Hoping for the best

India’s unusual ascension as a nation may well be a product of the hope held by its people in the face of insurmountable odds

Of the vast array of policy options available to our formidable governors to solve the country's problems, hope is the safest choice. A senior official since retired had a routine opening response to all and sundry enquiring about the state of affairs of the State, parried with a holy chant with eyes towards the skies and exhaled with the assurance of divine knowledge: 'Rab Rakha' — God protects. Administratively appropriate, secular in spirit and religion-neutral. We can say with equal solemnity: spoken like a true bureaucrat. There we have it, hope is often our default policy option in any situation. China crosses our border or LAC as it is called, at least allegedly, let us hope that after giving our 'befitting' response, they will slink back into their side of what they think is the LAC or LOC. Take it or leave it. The battle with the COVID-19 virus is a series of steps resulting in hoping for the best. Starting with a rehearsal of a lockdown for one Sunday, we were in a perpetual one for months. Now, we do not know where and when it has ended and where it is still in force. COVID, though, is still flourishing. We have now placed our faith in the discovery of the magic vaccine as our health systems have done what they can. On the one hand, there are cries for retrieving the economic hardships, but the surge in infected cases just does not abate. The claim of the authorities of having all under control is exactly that — a claim. People are doing the needful to survive, cope, salvage what is left of their will to fight. Yet again, hoping for the best.

Our economy is in a continuing dive. So all promises of a high growth trajectory are deferred to the next year. Only some people with very clear hindsight and limited foresight but blessed with the 'third eye' of Lord Shiva notice green shoots every once in a week or so. If CMIE is to be believed, about 18.9 million salaried jobs have been lost in the pandemic and 120 million daily wage jobs. The green shoots must be in extreme infancy, perhaps subterranean in conception to signal any revival of the economy to those not dazzled by the glitter of our knowledgeable messiahs. So let us once more hope for the best and remember that hope is also a plan, only without a timeline.

The sufferance is equitably distributed. Urban centres, peri-urban areas or the rural country live with similar deficits in governance. Our cities, the best ones that we have are rendered dysfunctional in the monsoons because of poor planning or simply choked stormwater drains not cared for. So are the villages flooded with rivers overflowing their banks or breaches in the canals. Even though monsoons are needed and the plains eagerly await them every year, we still cannot deal with them. From the reaches of Assam, all over the Gangetic plains and even in the hinterland, including newly built cities, water management is appalling. We build over nature's bounties, over water bodies and other assets with no regard to the sanctity of the environment. So

annually life gets disrupted leading to huge economic losses apart from the cumbersome effort to restore civic services. Rural country and the urban settlements, no less, then are afflicted with post-flood epidemics. This is year after year. We publicly lament the devastation and privately mourn our dear ones who could not make it through dengue, malaria, tuberculosis, H1N1, SARS etc., even though many of these lives could have been saved if we had kept our hygiene and our local governments had heeded their responsibility in the famed 'Swachh Bharat' campaigns. Life goes on, hoping for the best.

We are a country of tomorrows. The enigma of our complexities is yet to unravel. A nation does not move ahead if its whole is lesser than the sum of its parts. With 93 per cent of our population in the informal or what can also more accurately be called the unorganised sector, really provides resilience to our economy, only the music of our folk traditions uplifts the gloom of apathetic governance. The life story of our achievers in music, sports, small businesses, vendors, weavers, artists, is, in reality, the story of overcoming odds of denial, discrimination and many times plain negligence of those tasked with arranging fair and impartial allocations of resources of the state. This 93 per cent informal sector deserves the simplicity of laws, benign governance as they find chartered accountants and legal advisers over-expensive. The proverbial tout or the euphemistic middleman is their interpreter, guide and a friend for a price. Yet, we abandoned these aggregators of our GDP to their own fate when the deadly COVID virus invaded our land. COVID only exposed our cumulative negligence. The wage-earner has never been a part of our provisioning protocols. No housing, no schools, no healthcare, no insurance covers, no credit system from the banks.

So to borrow Ed Luce's story of India, 'Inspite of the Gods' we have got as far as the world's fourth or fifth-largest economy. He terms it as the 'strange' rise of India. Strange, indeed it is. Our economic policies do not generate employment, our education is only to learn how to game the system as many schools do not have qualified teachers. We spend national time and resources on temples and statues as national assets, our institutions deliver short, yet the resilience of the people triumphs all deficits. Maybe hoping for the best is the dynamic moving force pushing us towards our elusive greatness.

The writer is the Director of the India Habitat Centre. Views expressed are personal

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