Wednesday, January 05, 2005

One thing flummoxes me (yes, I can use the occassional fancy word) - How is it that India is a poor country?

Look at us. We manage to make money on EVERYTHING!

The most ordinary, god-fearing, family-tied, spiritually-sustained, salaried Indian makes money in some exceptionally creative ways.

We managed to invent this practically unique system of social mobility through dowry. The groom's family immediately jumps into a whole new social sub-class and the bride's family goes straight to debtor's hell.

Most urban Indians who're blessed with a single NRI relative jump boat soon enough and go make their lakhs in another country. Few come back. Those of us who're armed with a half-decent education scan the newspapers for jobs, and when they weren't available locally, we got enough white-collar jobs down from the west to keep thousands of us in high spirits and low worry-waters.

The cop standing at the traffic signal, waiting for it to be broken (broken signal' does not refer to smashed lights, but to the practice of not waiting for the red light to turn green). That helps supplement income. In the countryside, district officials manage to supplement income by engineering remarkably complicated leaks in programs like Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yogna, intended to provide employment to those who need it most, in rural India.

Village panchayat officials manage to fudge Food For Work records with elan, so that there never is enough rice to dole out in exchange for labour, even if there is some political will. This rice is, then twice paid-for. Once by the government, at procurement prices. Then, a second time, when this rice enters the open market, having escaped the ignominy of being subjected to the Public Distribution System, at throwaway prices.

In fact, district officials even manage to make money by making smaller sized Food for Work exchange coupons - less paper used for a given amount of coupons, which leads to savings in the funds allocated by the government, which of course, is not refunded by the government but helps supplement income at various levels of the local administration.

This is not a rant. Really! I'm seriously impressed. We're good at cutting corners.

Other people seem to look at very conventional ways of income-generation. They look at manufacturing, setting up industries, stock markets, office-jobs, services and so forth.

But just look at the sheer diversity and range of services we Indians provide internally! There are a zillion levels of middle-men in each and every sector. There are go-betweens even for marriage settlement. There are NGOs, who try to set right whatever's gone wrong (at least, some do). There are lawyers, whole armies of them, who argue for the gazillions of people who've been either dispossessed or disenfranchised or simply, criminalized. And an equal number of lawyers who argue from the other side. There's a huge judiciary and we could do with many, many more, for there just aren't enough judges. There are the ever-swelling ranks of the political parties (hey, never heard of a political party downsizing, did we?). There are those who make a profession of simply, speaking for others....

I mean, look at us! And I repeat, this is not a rant. I'm asking a very serious question. How is it, that with such a wealth of human ability, India's so poor?

We're good. We know how to circumvent the establishment when money's at stake. We know how to break the rules without disturbing the delicate balance of powers that be. We're good at looking at every single project/sponsored program/policy-change/law and coming up with ideas about how this project/sponsored program/policy-change/law can fetch us money. We have got to be good at making money.

Somebody please explain to me - why, then, is India a poor country?

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