At the Frankfurt Airport recently, I sat down for a coffee. As all tables were occupied, I ended up joining an American returning from Dubai. Well, it turns out, he was coming back from Iraq. He works for some recontruction firm and has seen eight of his colleagues (or was it his employees ?) getting killed in recent past, the last one just a few weeks away. Less than fifteen feet away. Right in front of his eyes. He used to work for army earlier and said the only difference from then to now is that he doesn’t have a gun.
Why is he there ?
I think a nation does not become great by its policies and moves (howsoever controversial they might be). I think a nation becomes great when people are willing to sacrifice their comfort and tap opportunities that are not in line of sight. Take another case. China. I lived in China in 2002 in the beautiful city Shenzhen (you can reach it by ferry, bus, car, taxi or train from Hong Kong). A great testimonial to the amazing grit and determination of Chinese people to get little more than a foothold in world matters by making great strides in their economy and infrastructure. I will not get into political or other issues that often distract conversations such as this, but will only focus on what I saw there. I probably saw more Mercs there than in most European cities that I have been to. I saw practically no underfed or underclothed people, I saw hardly any beggers. In my company, almost everyone I knew was working minimum of 70-75 hours a week since they started working. If they were married, their spouses were doing the same. If they were parents, they were meeting their children only over weekends. Now, that might be objectionable to some. Nevertheless, they were clear on one vision as a nation: if we want to achieve glorious future, we must be willing to sacrifice our comforts today and work for it. To a foreigner, it appears that the policies seem to help people achieve just that.
Cut to India. We are a nation of billion-plus people aspiring (or is it begging) to become a global power. We did not go to Iraq becase we felt it was a wrong war, we did not go to Iraq because we are not sure of our foreign policy. We don’t know how to handle something like Iraq without offending the vote base, for that matter, not just Iraq, but just about anything under sun ! We have no guts to eliminate our own enemies: corrupt politicians, freely meandering gangsters. It took years before Veerapan was eliminated. Perhaps there are several small veerapans roaming in our cities, our neighborhood and making a mockery of our law and order system. The question is not who can stop them, the question is who wants to stop them. We have accepted that bribery is a part of the tax you pay directly to the government servants, rest of it anyway goes to them. We have accepted illiteracy, poverty, dowry, caste system, reservation as part and parcel of life. Where are we headed to ?
Oh yes, there is a ray of hope. One of the taxi drivers I met in San Jose was from Gujarat. His 12 year old daughter and 9 year old son were back home. He wanted to gift them his three-year old HP laptop on his next trip home. He is surely burning himself bigtime to achieve for his family what seven more generations might not achieve if he drove taxi in Gujrat. I am sure there are millions of such Gujratis, Keralites, Punjabis, Biharis and a whole lot Indians in practically every nook and corner of this tiny planet. Their money sent home is helping their families realize their dreams faster than people who are supposed to benefit from ‘reservation’ policy. What has government done to help these millions of people. Many of them perhaps landed as illegal migrants or sold their ancestral house to buy ticket on the boat that landed them in more greener pastures. How about changing the policy from ‘reservation’ to arm people with skills and export them around the world. How about creating Amdamans like another Hong Kong, or another Singapore.
I think we owe it to our nation and fellow citizens to help create awareness in minds of people that helps them realize their goals. I am a strong believer in ‘thought leadership’ and believe if we must invest financial resources to help uplift our downtrodden, it must be to give them the confidence that they are winners in life. It must be not to give them bread or butter or a roof above their heads but to light a spark in their minds. A spark that vetoes their failure in life, that short-circuits the part of brain that stops them to succeed. Investment in awakening human capital. That’s it.