The advertisements put out in mainstream papers by the Government of India on 2 October to honour Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, or Mahatma Gandhi, or the ‘Father of the Nation’, as we fondly call him, inadvertently reflect the unsatisfactory state of governance in our country.
Take the one which quotes Gandhi saying: “India can’t prosper if rural India lags behind, and I think rural electrification is the first step towards it.” It’s a plain admission that even 143 years after Gandhi was born, this country still does not have enough power and perhaps, also the will, to light up the nation. The advertisement pledges to provide free electricity connections (there we go again) to over 20 million households living below the poverty line during the next five years. It also promises to provide electricity connection to each and every household in the country. If the government is so serious about providing electricity why is it that, despite the advancements in technology and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, solar power has not gathered steam in the country?
The government says is striving to achieve 85,000MW of power during the 12th Plan “and it could definitely produce 25,000MW by the end of this financial year provided that other things are tied up”. We can only hope, then, that other things get “tied up” soon.
Maybe a solar-powered charka as a new symbol would do the trick. The other advertisements talk of Gandhi’s stress on “love and amity” and how “we must begin with children to have real peace”. So the government is promising more anganwadis, more nutrition and pre-school education—all of which is good and the need of the hour, too. But Gandhi, perhaps, would have also taken notice of the massive digital divide, which is growing with every passing year, between rural and urban children. While rural children still struggle with basic nutrition and education, children in cities are taking advantage of information and communications technology education, too. Why, even children in the 150-odd municipal schools in Mumbai, a majority of who are poor, are being given “virtual” lectures with classrooms projecting teachers live from studios.
That the Internet, cellphones, and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus are helping children network beyond the imagination of most bureaucrats is altogether a different point since the babus are more concerned about blocking Web pages to please politicians rather than devising policies to bridge the digital divide. And speaking about peace, Gandhi would have faced not just wars in the offline world, but also cyberwars today. But he would have surely used his mass mobilizing skills to harness support from the world over the Internet, rather than waste time in censoring it. What would have worked in Gandhi’s favour, though, would be his integrity of purpose—a trait most politicians lack.