Sachin met Puttamrajuvari Kandrika gaon in Andhra Pradesh. And he was surprised that “the village did not have safe drinking water, or LPG connections, and people were still using firewood”.
I am not surprised that he is surprised as an overwhelming majority of my urban compatriots are in the exact same situation, not having seen how the vast majority of our population lives in our unfortunate villages. Its actually worse, as the economic interests of the city and the village dwellers remain at odds and the city dweller moves ahead at an ever-increasing speed.
Most of our villages do not have a functional school, and the few that do have a run down school building have no teachers and those who have teachers do not know how and what to teach. LPG? No distributor delivers LPG to a village – there are estimated to be anywhere from 90 million to 160 million LPG connections in India. 67% of our population resides in the villages, and has no access to any of these connections. They use firewood or dung as fuel. Water has been driven down deeper into the bowels of the earth by the green revolution, and there is increasingly less to drink in many parts of the country. In short – on just these three parameters that surprised our bemused Bharat Ratna – rural India is under high stress. He, obviously, lives in another planet.
There is a lot more Sachin would be surprised with had he spent some time – real time, like 6 months – in the village. Inequality is endemic, compared even to what we have in our cities no matter how poorly endowed with infrastructure. He would have seen rampant and widespread casteism that blights the life of most of rural India on a daily basis in terms of occupation and ability to better their lives. He would have also seen the sorry status of young girls and women, and the feudal and backward attitudes of men towards them. As well as the frustration of the unemployed male youth waiting for a better life. And what to say about electricity – a village gets 10 hours of erratic quality supply and a city 5 kilometers away gets 24 x 7; 5 kilometers on rural roads can take 45 minutes to navigate; health facilities of any caliber just don’t exist – free or paid. We can go on and on counting the injustice at every level, rural loses out to urban.
I am not surprised to discover the social and economic morass rural India is mired in as I see it every day. But don’t believe me, listen to P Sainath – a raconteur par excellence, with a grasp of data and depth that I cannot bring to bear. Please view his speech in October 2014 at Hyderabad University “Predicament of the Rural “at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnTpJXifZyA.
The issue is what Tendulkar represents, and what the government of this day and indeed every government since independence represents, is a turning away of the elite of the city from the village, without even as much as a furtive glance behind to see how far away the villager is and how quickly he recedes into the far distance as urban India accelerates. No politician, bureaucrat, businessman spends or wants to spend any more time in the village than he has to as all his interests – family, education, health, consumer goods, the arts, friends – are all in the city.
Short Term Thinking
The current government brings another modern twist to this criminal neglect of our villages – the media spin. Image is everything, how and what you say is critical so that the elite can be dazzled by the Modi product and the masses silenced by the ruling party’s regional and district leaders in anticipation of the good days around the corner. And our cultural Achilles heel of jugar and short term thinking continues to come in the way of process thinking, root cause analysis and long-term solution finding.
Politicians sweep the road, and sweep the garbage behind the nearest wall. When it is picked up, it goes to the same choked landfill where our modern, indestructible wastes inextricably mixed with our home refuse has been dumped for years and is now a toxic bomb gone off. Where is the discussion on local community solutions to eliminate waste production? I learnt about elimination of wasteful processes at the root as a cure all for developing software and running companies alike – call it what you will (the PDCA cycle, the Toyota Way, The Deming or Juran Way) it’s all about eliminating process and product waste. This also works to find ways to segregate our urban garbage, to compost the organic and recycle the rest in a uniquely Indian way through the Kabari – the equivalent of recycling. It’s a simple solution really and isolated urban community models exist in India, but to be replicated it needs the joint efforts of our urban institutions to work together with local communities, city planning, schools and colleges. But that’s too much real work, so a few of our political leaders just wield the broom and we all go to sleep satisfied they have done our bit and that good days are around the corner.
In this Member of Parliament village development fund where an ‘ideal village’ is to be ‘adopted’ by an MP– how patronizing can you get, how colonial British can you be – where he gives away largesse of Rs 2.8 Crores (why not round it off to 3?), this same short sightedness can clearly be seen. Witness his process of identification of the village “.. Tendulkar decided to adopt the village … after a chance meeting on a flight with the Nellore joint collector who convinced him over the course of the flight to adopt the village”. Voila, the rich man ‘adopts’ the poor, orphaned village on the spur of the moment as a sign of his large heartedness where his heart goes out to the desperately poor natives. The Rs 2.8 Crores he gives them will create infrastructure but there will not be any process or institution setup to ensure this same infrastructure is working 5 or 10 years from now what to say of 25 years. All short sighted, all mostly not what the villagers require, and much of it will end in the hands of contractors.
Tendulkar asked them to give up alcohol and tobacco, and later an oath was administered to the villagers in this regard. “The village will look beautiful very soon” said Tendulkar, waving to the crowds as he took off in his helicopter. Beauty, as they say, is skin deep. Serenity lies deep within, in institutions and independently standing systems that lean on people steeped in a common set of values and principles. Certainly not in steel and cement buildings.
Another irrelevant VVVIP came, gave our money away, and no real solution was found to any village problem. I’d bet Rs 2.8 Crores that all the 700 MPs who give away Rs 3 Crores each (or Rs 2.8 Crores – what is with this number?) will come to naught in 5 years time, and there won’t be any ideal village (whatever that means) as none of the root causes would have been addressed.
Politicians have a 5 years view, none can think beyond that. Give grass roots leaders like Rajender Singh or P Sainath the Rs 2,100 Crores given to the MPs and see real solutions come up for rural India.
Can the government not find 50 such real people who know rural India and who can weave a 25 year vision of what the future can be, and to lead change in securing appropriate livelihoods for small and marginal farmers; promote organic farming with market linkages – and gobar gas plants; encourage labor intensive farming and their markets to take the pressure off the cities; breed desi cattle and the supporting extension veterinary services; develop cottage industry and services in and around the villages; reinvigorate water management; institutionalize rural education and health solutions; as well as setup relevant infrastructure like 24×7 rural electricity and motorable rural roads? Can the politicians and bureaucrats spend 180 days in the villages each year? Can they become servants of the people instead of urban parasites? Can the frog become a prince?
And while I am asking for the impossible – can we take the Bharat Ratna back from Sachin Tendulkar for being a silly, well-meaning, shallow minded do-gooder, without any knowledge in anything he does outside cricket?