Monday 13 July 2020

G is for Gandhi

Everywhere in India the presence of Gandhi is felt. But it is of Mrs Gandhi rather than of the Mahatma. The succession of her son Rajiv as Prime Minister has helped. He stands as a constant reminder by his name and bearing alone, quite apart from his active promotion of her memory. With his tenure of what is effectively a presidential post, the third of his family after his mother and grandfather to do so, the Gandhi dynasty is in danger of become synonymous with post-Independence India,

But the country could do a lot worse. Confounding his critics Rajiv has proved himself an able and astute politician. For many, he has come to stand for a new, dynamic. India. Looking like some Indian film star, his serious and handsome features are the perfect symbol for the growing aspirational classes in India which form the core of his support.

These new middle classes - the equivalent to the west's yuppies - are increasingly evident in India, and are testimony to the changes which Rajiv and his mother have helped promote. The wide range of weekly magazines of the news- and views-paper type, which cater specifically for this market, are the bellwethers of this generation. In keeping readers up-to-date with the latest lifestyle trends at home and abroad, they serve the same function as western magazines like The Face and Elle. One magazine recently carried a cover story on the self-same rising middle classes, and their possibly destabilising effect on Indian society.  It's a perfect example of the narcissism common to all these groups, whether among the Indian middle classes, or the self-regarding yuppies.

It is this same class of managers and entrepreneurs that is fuelling the boom in computers. As might be expected, Rajiv too has been a keen exponent of high technology, and in certain areas the country has made great strides in modernisation. For example, the national airline now boasts a fully computerised booking system. But the old India has asserted itself; ticket reservations are never definite, but must be confirmed once or even several times nearer the departure date. The result is a nullification of any hoped-for advantages.

The railways have also benefited from computers. Sleeping cars now come with neat printouts of names and berths stuck to their side. However, once again much of the benefit is lost through the inefficient manual ticket booking system and its labyrinthine quota schemes.

Other problems remain for this brave new India. Power cuts are common in some areas, and, even worse for an economy striving to modernise itself, the telephone system is practically unusable. But there are more serious difficulties than those of infrastructure. Perhaps the biggest challenge faced by Rajiv is the new wave of separatist terrorism. Westerners tend to forget that India is a recent and unnatural creation; many Indians do not. As well as in the Punjab, there is unrest around Darjeeling, and continuing border tensions with Pakistan exacerbate the situation. As the centrifugal movements gather momentum, Prime Minister Gandhi will need to draw on all the inherited power and resonance of his name to stop the New India that he is forging from falling apart in his hands.

A Partial India A to Z

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