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Much like the fictional character, Alice in the all time popular children’s fiction tale, Alice in Wonderland, there is much that is foreign and unfamiliar about “New India”. This is a country barely recognizable from what it was even a few years ago, or a decade at the most. From open calls for genocide against minorities, to the very unreal contradiction of headline management proclaiming the country as a superpower, to the pathetic on the ground realities, a disorienting and disassembling bizarre feeling takes over whenever we attempt to analyze what’s wrong with the nation. Of course, as the cliche goes, “we reap what we sow” and the present rut that India finds itself in is the culmination of decades of apathy and self serving policies perpetuated by whoever was in power, no matter the “ideological color” that they belonged to. As genocide becomes a reality, what with Millions of Mutinies (to paraphrase the late V S Naipaul, the great writer of Indian origin), taking place everywhere, there is a nagging sense that we are approaching a tipping point that can very well swing the popular mood and take us all down the rabbit hole of violence and god forbid, a civil war.
While one can point fingers at a certain party or an ideology, deep down we know that the evisceration of our institutions and their atrophy from being a “steel frame” to rusting and breaking at the seems is something that has been happening over the decades. The rot runs deep and the successive attempts at cultivating “vote banks” has left the nation polarized and communal. With all pervasive corruption and the specter of criminal gangs running amok, the inevitable question is that where is all this leading to? While those who believe in the “idea of India” can say with some optimism, that “this too shall pass”, nonetheless, the overall gut feeling is that “it is different this time” and who knows where we are headed. Suffice to say that Alice can be a good guide for anyone attempting to make sense of India as it is now. Indeed, there is an air of surrealism as we contrast the neoliberal dreams with the harsh realities that is modern India.
It need not have been this way. With abundant resources and the world’s largest youth population, we could have become another economic giant, maybe even overtaking China, if we had nurtured and mentored the Demographic Dividend (a term used to describe how nations with youthful population stand to gain from the economic benefits of favorable demographics) instead of encouraging them to take to violence. Instead of job creation, we are letting them drown in a miasma of a hazy opiate addiction to virtual worlds, thereby providing an escape from the real world demands of having to work for a living or being responsible with themselves. Moreover, this escapist dream world is blurring the lines between reality and unreality, leading to society becoming a spectacle, corroding the humongous talent and latent potential of our youth. Indeed, as both drug consumption and gadget sales increase, it is easy to see why India’s youth is so wasted and incapable of anything but idling and ogling.
While periodical genocides are a reality in post colonial societies, where the “spoils” of such episodes are too tempting to let go, it is a sad commentary on a country like India, that showed so much promise in the decades preceding the present. With its large diaspora excelling wherever they are and whatever they are doing, we should have focused on tapping them for investments, rather than invitations to witness a genocidal reality, what with large sections of the former actively contributing to and taking a vicarious pride in their motherland going down the rabbit hole. Unlike China that reaps wholesome dividends from using its diaspora as cultural ambassadors and employing other soft power techniques, India seems to have co-opted its diaspora into its visions of reclaiming lost glories, despite such dreams being based on questionable assumptions.
As the brutal Second Wave of Covid showed, governance collapses at the slightest disturbance and if and when the Third Wave strikes, we would be on our own, and only citizen volunteers can save us. With skyrocketing suicide rates and chart busting crime statistics, are we headed into the rabbit hole of unreality yet again as we confront the possibility of a devastating new surge in infections, that can exacerbate the existing divisions and would be like throwing fuel on the fire? With genocide being a distinct possibility, even the safety and well being of us all matters more than ever. To conclude, while we are still like Alice soaking in the wonders of the rabbit hole, let us hope that the prophets of India do not take us further down, and stop right now, before it is too late.
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