Now it is our turn to speak. For months we have watched the politicians play their cat and mouse
games of toppling governments, setting up new ones, and throwing them out again. All these
equations and equilibriums to stay on in power. Now the time has come to cast our vote, and say
our words. For better or for worse. For a path towards the 21st century or for a step back in time
towards the 16th century.
We have no one but ourselves to blame for the lack of political alternatives. If the Congress does
not represent us and if the BJP makes hollow our aspirations, then it was up to us to choose our own
representatives: good independent individuals who we can trust. What does it take to build a nation?
Steel and cement? No, these are commodities you buy, things you use to get you somewhere.
Character and a sense of duty will take you a much longer way. If more people who have sat in
Parliament had character and a sense of duty to their country and a respect for that institution, India
would have been a different nation. Irrespective of party, people with character and a sense of duty
would know what to support and what to oppose.
Coalition governments would not have been pulled down due to the whims and fancies of individuals
and their egos. The Janata experiment of 1977 and the efforts of the United Front in 1996 would not
have been shattered due to what any one individual felt. These governments may still have fallen, but
due to bad decisions and policies and not to personality conflicts. If we were honest and true, this
would have been a different country. Not a place with 400 million illiterate who are kept ignorant
because it helps in the vote-catching game. Educate the people, was the fear, and they will never
reelect us. The people may have been cheated once, dear politician, but they realised how good or
bad you were and rewarded or punished you in any case. You got your punishment - a little
delayed, maybe - but 400 million people lost out on education and opportunities for a better life.
And there is this other myth that we have inherited from the western world and of which I am a
product. The myth that a number called per capita Gross Domestic Product - the value of goods
and services produced in a country per person - is the final destination of a country. This number
was supposed to be a tool to quantify quantifiable things across countries. It does not measure
happiness or social stability: it measures things. Happiness is not seeing how many tonnes of steel or
cement you have per person, or how many cars you have per person: no happiness is a lot more
subtler than that. Happiness borders on the spiritual. The India I have read about through the vision
of Mahatma Gandhi had that. But we lost it along the way in our search for development. No, I
could never live a life without a car, a computer, or a phone. But, somewhere down the line we have
to draw a distinction between the end and the means to this end. Ask the Indonesians how happy
they are today: they have a lot of phones, cement, steel, cars, and great buildings. India is
somewhere in the twilight zone: chasing a material dream that is too far away and having lost a
spiritual power that we had.
No, this election is not going to get us anywhere close to where we want to go. Because we
ourselves donut know where we want to go - as yet. Do we want to play the money chase game?
Do we wish to ignore progress completely and live in the bullock cart age? Do we want to stop
spending money on arms and spend that money instead on educating people and giving them clean
air to breathe and water to drink. I had read a World Bank estimate that global poverty could be
wiped out at a cost of US$ 80 billion. Think about that number - and imagine that you can remove
poverty all over the world with that much money. And now know that, in 1996, the world spent an
estimated US$ 700 billion on arms of which India spent about US$ 8 billion. Or that the amount of
money spent on tobacco is more than US$ 150 billion every year. How easy it seems to wipe out
poverty forever. And yet we continue to tolerate it.
It is a strange world we live in. And a strange country. One day, when we really know what we
want, we will be able to get it. For now, I guess its good enough just to go to the polling booths and
vote. The good thing is that, in the case of a hung parliament, we donut hang - the politicians do. We
just get to vote again. Jai Hind.