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Citizen, pull up your socks

What we, as citizens, must do to discharge our responsibility before we charge the government for not doing enough.

Cricket is our biggest sport, Bollywood our greatest pastime, and armchair politics, our most magnificent obsession. Our compulsive urge to discuss should normally be considered a great strength in a democracy. But in India this is mired in negativity of thoughts. The armchair political pundit is usually critical of every government in
power and cynical of everyone else in the society. That’s what makes this passion a disease.
We have come to expect that it is the job of the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister to grow our economy, create employment opportunities for us and maximise our incomes. This expectation is legitimate as it is what the government owes its citizens. But, our responsibility doesn’t stop with punching the button on the voting machine. We carry the additional burden of facilitating an enabling environment for the government to succeed in its efforts to provide growth and progress to the country.
Just as we complain that we are ‘caught in a traffic jam,’ when we, in fact, created the jam; we complain about the troublesome government when we are the problem. So, let’s turn the mirror on ourselves and reflect on what we, as citizens, must do to fulfill our responsibility to the nation.


First, we punch well below our weight. True, the young Indians are full of aspirations and eager to aim for the moon. But this burning desire is short-lived. While there is no research to corroborate, most people in their mid-thirties stop learning. By then, an average salaried person, is married and ‘settled in life,’ content with his job and likely to be blaming the organisation for not promoting him fast enough. There are only a few who continue to retain their curiosity, come up with creative ideas and add value to their employers. Curiously, even entrepreneurs, mostly in the SME sector, are content with what they do so long as they remain profitable. It is a relatively small number who seek to test the boundaries of possibilities.


The per capita income is an index of growth. It does not have a linear relationship to literacy levels. Our per capita income is below that of China. An economy grows by the production and sale of new goods and services. Innovation creates new demand. Entrepreneurship does not only refer to startups and mega-corporations. A roadside vendor is also a value-adding entrepreneur. A neighbour of mine, who recently retired, found that he had spare time in the morning and a car to drive. He offered to take the neighbourhood kids to school, which was gladly accepted by hassled working parents. A business was born. Indians need to work more, work smarter and work to realise their full potential.
According to a recent study, 67 per cent of women graduates in India don’t go for paid work. Indian women’s participation in the paid workforce is half of the global average. Studies show that if women participated at the same level as men, India’s GDP would go up by 60 per cent! We can, of course, argue that women add a great deal of value merely running their homes. But aren’t they capable of adding even more value to the economy and higher earnings to themselves if they spent some of their time doing work commensurate with their capabilities?
We see an enormous shortage of competent teachers, nurses or drivers, on the one hand and equally considerable women power, perfectly capable of fulfilling those needs, but disinclined to do so. Remember, the impressive growth of the Chinese economy is not a little due to the advent of women power at work. True, women have to be ‘allowed’ to take up jobs and it takes time to change this mindset. But the individual has much more power to make this change than the government.
Pushing oneself to one’s full potential is not merely an elevating experience, but accelerates economic growth and social upliftment.


Secondly, our obsession with gold has to go. Wearing a gold jewelry has, over the years, continued to be the aspirational goal for most women. People argue that gold is an investment and is a safety net during rainy days. This argument is archaic and has no modern relevance. If you have no idea of ever selling gold, it is an expenditure, not an investment.
India imports $ 40 billion worth of gold every year. If this comes down by half, our trade deficit will turn into surplus! Gold sitting at households represents a wasted opportunity. Successive governments have attempted to wean away people from hoarding gold, through gold bonds, etc., but without great success. This obsession with gold is again a cultural issue – and the responsibility for change lies with the citizens.


Thirdly, our waste disposal habits and societal hygiene have to change. The cost of healthcare in India is estimated to be
Rs 4 – Rs 5 lakh crore per year, excluding the cost of untreated illness. At least 10 percent of this should be attributable to our self-inflicting living style, including open defecation, urination in public, garbage disposal and the like. The government has done a great job in bringing public awareness on this issue, through the Swach Bharat mission and building toilets on a mammoth scale. Habits die hard. Several reports point out that toilets, built with government subsidy, are converted to storerooms, while open defecation continues. Why do men resort to urinating in city streets while women are far more restrained, given the same inadequate public toilet infrastructure?
Garbage disposal is another typical issue, where we tend to place the entire blame at the doorsteps of the municipal corporation. Most of us are happy if so long as someone removes waste from our homes and preferably away from our sights, even if it were to lie around on the roads unsafe to public health.
These initiatives have to begin at home.


Lastly, corruption. It’s a subject on which the armchair hero would wax eloquent. Corruption continues to gnaw at the very vitals of our economy. While we have all been shouting from rooftops about this dreadful affliction, there is excessive noise about the receiver, while we paint the giver (the hapless citizen) as a victim. While this is no doubt true, a substantial proportion of the bribe is intended to enable us to jump the queue or gloss over legal violations. In all these cases, the giver (the citizen) is the perpetrator, and we conveniently delete all references to this from our conversations.
Elections are said to be the fountainhead of all black money. We hold out that, so long as electoral reforms are not carried out, the plague of black money would continue to thrive in every pore of our society. If this is true, then the originators of black money in the economy are the citizens themselves; for, it is the citizens who trade votes for cash and trade multiple times with different parties!
It was Joseph de Maistre who said, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.” When an individual begins to act more responsibly towards the society, the collective conscience of the nation improves and that creates a conducive environment for the government to succeed.
We would all agree. But, ‘What can one person do to move the needle in a large and complex country like ours?’ will most likely be our response. Anthropologist Margaret Mead was right when she wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” When an individual begins to act more responsibly towards the society, others might follow, the collective conscience of the society would improve and hence creating a conducive environment for any government to succeed.

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