It was truly an astonishing feat that a black American could galvanise the electorate of the richest economy and most developed country with the twin ideas of hope and change and go on to become, for the first time in the history, the President of America.
A member of the black community, which was denied the basic human rights including right to franchise till as recently as the 1960s, becoming the President of America in 2009 was by all means an historic event. Yet more profound was the longing for a change prevalent among the American voters — a sentiment of hope that catapulted Barack Obama into the White House.
Ordinarily, the people of developing societies may argue that citizens of a superrich country like America have already achieved what they could aspire to achieve, and therefore the idea of change has no significance in an advanced society. Is this notion driven by the idea of contentment a hallmark of oriental thinking, or due to fulfilment of all desires that leaves nothing to be aspired? Whatever be the reason, the idea of change still exciting the people of America was surprising.
Alas, Obama who ‘swept into the White House four years ago as an agent of change’ in no time turned out to be instrument of status quo. How and why was the hope of a change reduced to traditional cynicism? Much has been already discussed about that, it’s hardly of any use to burden this space with obvious details. However, politics universally having become the handmaiden of the established order now is the real issue of concern. The gravitational pull of status quo is so overpowering that any idea of change falls flat even before it’s ready to take off. ‘The nation’s first black president won re-election on Tuesday as a steady-as-she-goes defender of a new status quo’ was the punch-line of a newspaper article in America; there cannot be a starker reminder about the overbearing reach of the powers favouring the status quo.
In case a change is warranted, that is here in India more than anywhere else. That is not because of any usual cynicism that otherwise is plenty in supply here, but it is purely due to the prevailing stifling conditions that one is compelled to accept that the status quo is more difficult to breach in India than anywhere else. The decaying established order is deeply entrenched here.
What is India’s real challenge: Governance or poverty? The immediate response could be poverty — apparently that sounds like a correct answer. No matter how you estimate the population below the poverty line, it’s an undeniable fact that three out of four Indians are really struggling hard to make the two ends meet. The emergence of 300-400 million-strong middle class in India is hardly sufficient to obscure the sight of the 800-900 million Indians faced with the adversities of absolute poverty; ‘About 870 million people across the globe go hungry each day and a fourth of them — more than 200 million — live in India’.
No way, India is not a poor country; it is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Yet despite a continued ‘average 8% growth’ during the last two decades, ‘poverty alleviation took place only at a miniscule rate of 0.8% per annum’.
It is disgusting that Pranab Mukherjee conceded that ‘trickle-down theories do not address the legitimate aspirations of the poor’ only when he became the President. Mani Shankar Aiyar has made a revealing observation that “increases in central outlays in social sector schemes have had such little impact on development that we remain at 1994 levels. Outlays have increased from 7500 crore in ‘94 to 200,000 in the current budget, but outcomes are out of sync”.
Against this backdrop, poverty indeed is a challenge, yet the real threat to the system is posed by mis-governance. A Planning Commission study claims that ‘Aadhaar project would result in saving of about Rs1,10,000 crore by 2020, around 58% of the expenditure of major public welfare schemes’.
The 58% of the pilferage just in poverty alleviation programmes is simply unthinkable. President Pranab Mukherjee’s pronouncement that ‘there is no humiliation more abusive than hunger’ sounds hollow unless the talk is backed with concrete action. Until governance is radically transformed, there is no real chance of any change.
The clique consisting of politician, corporate interest and media represents the forces of status quo. Since the system is busy in conspiring against the change, where is the hope of a change?