Hello sir. It’s me again.
Let me start out by saying what a delight it was to hear you speak. One never comes away from a speech of yours without learning something new.
And your latest bhashan in front of the captains of industry was no exception.
For instance, I learnt that one could sit on a tide (“We are now sitting on an unstoppable tide of human aspiration”), which led me to look at the laws of Physics in a new light. Which in turn provided me the reference to understand the deep significance of your “India is not a country, it is energy” statement. After all Indian land-Mass multiplied by two successive “C”ongress governments (C-square) does equal to Energy, as per the laws of Relativity.
I also learnt that there are two kinds of systems—centralized systems and de-centralized systems. I could not have guessed that in a thousand years.
I also came to know how you kept yourself busy in the time that you sir, Member of Parliament, were not in Parliament (40% attendance to remind you sir). You, sir, were meeting people by the boatloads. Girish the painter. The Muslim boy. Friend of yours from United States who wanted to do engineering work. People from MIT. Chinese PM’s secretary.
Such lovely stories they are. So illuminating. For instance, I came to know, from the “the friend with the engineering problem” of the way technical consulting is done in some of the top academic institutions of India wherein someone walks into the room of the professor and obtains a solution for a technical problem for the price of, hold your breath, a couple of thousand rupees. Of course, I understood the moral of that story, namely that the said professor was not aware of the value of his solution (which your friend said was $30,000) because he was, to quote a great 90s song, “Kya cheez ho tum khud tumhe maloom naheen hai”. This was again something I had not expected since in my experience, the best of educational talent in India’s top institutions like IITs and IIMs are well-connected to the global research and industrial community, quite aware of the value of the work they do and hardly “nadaan”. Note to self: walk into the room of an IIT prof with Rs 2000 in my pocket, next time I have a technical problem at work.
And then there was that thing that totally blew my mind: the reason according to you why India will beat US, France and China which is that while guys in the US and other developed nations are trained in simplicity, we are trained in complexity. And that is why we rule. In contrast, China, has no complexity.
When I first heard that sir, I will admit, I was confused. How is the chaos that is India, the red-tape, the lack of transparency, the crazy system of taxes and tariffs, a competitive advantage for Indians in the US market? How does China being a dictatorship reduce its economy, its foreign policy and the interaction between the two to simplicity? When you say “India is a completely different system than the American system, the Chinese system, the Japanese system. It (Indian system) is a decentralized system…” are you seriously trying to say that America, with its extremely strong notion of states rights and power concentrated in corporations (as opposed to just in the hands of federal officials), is more centralized than India, which still has a central finance minister delivering budgets and five-year plans prepared by the Center?
Are you sir not being too simplistic?
Which is when I realized that this simplicity is actually your complexity.
In that since I have no idea as to what you are trying to say, it makes you (and I will quote you here), a “master of complexity”, which I will accept would be a cool degree to have, and hence by extension awesome.
Second note to self: Sir Jadeja is a better all-rounder than Sobers because Sobers is simplicity in his excellence and Sir Jadeja is complexity in that we do not know if he is a worse batsman or bowler.
My mind was also blown by your live demonstration in which you showed, through an actual physical demonstration, where China is different from India. While China gives people a firm handshake, India embraces people. Soft power, the cornerstone of India’s place in the world. Well played sir, though sometimes when people from other countries send back the bodies of our soldiers mutilated or sends their ambassadors of peace into our country on a boat, some of us do wish that our embrace hardens into something else, like Dhritarashtra’s embrace of the iron Bheema.
But forget that for a while. Because your speech was not about such trivialities.
It was about your grand vision.
Which if I understood correctly is this. It is that the real power of India lies with its billions of people and they, only they can, be the masters of their fate. No single person, no “man on the horse” can come and lead the country to prosperity. And that Indians should stop expecting this to happen because it won’t. Your vision is to open up India to its own people, to unblock the blocks, to make sure that “businesses not compete in the corridors of Raisina Hill but in the streets and galis of our towns and village”.
Admirable sir. Most admirable.
But sir, I have a few questions. If personalities cannot solve problems and are, by your logic, not important why do your political posters and cut-outs celebrate the cult of the personality, looking almost always like a page from your personal family album? Why isn’t my picture there or the face of any of the billions whose power you want to unleash? Forget me and other Girish the painters, why arent there the faces of other Prime Ministers who came from your party but do not belong to your family?
Why, sir, if you truly are “insignificant”, do people in your party sing your paeans and that of those with your surname who came before you? Why sir, if you truly are “insignificant”, are you giving a talk to adoring captains of Indian industry and not Girish the painter?
Why sir if you truly admire the American system of primaries and are concerned as to how a few thousand actually select political leaders of the entire nation, is there no expression of contrarian opinion inside the party you yourself lead? Why sir does it happen that inside your party, everyone speaks in the same voice, and leaders always unanimously elected?
Why sir if you want to hear the voice of the people does your government pass laws to restrict freedom of expression online?
Charity starts at home and so do implementation of grand ideas, if I may be so bold as to say.
You say, sir, that your being one of the most powerful men in the country is “accident of fate”. To quote “Happened to come from a chain of people, in the DNA. I have put in this situation. Boss, here you are. Ok.”
Sir, who put you in “that situation?” Don’t you want it? Are you very reluctant? Sir, please do not feel obliged to suffer for our benefit if that is the case. Please.
Finally, let me conclude with your analogy of India not being an elephant but a bee-hive. Allow me to totally subvert the intent of your metaphor. The way a cynical guy like me sees a bee-hive is that worker-bees buzz around to produce honey and then a human being comes, takes away that honey, puts them in jars and sells them in the market. Unfortunately, that is what India is today. The common people, the billions, they work and they produce “common wealth” which is then taken and sold to the highest bidder, with the beneficiaries being those that are not the bees, those that are external to the system: the in-laws, the cronies and the apparatchiks, who are found to benefit from everything—from the bandwidth in the air to the minerals in the ground.
And that is where I felt I missed something in your speech. To put it as simply as possible (and pardon me for being simple, since you like it complex), there were no new prescriptive ideas. No policy specifics. No records of concrete, measurable achievements. It was the same cliches of people empowerment and inclusive growth and poverty alleviation that we have heard for decades, and through generations. It was the same old straw man arguments like where you paint your opponents in broad black strokes like when you point out that some people say ”Muslims? You say they don’t exist. We are going to keep them out of the system.”
Not that I don’t appreciate the new garnishings—the TED-talk like moving to and fro and not standing in front of the mic, the importance of having a demonstration (that hug), the folksy style of speaking, the use of “personal stories” to make a larger point.
But you know, thoda material hota na, to baat baan jata.