There is something strange about the public discourse in India, where much time is spent on political discussions and little time given to alternative models of development. When this writer raised this issue with a group of researchers and academics, he was told that this was because India was a resource-scarce country.
This writer did not know what to make of the response because India is not a ‘resource scarce’ nation. Consider energy – so long as the sun shines on any patch of land, India cannot have a resource-scarce experience.
So far as water is concerned, the number of Indian rivers is so large that it is enough to provide adequate water with planning. This is not without even taking the oceans into consideration.
Twenty years ago, Singapore was fully dependent on Malaysia for its water needs. Today, it meets three-fourths of its drinking water demand on its own. Through desalination, Singapore has almost eliminated its dependence on others for potable water.
Kerala, with a coastline that is 640km long and whose depth rarely exceeds more than 66km at any point, has an almost perennial water shortage. Almost three-fourths of its potable water drains into the sea.
There is a lot that is said of the cultural diversity of Kerala and much on its land issues. There is nothing wrong with this. What is equally true is the sheer inadequacy of effort to harness Kerala’s water resources, either through storage or desalination.
There is not adequate space in the social discourse on the water problem or the energy problem. Of course, complaints are there, but what is missing is the significant, impact-making search for solutions.
The proposition is simple: There are serious doubts in assuming India to be a resource-scarce situation. It is, therefore, obvious that the disproportionate spaces occupied by political issues in the public mind cannot be be explained by a ‘resource-rich’ situation.
Another group of self-styled thinkers, when confronted by this writer on such a situation of eschewed emphasis on political issues, tried to explain it away by saying that politics in India gets huge attention because it is one of the quicker ways of social climbing; perhaps also a quicker way of getting rich. This writer had no means of analysing the statement.
The third reason they gave is even more ingenious. They felt that politics had great value in a country where formal avenues of engagement and entertainment were short. Be that as it may, any undue emphasis on any one aspect of collective life is not good for the whole.
If discussions on development and the options for growth are few in public discourse, that is not good news. Elsewhere in Asia, there is a different slant in the media – both printed and electronic.
Indeed the kind of discussions, seminars and symposiums that are held in our country are also typical. A cursory look at their topics is easy to analyse in terms of biases. The focus is on favourite themes of the contemporary powers that be.
‘Pura’, as a concept, faded out with the eclipse of former President APJ Abdul Kalam. Celebrating diversity, as a concept, faded with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Examples are many.
These are often attempts often to seek political dividends from existing power centres and not necessarily a genuine enquiry into a line of thought. Unless this is corrected, politics will continue to be the prima donna of public discourse.
Constant discussion on the struggle of power also comes out of a situation where there is little faith in systems and procedures. It gives undue importance to processes which have little to do with developmental thinking. It can do little good and its capacity to do harm is large. Even for a significant and purposeful struggle for power, it has to be informed and dynamic in nature.
Without losing one’s contact with reality and one’s own roots, one has to be open to inputs from the experiences and learnings of others. The same is valid for good thoughts to come from all sides. It is then that meaningful social discourse takes roots and leads to a purposeful search for direction.