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Strut along Delusional St

india Updated: Sep 03, 2010 22:38 IST

Hindustan Times
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There is a big difference between the desire to be something and actually being something. In the last decade and more, India has made much of its growing economic prowess, tangible for all to see. Without throwing figures to prove a point, more people have access to goods and services that were earlier available only to the rich, and fewer people are languishing in poverty in terms of a percentage of India's population. One can say that the country is on its way to making that much-awaited transition from being a developing nation to a developed one. But to confuse India as being on the cusp of gaining 'First World' status today is not only delusional but detrimental to the process of actually pulling the nation out of the old, rickety basket. What India is on September 4, 2010, is a developing country with 'First World' aspirations and toppings. The danger lies in thinking that having these neon-lit garnishes — wonderful and precious as they are — is enough to make the country another 'China', never mind America. It isn't.

Even if one sidesteps the real issue of 'Two Indias' — one inhabited by rich, visible and confident Indians, the other by the proverbial 'unwashed masses' yet to frolic in the effects of a 'trickle-down' effect — there is a woeful disconnect in the boom towns and metropolises that are showcases and posterboys of India 2010. In practical terms this is the difference between you inside your home and you stepping outside your house. This lack of 'continuity' between individual islands of comfort and the sea of 'Third World' 'Third World' dysfunctionality is not because of economic disparities or policies yet to kick in, but because of the sheer lack of statutory interest in prioritising basic infrastructure. So even if you are being driven around in your Mercedes, the roads are early 20th century. Services may have mushroomed, but the quality provided is still jugaad-centric.

By bypassing the Western trajectory of industrial-to-post-industrial societies that have a basic set of infrastructural (and, therefore, civic and social) template in place, the Indian model is a hodge potch quilt of shiny objects stitched to a rotting fabric. Basic urban phenomena like travelling from one point to another, civic amenities such as power and water, and services that range from garbage disposal to policing, remain ad hoc at best and dysfunctional by default. And all this without going into the regressive nightmares still prevalent outside the cities that most of us take to be the 'Indian way of life'. For a country increasingly self-aware of itself in the world, being delusional about becoming 'world class' is a joke that's stopped being funny or cute. It just propagates the notion that we can't tell the difference between a good life and a bearable one.