Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a ‘feel good’ speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort and it echoed the upbeat mood in the country on Wednesday. Usually, 15 August is a pretty stolid affair with the honour guard at the Amar Jyoti and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier being the high spot. The rest of it is relatively dreary.
But this year, there is a soaring of the spirit along with the pledge to send an astronaut into space in 2022 and become the fourth nation in the world to cross that frontier.
Normally, one bought little paper flags on sticks at traffic crossings, but this year full size flags made of cloth are doing a brisk business. You can see enthusiasm in every housing society, community and club, that is having a party today with balloons and bunting.
This morning, I wrote in Dubai’s Khaleej Times newspaper about Motilal, one such flag seller. He is the head of a group of 20 odd kids networking the busy thoroughfare near New Delhi's Safdarjung roundabout. He says that he miscalculated the demand and is now unable to source flag makers to augment his dwindling stock.
The young people who usually shooed his tribe are suddenly the biggest buyers and that change of attitude underscores the transformation in the nation-individual equation.
The under 35s are the new power and they are grabbing social responsibility with both hands and giving it a good shake.
Why is this happening? Ironically, the internet era has fast-tracked awareness and blurred the limit lines for the Indian lower middle and the middle class. Their ability to communicate in real time and having access to information and knowhow has given them a whole new dimension to the way they view life. Nonstop data costs a mere 25 AED (Rs 478) and offers connectivity everywhere. Ignorance is no longer bliss. Now, what was firmly outside their purview has become aspirational and within grasp. Telephony has introduced the new world to the poorer strata of the society, and in the process, helped create a closer knit nation.
For once, let’s put aside the current media trend to inflate negative developments in India because there is more than a passing sense of confidence and positivity for the future, and the road to take.
For, now the impact is being strongly felt in the bottom line. With $50 billion in only online retail, India is swimming in inhouse liquidity. You can see it reflected in the changing social equations. It may seem like a small element but that ugly totem pole of that once hidebound social structure is collapsing.
The ‘servant’ syndrome is rapidly vanishing in urban India and servility is being shown the door. You want domestic help it is now entering the professional statute and you pay by the hour for the chores completed. By the same token, the children of the relatively lower rungs like washermen, barbers, sweepers, peons (office boys) daily-wage blue collar workers, gardeners, cobblers and municipality workers are showing a tectonic shift from their traditional functional traps where they were once damned and marked by the job they performed. Now relatively educated, they talk of investment, they want to own a house, and put money into property as the real estate market has taken a U-turn this year after a decade with young people going for private housing.
The surge is now seen to be crossing into double figures after a slow march since 2009. The numbers increase exponentially. Every year, over 10 million children of uneducated parents go into college. That is today’s India. As people's hunger for information grows Indian print media becomes the one nation in the world where circulations and ad revenue are increasing, and not dwindling.
The economy is not just robust, it is fat and sleek with opportunity. The International Monetary Fund last week announced that India will be the fastest growing major global economy in 2018, with a growth rate of 7.4 percent. In 2019 that will rise even further to 7.8 percent in 2019. The IMF also projects the Indian train has roared out of the sunless tunnels of GST and demonetisation and races with the sun again.
Today, as the glass ceilings of caste prejudice, communal suspicion, illiteracy, corruption, nepotism and injustice are beginning to show cracks and hopefully will turn into shards, industrial output whether manufacturing, mining, electricity, transportation or aviation is doing good. The Index of Industrial Production is on an upward slope and even the agricultural centre is enjoying the fallout from higher minimum support prices for crops.
Once not even on the board, initiatives like the Institute for Competitiveness and the Social Progress Imperative are now studying socio-economic data and offering options. "The objective has been to provide the leaders, businesses, and changemakers in the country with an actionable tool to advance social progress for India’s citizens. It is now engaged in seeing how it can create beacons to light the path to a brighter and inclusive future for Indian citizens," says a spokesperson for the Institute.
The present findings show that the fluctuation factor is higher oscillating from state to state between 26 percent and 76 percent; this vast differential indicates that at least egalitarianism is a work in progress.
Even with our weaknesses, which is often internal squabbles, the divisiveness of our politics, the blight of our caste system, the acts of cruelty towards our women and children, and the threads of corruption and exploitation, it is a sobering thought that we make tangible progress.
Our music and dance, our creative muse and the gravitas of our rural hinterland also a harbour for rustic and robust humour. Our love for karma and the fallback on kismet, the affection for duty (majboori, no word in English to define it) and our fatalism — they are all our strengths. Give me the unmitigated pleasure of our festivals regardless of religion, look at the card on the gifts of our lives... it reads I am an Indian.
And for once there is no need to analyse the Modi speech. It was for for the occasion and if the Congress has any sense it will let it slide and hot pick holes in it. He touched every valid subject, use prose and poetry, rhetoric and rhyme to connect with his nation. From Modicare to Rule of law, from a boost for women power to calling for an end to vigilantism he touched emotional chords and strummed the fate of the nation with his words.
He avoided the Hindu-Muslim trap, recorded the importance of the eastern states, wanted India to move ahead of the pack and we liked it. The endgame was sheer exhortation for a new India and it worked like magic.
It was good to be in India. It is good to be an Indian. Then there is the bounty of nature. The majesty of the mountains, the grandeur of our coastline, the power of our rivers, the vast farmlands and their produce, the flora and fauna which enriches us. That is India, a mystery wrapped in an enigma, just a nod away from greatness.
Even the monopoly of cricket as India’s pet peeve and passion has been broken with real life heroes like 25-year-old Khushbir Kaur who won the silver medal in the Women’s 20 kilometre Race Walk at the 2014 Asian Games at Incheon, South Korea. Hima Das became the first Indian track athlete ever to have won a medal in the World U-20 Athletics Championships recently.
There is much to celebrate and much to cheer in a nation that has tended to take one step forward and then two backwards. Its greatest strength is its billion people and the energy and pure horsepower that they bring to bear. When that Tricolour goes up on Wednesday and India shines, the word will go forth to friend and foe alike that being Indian is a wonderful benediction for this is the now the land of opportunity.
Updated Date: Aug 15, 2018 11:31 AM