India is at cross roads. We are living in an age of aspirational India, restless to perform, achieve, and acquire everything that is good. They are brimming with new confidence that “they can do it.” They want freedom, they want higher standard of living, and they want money, power, recognition and what not!
These are very legitimate desires of a growing society. However, rather than pursuing these goals with patience and perseverance, a large number of Indians have become impatient and restless; they want to have it quick and now. It is natural human desire and very legitimate to hasten towards our goals as fast as we can. But when we become too restless and fast, we do not care about the red lights and rules of the game on which modern democratic welfare states are built. We do not care about the means we adopt because we want to get success in our pursuits faster and faster. We care much about our rights but forget about our duties. The power of modern India lies in the power of its aspirations, but its restlessness has led to a moral crisis where ends matter more than means. Nobody ever asks in modern India how did you succeed, it is just sufficient to succeed by whatever means, you are a hero. But for legal provisions, the things would have been far worse. What could be the plausible explanation of these trends, this mindset?
The suppression of imperial era might give one explanation that people in free India now want to fulfill all what was not possible or allowed during those days. Also after India embraced the policy of liberalization, the pent up desires for more production and more consumption got a vent. And moreover, the demonstration effect of ‘good life’ of the western societies made possible due to spread of information technology and it has given new wings to the aspirations of the young generation. It is not always easy to segregate moral crisis from economic crisis. Economic crisis is responsible for moral crisis on the one hand and on the other moral crisis is responsible for the economic crisis. They are closely entwined. If we fall into the debate which is the leading crisis, the debate will be unending- chicken first or the egg?
India is a country marked by poverty, inequality and social and economic duality. The very structure of the country – social and economic – has the elements that can manifest in moral crisis. For example, feudalism in India might have been a better social and economic organization than slavery in the west as some people believe, but it cannot be denied that it had many immoral elements in it. The past of India has been marked by turbulence of medieval times and exploitation, especially in the imperial era. The ‘golden bird’ as India was called in the ancient times was reduced to a floundering economy with backwardness marked by low productivity in agriculture and lack of industrialization. This also led to poor quality of basic services such as health, housing and education. All these bred a sense of inferiority and insecurity. The moment India got freedom, its aspirations and expectations soared very high. It got further fillip after India embraced the New Economic Policy in 1991.
The people of India have passionately wanted to reverse the adversities bred by economic and political suppression over the past so many centuries. So there is restlessness to remove poverty and inequality, to raise living standards and to improve the records of human development and human rights. But yet there is a conflict between the national interest and individual aspirations. That insecurity and fear of the imperial era still lurks in the Indian psyche – will I get my deserved share in development? Will I get equal opportunity, a chance to pursue my dreams and well being? Will I get justice? These fears and apprehensions are the breeding ground of mistrust and moral crisis. It is aggravated further when people who do immoral acts appear to be more successful materially or even acquire political power; the aspirational India becomes prone to losing all faith in good means and values. It acts in vengeance and does everything that can make them successful, whether the rules of the country or the hearts of our other compatriots are broken, it hardly matters. That is of course a moral crisis. There is nothing between I and my goals. Everything is fair in war and love. The aspirational India is in both the modes.
There is an old debate that people are backward, because of their inherent moral inferiority or genetic inferiority. It was Gunnar Myrdal who first questioned the western thesis about racial superiority of the western powers under which they thought that Afro-Asian people are poor and underdeveloped because of their genetic and even moral inferiority and it is white man’s burden to make them civilized and prosperous. When we talk about moral crisis in India we are extending this logic even in case of India without having any concern for social and political dynamics which made many Indians poor and weak. Gunnar Myrdal offered along with many subsequent thinkers the social theory of culture of poverty to explain why poverty exists despite anti-poverty programs. There is no doubt that we must analyse how structural factors interact and conditions individual behavior to explain their persistent poverty.
To judge whether India is in moral crisis or economic crisis or both it will be interesting to note the studies made by institutional thinkers. One example is a study by Lewis. Lewis gave some seventy characteristics that indicated the presence of the culture of poverty, which he argued was not shared among all of the lower classes. The people in the culture of poverty have a strong feeling of marginality, of helplessness, of dependency, of not belonging. They are like aliens in their own country, convinced that the existing institutions do not serve their interests and needs. Along with this feeling of powerlessness, there is a widespread feeling of inferiority, of personal unworthiness also. This is true of the slum dwellers of Mexico City, who do not constitute a distinct ethnic or racial group and do not suffer from racial discrimination. In the United States the culture of poverty that exists in the African Americans has the additional disadvantage of racial discrimination. Today we in India also have marginalized classes who overact to defend their interest, sometimes they join militant or sectarian groups and sometimes they become naxalites. Although, apparently it seems a moral crisis, in deep analysis we find the root cause of the problem is marginalization and indifference of the democratic institutions to safeguard the economic, political and social rights of these people. People with a culture of poverty have very little sense of history. They are marginal people who know only their own troubles, their own local conditions, their own neighborhood, their own way of life. Usually, they have neither the knowledge, the vision nor the ideology to see the similarities between their problems and those of others like themselves elsewhere in the world. They are desperate and they can react in an unanticipable way when it comes to their interest.
In no case, however, any behavior which is anti social or anti national can be justified. There is a close relation between marginalization and moral crisis. However, it is not difficult to cite examples when people who are rich, powerful and enjoying all comforts of life indulge in immoral and illegal activities. Crony capitalism is a term which is widely being used to explain the phenomenon of corruption in developing and emerging economies. The state machinery and corporate barons often collaborate to do things which are illegal and anti social for their own benefits. In crony capitalism, success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials. It may be exhibited by favoritism in the distribution of legal permits, government grants, special tax breaks, or other forms of state interventionism. Crony capitalism is believed to arise when business cronyism and related self-serving behavior by businesses or business-people spills over into politics and government, or when self-serving friendships and family ties between businessmen and the government influence the economy and society to the extent that it corrupts public-serving economic and political ideals. The term “crony capitalism” made a significant impact in the public arena as an explanation of the Asian financial crisis. It is also used to describe governmental decisions favoring “cronies” of governmental officials. This is not the manifestation of poverty, but surely a manifestation of moral crisis. Many of the corruption cases in contemporary times are the products of crony capitalism. It is therefore, apt to say that moral crisis of modern times have their seeds in economic crisis.
But this would be a partial truth to insist on this line of arguments made above. There are many aberrations in Indian life which emanate from moral crisis. The existing gender inequality and brutalization of women and employing children as labour in India are some of the examples of a crisis due to patriarchal or feudal mindset. The absence of doctors from hospitals and teachers from schools during working hours is nothing but a moral crisis. The insensitivity of the government officials in redress of the people’s grievances and police excesses towards common man is a moral crisis. Road rages are moral crisis. Excesses towards weaker sections and corruption in government offices spring from moral crisis. The disruptions in the working of democratic institutions like constitution and parliament are examples of moral crisis. Lack of good governance to a great extent is due to moral crisis, apart from inadequate institutional arrangements. Poor implementation of development and welfare programmes are indicative of inefficiency as well as moral crisis.
The discussion is, therefore, giving us two lines of thinking. One, that there is a close relation between economic crisis and moral crisis. Secondly we must also agree that moral crisis also exists without economic underpinnings in India. Therefore, the policy prescription that emanates from the discussion is that we must step up our efforts to tackle the problem of poverty, inequality and marginalization on the one hand and on the other hand work towards attitudinal changes through education and publicizing as role models the icons of ancient, medieval and modern India who are apostles of great values and morality. The battle with Indian crisis is therefore multipronged.