Great Indian folly: Obsessed with past, not the future

By Binoo K John

A nation obsessed with its past is likely to lose its future. That is the year-ending thought that should occur to anyone who has been following the plethora of anniversary celebrations that have been the hallmark of 2011 – or any year for that matter.

Have a look at this year’s celebration of anniversaries (if not birth, even death anniversaries, or war victories will do) which any forward-looking modern nation would avoid: 150 years of Rabindranath Tagore, 125 years of mathematician Ramanujan, 214 years of Ghalib, 100 years of Delhi as a capital, 40 years of Bangladesh victory, and 100 years of Jana, Gana, Mana, among other things.

Why is it that the three-figure mark sends us into paroxyms of excitement requiring the summoning of our past glory in text and speech and the burning of so many candles?

Our fascination with sepia-toned memories apart, there is only one answer to this: we fear the future and so don’t plan for it. Reuters

Our fascination with sepia-toned memories apart, there is only one answer to this: we fear the future and so don’t plan for it.  So the past is a safe refuge. Everything in our past is glorious but our future is like that of the lover boy in Kolaveri Di, “dark u ,dark u”.

How many times have we heard about a national plan to raise the level of urban landscape and living? How many plans to convert a stifled bombed-out city like Mumbai into a futuristic, liveable place, or a malaria and mosquito eradication plan, for that matter. Bill Gates has probably spent more of his personal funds on malaria eradication plans and research than the Indian government.

Our only plan is the five-year plan which has become so stultified by bureaucratese and statistics that it has become a routine exercise. For a nation which loves to wallow in static and murk, appointing a committee to investigate every train accident gains priority over designing new rakes and putting computerised systems in place.

An article in Firstpost comments that we have failed to rev up our economy this year and have lost the plot.  It may not be accurate but we believe in fate rather than planning. It is all karma.

Apart from HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, who has a clear plan for our education system — to take it away from the exam-oriented approach so that creativity, imagination and skills get more play — few have a vision. Never do we hear a deadline fixed for any job. Instead we harp on our past with frightening ease.

When will we become obsessed with our future and leave the past to fend for itself? Do memories inspire us or do dreams propel us?

Considering that our mindset is so karma-fixated, one option may be to look at or hire top-notch Americans to help us plan. We are xenophobic and have a misplaced sense of national pride (so much like a khap panchayat), so we have lost the willingness to learn from advanced societies. The US and the UK make it a point to take outsiders, including brilliant Indians, into their national administration to get the best of global thinking, but we will never do it. We don’t even allow an Indian with a US green card to play for our country, and thus dispatched the brilliant tennis player Prakash Amritraj to his doom.

To get our bureaucrats future-fixated, they have to be sent to advanced governments for education. What sense of innovation or planning can we expect from bureaucrats who have come out of the tardy IAS training (or mugging) sweat-schools in Kota? None of them would have read the details of the US planning which took out Osama bin laden (read this brilliant New Yorker article  Getting Bin Laden) about the most amazing operation ever planned.

So precise and to-the-second was the planning that almost nothing could possibly go wrong. Even a plan to bomb out their own helicopters in case of any mishap was in place and it came in handy too. Two Black Hawks used for the operation had sharp flat angles and were covered with radar-dampening “skin”.  Look at the futuristic planning that went into creating such machines.

Compare this awesome precision-planning to the calibre and intellectual vacuity of the Indian Army where its chief, Gen VK Singh, has, for the last one year, been forced to fight his own government to get his tenure extended, since he had two birth dates!

But, of course, we love to celebrate the 1971 victory anniversary, not at all realising that though we won the war, we lost the peace, with Bangladesh not even a strong ally. Till the government of Sheikh Hasina came, it sheltered many anti-Indian secessionists and terrorists.

If we do not shift from the past tense in our national discourse, we will be left looking backwards forever. For the future would have been lost.

Updated Date: Dec 29, 2011 16:08 PM

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