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November 12, 1997


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Pritish Nandy

Why do Indians hate success?

What is the real state of the Indian economy? This is a question to which no one appears to have a correct answer today. The media says we are going through a serious, rather dangerous recession that needs immediate corrective attention.

The government paints exactly the opposite picture. Of a strong, healthy economy somewhat unsure of its own success. Punctuated by frequent promises by the prime minister of prompt and dramatic concessions that would make things even better.

Industry, on the other hand, gives a third view that does not support either the media or the government. The first half year has not been exactly disastrous by industry norms. In fact, in some sectors, we have done much better than last year.

But that offers no joy to an economy where the stock market remains in the dumps, gold has gone through the floor, the property market is stone dead, and sales refuse to pick up. All that has increased are tax raids. And, of course, white collar crime.

Exports, the prime minister informs us, have improved by 11 per cent, no less. The rupee, the finance minister tell us, has stayed firm through the most traumatic times, when the tiger economies of Asia have barely managed to stay afloat, in the wake of the great Hong Kong stock market crash. Agricultural output is fine. Prices are reasonably stable. FDIs are not dropping off. In fact, bankers and global investors are saying that recent events have demonstrated and reaffirmed the inherent strengths of the Indian economy.

But, if all this is true, how come there is such terrible despondency in the air? Why did we have such a dark and dreary Diwali, the worst I have ever seen? Why is everyone so frightened of how things will go in the next few months?

Cars are not selling. Newly built flats are lying empty. Television manufacturers are heavily discounting. So are those who make refrigerators and washing machines and other consumer appliances. The banks are flush with funds, but no one is lending.

Meanwhile, to ensure the success of the Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme in its last 45 days, we are seeing a return to the raid raj. To punish those who are still refusing to reveal their hidden wealth.

What are we doing to overcome this despairing scenario of fear and hopelessness? What is the media doing? What is the government doing? Fighting a stupid and completely unnecessary war with the Tatas, India's biggest and finest business house, and trying to besmirch its otherwise immaculate reputation.

What else is it doing? Spending quality political time not in devising ways and means to revive Indian economy and restore confidence in those who are planning to invest here. But in duplicity and horse trading, in planning and engineering defections. So that existing governments may fall. And new, equally unstable governments can sneak into office.

Instead of backing those brave men and women who are trying to salvage the Indian economy through their hard work and enterprise, we are busy calling them thieves and cheats. We are raiding them. We are accusing them of sleeping with the enemy. We are making it doubly difficult for them to focus on their job and set India on the road to economic revival and financial growth.

Why? Simply because of one reason: We hate success. We do not believe it can be achieved honestly, with hard work. Worse, we are actually convinced (having lived, for years, in a controlled and state-manipulated economy) that all those who beat the system and make things happen are corrupt and wicked, undeserving of admiration. If we had our way, we would like to see them all punished.

That is why their harassment delights us. It fulfills our deepest needs. It feeds our envy, our hate. When such people are caught and intimidated, harassed and humiliated, we are thrilled.

Because we are ready to believe the worst about them. The truth is not important. We actually want to believe that Nadeem killed Gulshan Kumar. We want to believe that the Ambanis manipulate the stock market, that the Tatas pay off militants, that Enron and Cogentrix bribe their way to get things done, that Manu Chhabria asset-strips the companies he acquires, that Vijay Mallya affords his flamboyant lifestyle at the cost of his companies.

All this may well be true. But the question is: Why are we, as a nation, so singularly obsessed with our own failures, wrongdoings, corruption, crime? Why do we turn a Nelson's eye to our every achievement and gloat over our every failure, to prove to the world (as it were) that we are a nation of crooks, robbers, thieves and carpetbaggers? Why do we refuse to give ourselves the benefit of doubt?

This column is being written on an Air-India flight and even as I travel in different countries, watch their economies grow, their people succeed and glow with pride, I am ashamed by our own attitude.

It makes me always feel small to hear Indians speak badly about India. To watch this miasma of mistrust and guilt, anger and envy grow. To read how everything we achieve comes not from amazing human endeavour and enterprise but from wheeling and dealing, manipulation and crime.

It is almost as if we are wishing it upon ourselves. As if we actually believe that we, as a nation, can never prosper unless we give up our faith in ourselves. Our integrity, our ability to fight back all odds, our genius for making the impossible happen.

It is time to give ourselves a holiday. A holiday from cynicism, from self doubt, from purveying bad news. From believing the worst about ourselves. Let us feel proud, as we celebrate 50 years of Independence, that we have created a strong, resilient, brave nation where (despite all our failures) we have also notched up a new remarkable success.

Sometimes maybe at the cost of some tax evasion. Sometimes perhaps by cutting corners here and there. Sometimes at the cost of a few political compromises. But so have all nations, all people. It is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, we have a lot to be proud of.

So instead of debunking our success, making mockery of every milestone that we have crossed, let us celebrate the India we are in the process of shaping. That is the only way we can find out the truth about ourselves. That is also the only way we can inspire each other to do better and better. Instead of pulling each other down.

That is, also, the only way to build a strong, modern, fiercely independent nation that can forget its past and build its present such that tomorrow no one-not even we-can stop ourselves from becoming what we are destined to be. One of the great nations of the 21st century.

And, believe me, it is completely irrelevant which dead man talking takes us there first. Inder Kumar Gujral or Sitaram Kesri or Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Janata Dal or the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party. Or some silly combination among them. The important thing is in getting there.

Pritish Nandy

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