Thursday, November 30, 2023

Society: Not dark yet… Symbols of performance (Chapter 3)


Scientists say that it gets darkest before the first semblance of light. philosophers say that darkness is the absence of light. Sociologists say that society must reach a breaking point before it builds itself once again. Anthropologists say that civilizations die when civility dies. And Bob Dylan had said, “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there…” This 3-chapter series is an analysis of why it is necessary for us to go fully dark as a nation before we see light. The viewpoint is totally personal, and the belief is intensely strong!

We are undergoing a cruel twist of fate in India’s geopolitical standing in the world right now. On the one hand, the US is ‘chastising’ us on minority management while the Taliban in Afghanistan preaching about religious harmony. Very rarely would any nation have a face-off with such diametrically opposing political constituents?

The icing on the cake is the OIC now raising hue and cry about deliberate sacrilege by some spokesperson of the ruling party in India who just wanted to earn some browny points with her political masters. However much Messrs. Jaishankar & Bagchi try to sound unshaken and confident, they cannot deny that they have been merely reacting to situations not suiting the narrative of “India and the Vishwaguru”!

I end my three-part analysis of the state of the nation with this concluding piece on the symbols of performance that define the nation today. Peter Parker might have wished that with great power comes great responsibility. In reality, with great power comes great anarchy. And that anarchy lies more in the mind than in physical manifestations. In fact, the latter is an outcome of the mental state the nation is in.

A very potent demonstration of the same is how we evaluate the performance of a nation and what are the symbols we uphold to justify the same.

Reclaiming history

This seems to be the biggest symbol of performance for the average Indian. The fact that one is reclaiming the right place for a certain faith by changing historical records, claiming ownership of places and raising the decibel on hate shows how vulnerable the entire logic is, for it rests on reactionism rather than any pro-action. History has always been written by the ‘victors’. One need not only be a military victor to do so. A political victor works equally well. The legacy one seems hellbent on leaving behind is of a cultural revolution rather than an economic one. Performance rating, A+!

Bullying neighbours

The offence is the best form of defence. And it applies very well in present times. When economic ineptness like Demonetisation and the GST rollout put us on the back foot, it was best to take solace in bashing and bullying our neighbours who are either overawed by our sheer size or have problems of their own to tackle.

So, Nepal and Sri Lanka fall in line. Some wood for a temple and some fuel in a national calamity will do. Bhutan has always been happy the way it is. Bangladesh does not really care a damn for you as it is witnessing its best time in the sun. Afghanistan has its own mess to clean up. China is a bigger bully. And Pakistan is what we have as a punching bag. Birthday diplomacy and surgical strikes aside, we seem to be becoming more like them while they do not any more look up to us. Performance rating, B+.

Civil unrest

CAA. NRC. Article 370. JNU. Ayodhya. Gyanvapi. Mathura. Budangiri.

Each has been a total success. The end objective has been met. Subjects like “citizenship” are always big-ticket items for authoritarian regimes. Immigration and resettlement are always big ones for democratic regimes. While India decides on rounding up Rohingyas into detention camps, Germany decides to accept Syrians, Afghans and Ukrainians into their society without a bother about the ethnic balance being affected.

We are not very different from China with the Uighurs, but then we are not totalitarian, only authoritarian. The objective is to drive this message to the uneducated, unqualified, and unemployed youth that their fate is due to the appeasement of a few who are gnawing at their jobs, food, land, well-being and security. Performance rating, A+.

Statues & Structures

  • Statue of Unity at Rs 2989 crores.
  • Statue of Equality at Rs 1000 crores.
  • Statue of Ram [yet to be built] at Rs 2500 crores.
  • Central Vista project at Rs 20,000 crores.
  • Kashi Vishwanath Corridor project at Rs 600 crores.

An article in The Wire a few months ago stated that every Kochi Biennale costs only Rs 26 crores!

These are a few examples of the massive building frenzy we are seeing around us as some want to leave behind a legacy of statues and structures that should evoke awe and instil pride but not fill stomachs or heal maladies. On government expense, which is taxpayers’ money.

Some of the world’s biggest authoritarian regimes built some of the most magnificent structures like houses of parliament, statues, memorials, stadia, and expressways. When people in ancient Rome could not eat, they were invited to the games at Circus Maximus. Some of the most memorable democratic regimes have built industries, seats of learning, centres of art and institutions of research.

These statues and structures are the emotional outlets for the headless millions…clicking selfies, creating social media posts or simply venting out base frustrations which otherwise are likely to be labelled as sedition.

FDI inflow was $83.59 billion in 2021-22 but the net figure stands at $39.30 billion accounting for the outflow.

Social fractures
In the 8th year of the government’s rule, there are lots of laudatory memes doing the usual rounds. The one that has been used by many leading industrialists is the one below…

Economy size (GDP) rank10th6th
Share in global GDP2.6%3.2%
Share in global trade2%2.2%
Share in FDI flows2.1%6.7%
Auto production rank7th4th
Steel production rank4th2nd
Mobile phone production rank12th2nd
Number of Unicorns493
India’s weight in BRICS13.5%21.5%
India’s weight in EM6.6%12%
Climate change perform31st10th
Global innovation index83rd46th
WGI governance index103rd49th
Ease of doing business142nd63rd
Source: Bloomberg, MSCI, IMF, Kotak MF

Statistics is a clever thing as you can show what you wish to. And you may share just one side of the coin as it suits your narrative. A few days ago Dipankar Bhattacharyya wrote a terrific piece of analysis in The Economic Times laying bare both sides of the economic story.

Retail inflation was at an eight-year high of 7.79% in April, the fourth straight month of clocking above 6%.

FDI inflow was $83.59 billion in 2021-22 but the net figure stands at $39.30 billion accounting for the outflow. And the most investment is not in large infrastructure or industrial projects but in the start-up ecosystem. Talking of start-ups, we clocked our 100th ‘unicorn’ in May but one out of five are registered outside the country. The 100 unicorns have a combined valuation of $333 billion.

Retail inflation was at an eight-year high of 7.79% in April, the fourth straight month of clocking above 6%.

We are the world’s 4th largest automobile production market, yet the latest NFHS-5 report shows that only 8% of Indian households own a personal car. What is worse, there are only 1.4 buses per 1000 people, as per SIAM reports.

What is worrisome is that many do not search for jobs leading to long-term unemployment.

The World Inequality Lab report of December 2021 was wished away by the government as it held up the fundamental uncomfortable truth that we are getting richer with only 1% of the population owning 20% of national GDP and the bottom 50% just 13%!

A just-released report by CSE shows that close to 71% of Indians cannot afford a healthy meal and close to 1.7 million die every year due to malnutrition. Our rankings in the Hunger Index and Happiness Index are rude facts that every leading industrialist would be ashamed of.

The CEDA-CMIE bulletin on employment of February 2022 shows that youth employment has been decreasing steadily since 2016. If 103.80 million in the 15-29 age band were employed in Q1 of 2016, it fell to 72.70 million in Q4 of 2021. What is worrisome is that many do not search for jobs leading to long-term unemployment. This dangerous trend is what leads to the creation of lumpen who roam the streets at the beck and call of political and religious forces. Issues like cultural revival and ethnic authority are diversions for their deep-down frustrations, still dreaming of a better future!

Frame of mind

This frustration and a sense of despondency lie behind the success of films like Jai Bhim, Pushpa and KGF. We are back to the 1970s when Indian cinema saw the rise of the “angry hero”, whether Amitabh Bachchan in Mumbai or Rajnikant in Chennai. There is a sense of despondency in the youth today which is vented out via a Chandru, Pushparaj or Rocky. While the metro-centric Indian middle-class lives in a cocoon, the migrant outlier has a life of fire and friction.

There was a sense of dejection and frustration in the 1970s for the dreams woven in the 1950s had come to a nought. The mission of “Garibi Hatao” was an utter failure and a tool for rampant corruption across caste, creed and colour. It singed every disenfranchised Indian who had nothing but a vote as a weapon. It took just 10 years to dethrone someone who was accorded the status of a goddess and had no alternative!

Wait for the morning

In a civilization as old and rich as ours, a decade or two of struggle is nothing but a speck in the sands of time. to see better times, one has to go through it. One cannot simply wish it away, as then we would not learn our lesson as a people. We need to walk into the darkness and walk out of it. Unless we do it, we will never know which way to look up to and what mistakes to avoid for the next half a century.

As a nation, we are still very young. Nation-states that have existed for a couple of centuries have matured enough for a collective conscience to ensure the deviations from the common path are short-lived. We might need another decade for the same.

I end my trilogy with the last stanza of Sahir Ludhianvi’s epic poem “Woh subah kabhi to aayegi”…

माना के अभी तेरे मेरे अरमानों की क़ीमत कुछ भी नहीं
मिट्टी का भी है कुछ मोल मगर, इन्सानों की क़ीमत कुछ भी नहीं
इन्सानों की इज़्ज़त जब झूठे सिक्कों में ना तोली जाएगी
वो सुबह कभी तो आएगी

A translation will not do any justice to the words, hence I am not attempting one.

Jai Hind!

Also Read: Society: Not dark yet… Symbols of power (Chapter 2)

(Avik Chattopadhyay is co-creator of Expereal India. Also, he is the former head of marketing, product planning, and PR at Volkswagen India. He was associated with Maruti Suzuki, Apollo Tyres, and Groupe PSA as well.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)

Avik Chattopadhyay
Avik Chattopadhyay
Avik Chattopadhyay is the co-creator of Expereal India. Also, former marketing head, product planning and PR at Volkswagen India. He was associated with Maruti Suzuki, Apollo Tyres and Groupe PSA as well.


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