November 26, 2006

A perfect picture of departed politics, dehumanising economics and decaying public

This time, when I was actually thinking about the issue to cover in the TSI editorial, I had initially thought about writing how the Americans exhibited the true essence of democracy and proved that even if the American government might be inhuman in more than one ways, the common American is still left with humanity within himself. But at the last moment, I had to change my plan when I had a chance to glimpse through the latest copy of UNDP’s Human Development Report 2006. Well, for those who aren’t much enlightened about this report (you need not be in any case; after all, this enlightenment brings with it more depressing shadows than any radiance), to tell you in brief, this study essentially ranks the quality of life in terms of life expectancy, adult literacy rate, enrolment in primary, secondary and tertiary education and GDP per capita of most of the UN member countries on whom data is available. For any concerned Indian to go through this report is an agony since a glance shows the pathetic standing of India in the global arena. All the high profile comparisons with China with respect to GDP growth rates, market capitalisation of Bombay Stock Exchange and export growth rates seem to then fly away through the window when the realisation dawns that all the big talk of being an emerging economic and military powerhouse of the world’s 12th largest economy (in terms of GDP) and 4th largest (Imagine!) in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) are nothing more than mere hogwash – as we witness that all that we have dismally achieved is a lowly rank of 126 in the UNDP’s Human Development Index.I did not feel ashamed by it. Rather, I feel disgusted when I see that we fare worse than even Namibia, Gabon and Morocco, whose ranks are respectively 125, 124 and 123 in that index. Probably our spineless political leadership would perhaps still take pride in the fact that after all we are still ahead of Pakistan and many of the sub-Saharan countries. Well, in a democratic setup, you have this right too perhaps. But if we do so, then we should also make sure that never again should we dare call ourselves an “emerging powerhouse” because a country that cannot even give access to basic education and a decent living to a majority of its population, does not have the right to either put up candidates for the election of the Secretary General of United Nations, or bid for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. No wonder then that in both cases, our candidature was rejected. Yet, the bigger shocker was about to come for me. In the Human Poverty Index, India is ranked 55th in the list of 102 developing countries. Sudan, one of sub-Saharan Africa’s poorest countries, which even figures in the ‘Heavily Indebted Poor Countries’ list of World Bank and IMF, has been ranked 54th; which means that people living in absolute destitution in that civil-war ridden country are in some way even better than some who live in India! Rwanda, another sub-Saharan heavily indebted poor country, fares better than Indians when it comes to Adult Illiteracy rate (Rwanda ranked 96 while India 98); while we can take some pride in the fact that we equal Ethiopia in terms of the percentage of children underweight for the age group of 0-5 years. Ethiopia, incidentally, is another of Africa’s poorest countries, which, according to the Department For International Development (DFID), “contains one of the largest concentrations of poor people on the planet and ranks 170 out of 177 countries in the United Nation’s Human Development Report. 31 million people live on less than half a dollar a day; and between 6 and 13 million people are at risk of starvation each year.” Thanks to our political commitment, we are reduced to such irrelevance that the next time, UNDP need not even think twice before dropping us from the report. And even if they consider us, it would not be surprising to find ourselves just behind these sub-Saharan countries.This, in a country where every other day one gets to see full page advertisements in leading daily newspapers of smiling Union Ministers and Chief Ministers for some or the other so-called achievements they have made in their tenure. I guess all those smiles are for consistently being ranked below sub-Saharan African countries on most of the parameters. Nowadays, even for the inauguration of a municipality water tap, one gets to see full page ads and invitees ranging from the honourable Prime Minister to the Chairman of National Advisory Council. Pity, if only even that work (inauguration of water taps) could have been done sincerely. For nothing else, at least this would have somewhat improved India’s chances of a better ranking in the Human Development Index.

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