The Taste with Vir Sanghvi: The dream of a modern India is dying
It is a conversation I have had with so many people over the last fortnight that I know how it will go as soon as they started speaking. Usually, the conversation is with young people or with those in what we might call early middle age (35 to 45).
They all say the same thing: there is no hope for India. Things will never get better.
They cannot see themselves as having a future in this country. If they are young, they talk about wanting to raise a family outside this environment. If they are older they talk about pulling their children out of school and trying to make new lives in Dubai, Australia, Singapore or wherever.
I will be honest. Even before the current spate of conversations began, I had heard similar things before.
But there was a difference. Most of the people who told me that they were ready to leave were Muslims.
They no longer felt wanted in this country, they said. On Twitter and other social media, there was so much abuse and prejudice that they felt physically assaulted by the bigots. At every election campaign, Hindus would be asked, either in coded phrases or more directly, to hate Muslims and to unite under a communal cause.
Eventually, for worried Muslims, it boiled down to one thing: did they really want to condemn their children to life in a country where politicians won power by demonising their community?
I would tell my Muslim friends to be patient. This was a phase, I would say. The majority of Hindus did not think of Muslims as fanatics and closet Pakistanis. There is a circle to everything. The bigotry will fade. The mood will change.
But now, it is not just the Muslims who are eager to leave. It is middle class Hindus; usually Hindus with impressive educational qualifications and good jobs. They have bought houses here; they have advanced in their careers.
And still, they are prepared to walk away from it all and start all over again.
Many people of my generation faced this kind of choice when we were young. Several of us chose to work abroad. And the generation after us found that they were even more attracted by the West. They left India, found good jobs, and made new lives. (And many of them now run I-Support-Modi groups from the safe distance of New Jersey or wherever.)
But enough of us stayed. When I finished university in 1979, India was not yet the economic success story it would become after the 1991 reforms. We would all have made much more money if we had stayed on abroad.
We came back anyway. Partly because we believed in India. And partly because this was home. This is where we felt the most comfortable.
For years and years I would quote the example of myself and my friends to young Indians who didn’t want to come back. You can always build a life in India.
We managed. Why can’t you?
I no longer say those things.
My assurances to Muslims, terrified by the hatred and bigotry they see in today’s India, have begun to ring hollow. And now, I don’t know what to say to the young Hindu professionals who want to emigrate.
The reasons they give can be compelling. They see no hope in our political scene. The middle class has always been suspicious of politicians. But now, that suspicion has translated into sheer disgust.
Everyone I know recognises that all societies risk being overwhelmed by Pandemics. But most civilised societies still find ways to cope or to prepare themselves. In India, we have done neither.
Take the vaccination program. Everyone knows that vaccines offer the best protection against Covid. We also know that we are among the world’s largest producers of vaccines. And that the Serum Institute was one of the first major producers to get the rights to the Oxford vaccine.
So how much of a genius do you need to be to screw that up?
Well, you need to work for this government.
As has now been established, we refused to order enough vaccines. We turned away or held off other global vaccine suppliers who were offering vaccines (that had already been approved in other countries) out of a sense of ego and stupidity.
When we ran out of vaccines, our government first told lies and then eventually reversed all its old positions, finally ordering new vaccines and urging all the manufacturers it had rebuffed to sell us vaccines.
By then, thousands of people were dying.
So what happened to the guys who condemned Indians to death with their egos and their stupidity?
Nothing. They still run the show.
Educated Indians see this and they begin to wonder: what kind of government is this? How can the system so cheerfully condemn people to death?
Then, there is the oxygen crisis. Yes, demand for oxygen has shot up. It is understandable that it may take a little time for production to expand to handle the increased demand.
But how long?
We don’t know. Rather than give answers, the government is busy fighting for its right not to supply oxygen in the courts. And yes, once again people die. Not from Covid. But from the failure of the state to give them oxygen.
At times like this, people look for some sign that politicians are listening. What they find instead is that they are busy holding super spreader rallies while fighting communalised election campaigns. The Election Commission which should keep a watch on this dangerous, hate-filled madness is the government’s poodle.
I could go on. The permission to hold the Kumbh Mela because, as the Chief Minister of the State where it was held said, Mother Ganga would protect them.(He got Covid.) The sad spectacle of the Health Minister bowing and scraping before Ramdev and his dodgy “Covid medicine ”. The gathering at the Baliyadev Temple at Sanand Gujarat where thousands gathered in a Kumbh-like crowd because the local priest told them that Covid was only happening because the gods were angry. Now the crowds would propitiate them.
Not only has the system failed but we have regressed to becoming a hate-filled, medieval society where we take pride in superstition and celebrate prejudice.
Are you surprised that people don’t want to bring their children up here?
What’s worse is the sense of desperation. Nobody can see a way out. Despite the Bengal Election defeat most people believe that there is no real challenge to the present political establishment. They don’t believe the Congress can win elections and they see many more years of the present dispensation.
As much as I no longer feel able to dissuade people from wanting to leave, I pray each day for some sign of hope. Maybe our politicians will become more inclusive. Maybe we will throw out the arrogant duffers who did not order vaccines and now lie and claim that oxygen is easily available. Maybe our politicians will finally think about India and not about elections, and vainglorious constructions in the centre of Delhi.
Perhaps this will happen. Perhaps it won’t.
But either way, what is happening today is a betrayal of hope and a slap in the face of the dream that was a modern progressive India.
We will beat Covid eventually. But by then thousands more will have lost their lives. Thousands of others, our best and brightest, will have left the country.
And the dream is dying.
For more stories by Vir Sanghvi read here