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Running out of concrete

As a country, we are running out of concrete — in our warehouses, and in our veins. We flex our muscle and bellow Rafale & Bofors, but in things nation-saving, we are running thin. Our huff and puff are almost as drained as our car batteries

Running out of concrete
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Today, as a nation, we are depleted. Tormented. Tortured. Almost tonsured. Our bridges are getting swept away. People are forlorn, completely uprooted. Dams are bursting their banks and citadels. And even the most major of embankments and our newest 'pulls' (small bridges) inaugurated with fanfare barely a month (like the one by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar) vide video-conferences today lie desecrated and damaged, washed away by India's now predominantly harsh monsoons.

State governments are toppling like nine-pins, or are on the verge of being pulled down. COVID-19 cases are galloping away, escalating from being scary to dreadful, close to being a catastrophe. What is happening to us as a nation? In these days of the global pandemic that has been ravaging the country for a half-a-year now, why are we running out of concrete — in our warehouses and in our veins?

We stand depleted

We are clearing running out of something that binds us together in these tough times, tolerance and resilience, especially the quick-setting version. And we flex our muscles and bellow Rafale and Bofors, cry China, Pakistan and Nepal. But in the larger scheme of things, those that are most intimate and nation-saving, we are running rather thin. With or without our bulging chests, our huff and puff are now mere predilections which are running dangerously low, like our car batteries — un-started and unused for months now.

We stand depleted. Devoid of reason or resolve. Which is a paradox, as today is when these are needed the most in a nation that stands at the very brink on many precipices. Instead, we as a people are displaying a chutzpah that borders on the scary, and a lack of unity that is barely short of being self-destructive. We are damping decibels, to weed out any debate or concrete moves on the real issues that confront us. What we suddenly do have in abundance is doubt and public deficit.

Why this trust deficit?

Coronavirus cases are increasing exponentially, scarily so. Following in the footsteps of Maharashtra, Delhi and Tamil Nadu, it is now Bihar, Karnataka, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Assam that are showing the fastest growth curve figures. Overall numbers of those infected are upwards of the 15 lakh mark, and India is now #3 in the world. Markets and sales of anything but the most essential of items continue to be insipid and devoid of any signs of a revival anytime soon.

In a sanguine turn of events, the floods are here too. Ironically, the states worst hit by raging waters are Bihar and Assam, caught in the deadly double grip of the pandemic and flooding waters. And while Karnataka grapples with rising COVID-19-positive cases, news from state Capital and India's Silicon Valley Bengaluru is that top IT giants such as Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys Technologies are shedding thousands of jobs as they enter survival mode. Arch-rivals Wipro Technologies and Tech Mahindra are showing similar trends, and over 10,000 people have lost their jobs in the last few months in the country's Top 5 IT companies alone.

Twist in the tale

Another twist in the tale is the upcoming elections in some Indian states. As is wont, the hustings scheduled for the last quarter of the calendar year are beginning to take centre-stage, even as people grapple with declining health, livelihoods and hope. Some of India's states are clearly falling prey to the desperate call from within the ranks for an electoral victory. The next few months will reveal the extent of the rot. But what is clear is the crassness and overbearing approach of the authorities, and a total betrayal of the trust bestowed on elected governments by the masses.

Amid all this mayhem, television news channels share with us gory, hourly details of state governments running out of required on-the-floor numbers and falling out of favor in the state assembly. It has happened in Karnataka. And in Madhya Pradesh. It almost happened in Maharashtra, with the Congress-supported Uddhav Thackeray regime surviving by the skin of its teeth. Even so, Maharashtra remains a borderline case, while Rajasthan is going through its own set of tribulations, court hearings, and standoffs with the Speaker of the House and the state Governor.

Border tensions prevail

Also amid the mayhem, the same television channels repeatedly share with us the joyous arrival of five state-of-the-art Rafale fighter aircraft, the first of the 36 that the Indian Government is sourcing from France's Dassault Aerospace Limited in a landmark Rs 60,000-crore deal (US $8 billion), one with an unprecedented 50-per cent 'Offset Clause', which holds the potential to boost Indian expertise and knowhow in the high-tech area of defense manufacturing.

But what of this heightened state of defense-readiness? As mentioned earlier, we also recently scrambled to get 21 MiG 29 fighter jets and 12 Sukhoi Su-30 MKI aircraft from Russia for around Rs 6,000 crore (US $800 million). The latest deal is the now-envisaged before-time delivery of five regiments of Russia's S-400 surface-to-air missile systems for around Rs 40,000 crore (US $5.43 billion). That's an over Rs 1-lakh-crore spend over the next year, which we can ill-afford. The economy is in trouble, crores are losing their jobs, industry sectors are dying. And a nation of 135 crore people is petrified of stepping out of their homes for anything but what is necessary for daily survival. Neither India nor anyone else is going to war anytime soon.

Sifting out the bad news

It is this 360-degree circle of bad news on all possible fronts that is beginning to break the backs of even the most resilient and stoic of India's citizens. Traditionally, we as a people have battled adversity and reversals with aplomb and a democratic unity that won the hearts and admiration of the entire world. Who can forget India's then Opposition leader, Atal Behari Bajpayee, representing the country at the United Nations in the early 1970s? And that at the request of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi… The world was left stunned by this show of unity in the face of global adversity.

When Vajpayee was questioned by a BBC reporter on why he was helping out one of his staunchest critics, Indira Gandhi, his reply left the world applauding in silent praise. "A rose adorns a garden, so does a lily. Each is beset with the idea that they are individually the most beautiful. But when the garden falls into a crisis, it is no secret that the gardeners have to safeguard its beauty as one. I have come today to save the garden. This is Indian democracy," said Vajpayee, leaving the reporter speechless.

In contrast, today's Indian democracy is facing a conflagration like never before. Today, even as the garden is being run over by what analysts crassly call 'bhakts' and 'chamchas', we are refusing to unite on any front even at a time of multiple and life-threatening crises.

Coming together as one

That, then, is the need of the hour — to stand together on all fronts to save the garden.

A beginning was made when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Ladakh in mid-July, sending a curt signal to the world that the excesses of any external nation, be it China or Pakistan, would not be tolerated. This bluntly-worded message sent ripples of patriotic fervor running through India and Indians. As a people, we need to bury our differences for now and move ahead together, as one. We have already had five rounds of meetings of Chief Ministers with the central government in the face of the pandemic – the hatchet needs to be buried, if only for a bit till we are back on our feet.

As India and the rest of the world wait for a vaccine to put an end to COVID-19, we need to use the intermediate period to prepare for the new world order. India is uniquely positioned and equipped to emerge as the next major force in the global manufacturing economy. We can help rewire the planet. After all, we are already the IT backbone of the world. We just need to replicate that fantastic success to other sectors of the economy and our social fabric. The days after COVID-19 will be most telling in terms of global ascendancy and hierarchy. In adversity lies opportunity and we need to seize the moment, and not squander away this chance in the name of indifference and intolerance – in the name of politics, religion or social differences.

The writer is a business analyst and communications specialist. He can be reached at narayanrajeev2006@gmail.com

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