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What defines India as a nation? The question stood out like an ugly thorn. Until we heard that question in the Literature class, none of us had ever questioned the notion of India as a nation. Of course the nation exists, and is as diverse as any can be. That is something we've always been proud of. But then, there has to be something binding the mosaic together. Otherwise the whole mosaic would fall apart. What is it that holds India together, apart from the constitution and the government?

This question is rather difficult to answer. We read the views of two eminent people. Salman Rushdie, in his essay, The Riddle of Midnight says that it is communal-ism or the politics of religious hatred. William Dalrymple in his essay Bangalore and the Fast-Food Invaders mentions the Mahatma Gandhi syndrome, a fear of big organizations and everything विदेशी (foreign). So difficult is it to answer this question that I have been thinking of it ever since that day and trying to find a convincing answer.

I believe the answer to lie in something we use everyday in our college. RG. Yes! Just those two letters. They stand for Relative Grading. In my college, grades are awarded based on how the class performs as a whole, and not in any absolute sense. Hence the relative in relative grading. Now, this gives two ways to improve grades. One, the difficult way of working harder to improve one's own marks, and two, the simpler way of reducing other's marks.

But RG is not a phenomenon to be seen only in one college. I believe that it has become a way of life for a large part of the nation, and was indeed the basis for the Government's trade and industrial policy for over four decades. I believe that this comes in due to the fact that in India resources are few and people many, and this scarcity leads people to believe that the only way that they can get resources is by ensuring that their neighbour does not get any.

I remember that in school days, if anyone put even a toe out of line, like speaking a word in Hindi, (I went to an English school, and speaking in any language other than English was an offence, which I find rather surprising, considering that we should be encouraged to speak in our mother tongue) his/her friends would rush to be the first to report him/her to the teacher, all in the name of helping the friend with some tough love. The real reason would be to become the teacher's pet. I guess that we do learn sycophancy at an early age.

This attitude continues to guide us all through our life. We grow up accustomed to politics at the workplace, and with an intense fear of competition. We like having motherly figures around and would do anything to gain her approval over our brother (or sister). This to me is the most detrimental thing that can happen. Competition is good. It keeps us on our toes and makes us excel. And it ensures the survival of the fittest, one of the main principles in the theory of evolution.

Immediately after independence, our Prime Minister declared a path of socialism, which was the prevalent idea of those times. Most of the core industries would be run by the state, and any entrepreneur who wished to set up his industry would have to apply for a licence. This regulated where he would set up his industry, what technology he would employ, and how much he could produce. This was encouraged by businesses, as they saw the license as a method to protect their turf. Sadly, the bureaucracy that gave these licences was the Achilles' heel of the Indian industrial revolution. In fact, it nipped the industrial revolution in the bud. It is indeed a mad mad world, where someone could be prosecuted for legally trying to expand his business. But more on that in another post.

Today this RG line of thought is being used to build massive vote-banks. This is really disturbing. Historically, we had various small communities, interdependent and interwoven into the mosaic. Now, the very notion that defined India for centuries is being questioned, as the communities struggle to make themselves better than others. In the era of science, technology and information, the interdependence is weakening, and this is indeed so worrisome.

I believe that we really need to get over this RG thing. We need to envy our neighbours, not be jealous of them. Yes, there is a difference in the two. We need to envy those who do better, and try and become like them, but not in the process try and pull them down. Our current Prime Minister displayed a lot of foresight, both as an economist in his university days and as the Finance Minister in 1991. With competition coming in from all sides, hopefully we shall learn to survive in competition without killing it first.


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