Time to realise India’s true potential

Tags: Op-ed
Time to realise India’s true potential
AFP
UNITED COLOURS: It is the people of India, their culture, their conduct, their warmth, their intellect, their language and their food, among various other things that make India what it is
You cannot have a proud and chivalrous spirit if your conduct is mean and paltry; for whatever a man’s actions are, such must be his spirit

— Demosthenes

The world’s largest democratic exercise will take place in April-May where an electorate of over 800 million, nearly three times the size of the US will be eligible to vote. The scale is humungous, the stakes are momentous — it is no wonder that the world’s eyes are turned on India. I am not surprised to learn that delegates from over 40 countries of Africa and Latin America will be visiting India to study elections. All major international news networks are gearing up to cover the country during this phase. The epicentre of the world will shift to our nation for some time.

What picture of India is the world going to see? The last major event of international interest to happen in India was the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Its memories that remain in people’s minds are of corruption and lack of hygiene. What reminiscences are the Indian elections going to leave in the minds of the world? Let’s leave the political spectacle aside as that will follow its own course and people like you and I have little or no control over how our politicians will conduct themselves. It is the people of India, their culture, their conduct, their warmth, their intellect, their language and their food, among various other things that make India what it is. Each of us is a brand ambassador of India in our own right.

The world is fairly convinced of the power of Indian intellect spelling success overseas. The recent appointment of Satya Nadella as the CEO of Microsoft further confirms this; complimented by achievements of several global CEOs born and educated in India. But we need many more success stories and we need them closer home; we need them in India itself. If India wants to earn respect from others as a country then we, as the people of India, have to earn it. There’s a lot that every section of Indian society can do to raise the bar of standards that we follow, to demonstrate that we are a civilised, forward thinking country and to make the world sit up and take notice of us for the right reasons.

The education has to start now from schools and colleges if we are to secure the future of our country. In all our rush for academic excellence, we have forgotten the importance of values.

“The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.” — Confucius

My personal belief is everything starts and ends with personal integrity. Very simply, it means being honest, fair and transparent in everything that we say and do. This is a hard act to follow but one that we must instil in the core of the hearts of our people. The larger manifestation of lack of integrity is our reputation for being corrupt. Each time a bribe is paid to expedite a process, each time a work commitment made and not kept, each time we try and tell someone, “we are like this only”, we are helping build a culture that is insincere and deceitful.

“It is better to conquer yourself, than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.” These words of Gautama Buddha bring me to the second aspect that India becomes infamous for the lack of discipline. Nowhere else is this more evident than anyplace where there’s a queue, there will always be people trying to break it — be it airports, cinema halls, doctor’s clinic or the queue for a table at a restaurant. There are many evidences of the jugaad culture we have built; we will throw names, use money, excuses, guile or charm; anything to break the system. Then we claim that the system does not work. Well, the truth is we don’t allow it to work. The lack of discipline is apparent in productivity levels at work. We must go back to basics and teach ourselves the importance of discipline.

Eventually it all comes down to respect — another quality that we need to keep reminding ourselves in our daily lives. Respect for self and for others, respect for the nation, respect for time — both your own and others’ time, respect for resources, respect for differing opinions and lifestyles. It is no wonder that we are losing our ideology as a tolerant society. Some faction or another is always up in arms against something. We have become easy to offend and are quick to strike. We demand to be respected yet we show scant respect for others. We have a rich heritage and culture that is grounded in a value system.

I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther King Jr — “A nation or civilisation that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the instalment plan.” We cannot allow that to happen to India. I also truly believe that if the people of India make this change happen, we will see it follow through in our politics. Strong people will refuse to be ruled by weak or corrupt leaders. The people of India have it in them to change the way they are governed, but the change must begin with us.

(The writer is CEO of KPMG India. These are his personal views)

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