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The two New Year wishes for India

January 02, 2016 12:51 IST

In 2016, Mitali Saran hopes that there are improvements in education and healthcare in the nation. 

Well it’s 2016, and, despite our collective New Year’s Eve effort to obliterate it with alcohol, here, still, is our battered little world, still spinning through the wastes of space, still hoping -- against all the evidence -- for better. Janus, the two-faced Roman god of transitions, looks with one face to the past, and with the other to the future. 2015 was so rocky for most people that 2016 seems like a better view.

So, as the planet’s axis tilts again, and the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn prepare for another slow seesaw; as the earth sets off on one more long rotation around the sun; as sea levels rise, and flood and drought and earthquake punctuate the rhythm of life, it’s time to reflect on the fundamental question for the future, and that is: Donald Trump? Really?

Yes, this could be the year that the most clownish of an uninspiring pack of US Republican presidential candidates gives the Democratic party a serious run for its money. Many Americans, and most of the rest of the world, wants to believe that Trump couldn’t possibly clinch the Republican nomination, let alone become POTUS, and hopefully he won’t -- but the world is crazy enough that one should never say never.

It may be that America really decides to put its faith in a man who thinks that the solution to gun violence is more guns, wants to raise anti-immigration walls that would have kept his own parents out of America, references a debate moderator’s menstrual cycle, and has a disturbingly orange cast to his skin. (He also constantly picks on other people’s physical attributes, so he’s fair game for a cheap shot.) Some people think of The Donald as the Democrats’ secret weapon, a subtle saboteur working for Hillary Clinton. Alas, I don’t think you can be that rich -- or that orange -- without trimming your sails to your own winds.

Please, America, do not unleash this chap on the world. You’ve already given us Islamic State -- yes, you did that -- IS, who are probably celebrating the newly dawned year 1372 with a little beheading practice. Have mercy. I realise this is rich coming from a country that gave the world Sakshi ‘Ten Hindu Kids’ Maharaj and Baba ‘Gay Cure Yoga’ Ramdev.

But at least our nutjobs don’t have their fingers on the big red button. (Arguably.) Anyway, that’s my first wish for the world for the coming year: may the Trump campaign collapse in a cloud of dust.

I have many wishes for India, but the dearest is that we should start to fix two critical training and employment areas: the one that produces schoolteachers, and the one that produces health care professionals -- physicians, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and administrators.

The abysmal quality of our government schoolrooms is producing slightly, and badly, educated young people who will become a poor quality workforce -- at worst it doesn’t educate them at all, and at best doesn’t do justice to their potential. You can make all kinds of shining smart cities, but if they’re run by dull people, you may as well have saved the money.

We have some of the finest doctors in the world, but we also have some of the most badly trained and dangerous doctors, who buy and cheat their way to a medical degree and who play with people’s lives every time they wake up in the morning. We have some of the most accessible and affordable pharmaceutical products in the world, but also racketeers who put spurious tablets in the hands of vulnerable sick people, at best not improving their condition, and at worst killing them.

If we can block the route to fake degrees, and focus on creating actual training systems -- well-trained people who can train others well after them -- we will at least be on the way to creating two solid fundamental systems that make people’s lives better, and that contribute to the much-vaunted economy instead of impeding it.

There, that’s not too much to ask for, I don’t think. We cannot get anywhere, let alone where we want to go, unless we fix these two things. If we don’t, we will have a small set of great -- or lucky -- individuals and businesses pulling ahead, but the vast majority of India will be left shambling behind, trying to fend for itself as best it can.

That’s not sabka saath, sabka vikas. Of course I’m not sure that it’s reasonable to expect a focus on top-notch education from a central government that has done everything short of tattooing the word ‘anti-intellectual’ on its own forehead, but this is the thing about every new year: one can hope. Happy 2016! 

Image: People hold balloons during the New Year celebrations outside a church in Ahmedabad. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

Mitali Saran
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