way in ensuring Indian citizens feel happy and valued. Similar to how corporates track revenues and profits like hawks, we need to track these measures towards creating happy and valuable lives in this country with an eagle eye – Every highway project or power plant should have a digital display that shows time to completion. Instead of looking for excuses for non-delivery, let’s design and resource projects to deliver.
Some time back, I had visited a village in Jharkhand – extremely remote with no electricity or even toilets. People had to travel to the neighbouring village to charge their mobile phone. I was doing a village study to identify areas that need additional support/investments. Water catchment was critical for the village to ensure they could do double cropping on their land. However, the size of the lake was too small to support this. Further, there was lack of irrigation to support distribution of water across the entire land surface. I took copious notes, went back and presented my analysis and recommendations in all earnestness to the management. Some time later, the only villager who had studied above Class X in that village called me to ask if anything had moved ahead.
That was when I realized that expectation and hope are so critical – Life literally rides on it. The villager had some hope that I, the urban educated professional, will someday help to improve his life and that of his fellow villagers. It’s important that the chosen few work to meet the expectations of each and every Indian – just like the amount of effort we all put to service our top customers who come in suits and flash lots of money!!
Yes, India may need a “CEO” after all but one whose primary objective is making lives more productive and valuable rather than shareholder value.