Did you know why the Indian lockdown is creating so much human suffering, even though we did relatively well on the Covid case numbers? Why is ours the only major country in the world where citizens are walking hundreds of kilometres home, going hungry and being lathicharged and tear gassed by the police? Or why is our government unable to provide a large fiscal support package like dozens of countries across the world? The answer, which you may not like to hear, is this: We are poor.
Despite all our past glory, the “potential” India has, the love you have for your country, that answer won’t change. We don’t have money. Our people are poor. Our government is poor. Hence, when we carry out a lockdown like Europe or the US, we suffer more. For them, the lockdown creates an itch. For us, we bleed.
We might find it convenient to blame the coronavirus for our current woes, but if we are totally honest about it, the lockdown hit us harder because we are poor. And we are poor not because of corona in 2020, but for all that we have been doing for the last decade or two. We have played identity politics, attempted a misplaced socialism and gone after India’s entrepreneurial zeal with a butcher’s knife, gouging whatever we can out of it. A noted Indian billionaire once told me – India is poor because we are habituated to being poor. It’s true, we almost seem to love it.
Our morality or value systems are at the heart of this problem. Hence the solution lies not in recommending policy measures – which plenty of well-meaning Indian experts are doing – but in attacking the obsolete, idiotic and self-harming beliefs that are keeping our nation poor. I am not really sure about the origins of our current values, but here is what Indians implicitly classify as good and bad.
First, the bad: Chasing money is bad. People who chase money are bad. People who chase the good life are bad (tax good hotels and air tickets like crazy). People who consume are bad. People who want new phones, new cars, new clothes are bad. People who drink wine or beer are bad (tax the living hell out of them). People who want to become rich are bad (assume they are all black money hoarding crooks). People who like air-conditioning are bad.
Here’s what we think is good: Living a simple life (and hence GDP contracting, consumption reducing behaviour is great), respecting elders (including their obsolete ideas about India, which kept it abysmally poor), being proud of your religious or caste identity (and therefore focussing on it over anything else in elections), letting the government regulate and take care of everything (particularly those business guys who are all bad and therefore a sarkari babu needs to control them) and worshipping politicians like leaders of religious cults (and therefore not holding them accountable).
With this mindset, where we neither understand nor celebrate wealth creation; where we allow the government to finger, control and dominate all businesses and where we let Hindu-Muslim issues become the most important issue, a nation can never prosper.
The current lockdown is a great chance to reflect on what we did wrong, not just during corona time, but in the decade or two preceding it. It is not vulgar to pursue being rich. It is vulgar to see hungry labourers walking for days with little kids on their heads. It is not good for the government to control businesses. It simply kills wealth creation and makes foreign investors run away to other places where they are respected and cared for.
Believe it or not, India is not the centre of the universe. The world will move on and go about its business. It is up to India to now go and bring in investments in the post-Covid world. They won’t come from Incredible India posters or Make in India ads. They will come if we truly create a change in our mindset, which then reflects in our wealth creating policies and behaviours.
We have to say it “It was sickening to be so poor that we couldn’t handle an outbreak of a disease with dignity.” We have to accept: Money may not be everything in life, but it is pretty darn important – for an individual or for a nation.
In the post-corona phase our economy won’t just slow down, it will be a total mess. The good news is the rest of the world will be in a whirl too. Chaos and disorder can be scary, but it can also create wonderful opportunities.
People want to move out of China. However, it is up to us to cajole, beg, attract and do whatever it takes to bring people here instead of other places. We have to make business free from the clutches of ten-circulars-a-day babus, else nobody will come here.
Corona has taught us a lot of things. Investment in public health, personal hygiene are the obvious ones. However, there is one other big lesson. That it sucks to be poor, particularly during a crisis. Don’t let our obsolete mindsets keep India poor. It is time we shift our national priorities from all the nonsense we focus on to one, and only one goal – making India rich.