(Sanjay Jha is the National Spokesperson of the Indian National Congress party. He is co-author of the bestseller 'The Superstar Syndrome'. Mr. Jha is a former banker, and also a leading Management Consultant in training.)
French economist Thomas Piketty's book Capital in the 21st Century has become a modern cult classic on the raging debate on economic growth models, income inequalities and the intrinsic exponential value of private wealth accumulation. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the BJP takes charge amid a rising crescendo of unrestricted free-capitalism from his inner-circle advisers, the issue of India's rising disparities naturally assumes center-stage.
To understand India is like solving the Rubik's cube with one hand tied. Perhaps someone might through sheer fluke or a rare incisive insight and skill, but an overwhelming 99.99% will be flummoxed by India's incredible contradictions, abundant with sublime absurdities.
Let me explain. Around the same time that the Archaeological Survey of India was digging for 1000 tons of gold worth a whopping $40 billion under a Lord Shiva temple in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh thanks to a priest's majestic premonition, 16,000 of India's outstanding engineers had successfully launched Mangalyaan, a rocket to Mars, joining an elite western club in space research.
The gold, of course, could have solved the intractable challenge of the current account deficit that has so paralyzed brilliant economists. It did not.
And there were some who were outraged that India spent Rs 460 crore on the Mars trip; they feel less agitated when the controversial financial firm Sahara buys an IPL cricket team for nearly four times the value.
Dogged superstition and impeccable science coexist in the great land where the Indus Valley Civilization once flourished. Five-star hotels are proliferating even while 620 million people defecate in the open every single morning. India is self-sufficient in food-grain production yet 42% of its children under the age of five years suffer from serious malnourishment. Among the many critics of the state's subsidy for the poor are those who are members of swank air-conditioned gyms trudging wearily on treadmills to fight obesity.
The Khans - Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman - rule Indian hearts and Bollywood, but a relatively less popular actor Emran Hashmi struggles to get an apartment in Mumbai because he is a Muslim. Free-market fundamentalists get a migraine attack when the government announces the Right To Food providing for subsidized food to 800 million people, considered by them as "wasteful expenditure," even as they lament farmer suicides, starvation deaths and the rising risk of Maoism.
A world-class player in a team sport Sachin Tendulkar gets an unparalleled rousing farewell while a world champion in a solo event, chess, Vishwanathan Anand is pushed to the back-pages.
Ever since the Congress party's unprecedented defeat in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, there are many myopic critics and perennial Gandhi family bashers who have singularly targeted Rahul Gandhi. They fail to understand that Mr Gandhi is a marathon man, a long distance runner with a visionary roadmap of India's future. And that leadership skills are not summarily decided by electoral fortunes or otherwise.
Mr Gandhi once said; "Our journey is one of transition. Sixty years ago, we started with one India, which was poor. Today, we stand at the crossroads with two distinct Indias. There is no simple way to categorize this divide. It is, for example, not a clear rural-urban divide. There are cities in India that are extremely disconnected and there are rural pockets that connect seamlessly to the world. This phenomenon is most evident in the states that contribute to the Indian diaspora like Kerala and Punjab. The connected India is what most visitors from abroad are exposed to. Bangalore, Delhi and Pune represent it in the popular imagination. This part of India has roads, sports, airports, electricity and broadband Internet. It boasts a young and thriving middle-class with global needs and practices. It produces goods and services valued in the world market. It has access to education, healthcare and information and communicates fluently in English with the rest of the world. Connected India is already the size of the United States and today creates a large proportion of our nation's wealth. It is growing rapidly and providing us with the financial resources to connect and transform the other India. Connected India's political power is limited but growing. Unconnected India does not yet produce the goods, deliver the services or supply the skills that the world uses. It is more than twice the size of its connected counterpart, yet it occupies no mindshare abroad. It is the conscience keeper of our democracy and decides the direction which we will take. Those who visit it and are exposed to its power know that, once connected, it will deliver unprecedented wealth to the global economy. Politically, it packs the punch of a super heavyweight."
Mr Gandhi's philosophy encapsulates the principal finding of Piketty, that even affluent western societies have seen accentuating differences between different strata of society. In China and India, our problems are far bigger, and more grave. As Mr Modi assumes full responsibility, despite India's inherent contradictions, we must remember that it has done a dicey tight-rope walk with arresting finesse so far, in spite of several moments of trepidation. But the walk must continue with a fine balance.
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