The irony of choices (Column: Spy’s Eye)

Between the young stage in life when career options were conditioned by the pulls of ‘social recognition’ and the ripe years much later when one had the resources to follow an ‘interest-linked’ agenda, lies the story of how man-made considerations often impeded the freedom of will and pursuit bestowed by nature on humans.

A welcome socio-economic trend is the legitimisation of options young people today have of exploring career paths outside of the known ‘Medical-Engineering-Management’ framework, linked to their personal interest in music, photography, filmmaking, research and fashion – and considered by them important enough to justify even raising of personal loans for supporting a startup in the chosen area.

The irony of options that earlier played out in people’s lives is somewhere getting resolved in a way that signifies progress and advancement of man’s freedom. Opportunities have opened up outside of the traditional thought processes and they measure up to the norms of success in terms of both earnings as well as the personal satisfaction one got of doing things that might not have been socially ‘prized’ earlier.

Of course, the luxury of options was always available to those who had education and a certain degree of financial backing and was thus a marker of the ‘unequal’ Indian society.

However, the phenomenal growth of the middle and lower middle classes in the post-Covid economic recovery – thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s perceptive call of ‘vocal for local’ – has widened the area of options even for the ordinary people. In a way, the freedom of choice of work and avocation is returning to everybody in a substantive manner and becoming a transformative feature of the times we live in.

Opting for a meaningful course of life is helped by an understanding set of parents, teachers and well-wishing friends – and the new-age thinking fortunately is traversing across these groups now.

In a real life case, an ordinary middle class family of a widowed mother and three children – a son and two daughters – doesn’t mind the son after graduation opting for a two-year special course on helping the growth of handicapped children. The son is satisfied with this profession becoming his source of livelihood.

The work relating to ‘special’ children chosen by the young man shows a certain human sensitivity in him but there is also in general a welcome trend noticed in India, of people not making a distinction of ‘high’ and ‘low’ in the work that gives them sustainable income.

This is a feature of the developed West where a young man would take up part time work at a patrol pump to supplement his income.

A welcome trend in India again is the new determination of boys and girls of humble backgrounds to complete their education and then plunge into an honest attempt to join in the superior civil services – availing of the great equality of opportunity offered by the nation for achieving success through sheer merit.

This is helping to make the country’s administration more people-oriented and democratic in its ethos. It is somewhere mollifying the ill-effect of extreme class disparities and creating an environ of equitability – all of this becoming possible because of the diversification of options perceived by a free and forward looking society.

Unemployment no doubt had added to the spectacle of poverty but even then the rise of freedom of choice and equality of opportunity has helped alleviate the harsh impact of the latter on social development.

In his last Independence Day address from the Red Fort, Prime Minister Modi perceptively noted that Indian youth have become aspirational in the sense that they show determination to improve on their current placing – whatever it is – and not rest content with status quo.

The youth wish to push ahead with their skills and special interests – not bound in the traditional notions of socially recognised ‘careers’ of distinction – and have already acquired a global outreach to information of entrepreneurship and trade for thinking of new initiatives.

Desire to become part of a chain for product development and delivery has emerged as a great pull that knowledge economy is exercising on active people everywhere. If the canvas of options is large the youth will be optimistic even in a situation of personal difficulties – Prime Minister Modi fully realised the importance of ‘diversity’ in the growth story of a developing economy like India’s and emphasised this angle in his speech.

An extremely powerful indicator of how things are shaping up in India in recent years in favour of universal growth is the emergence of young Indian women in all spheres of national life – from defence services to business enterprises and from science and technology to holding top Ambassadorial assignments.

Complete gender equality is the hallmark of economic growth just as equal participation of women in electoral process benchmarked the state of democracy in the country.

In the Modi regime, the irony of options being restricted earlier by considerations of caste, class and gender has largely been set right. Economic liberalism, emphasis on ‘ease of doing business’ to attract investment and encouragement to domestic ‘startups’ and globalisation have enabled India to overcome the handicap of a Covid-affected fiscal system and pull the country out of a dump.

The credit for this largely goes to the strategy laid down by a Prime Minister who knows all about economy and trade and who can see the importance of global outreach on one hand and the localised measures taken for the benefit of the common man on the other.

The single largest reason for inadequate socio-economic development of India after Independence was the rapid rise of corruption in all spheres of the government because of the nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and criminals.

The preponderance of corrupt politicians fostered nepotism, weakened law enforcement and destroyed merit based processes. The advent of new rule at the Centre in 2014 was attributable to the trust people reposed in the leadership of Prime Minister Modi that promised personal integrity at the top and governance with a firm hand.

The deep gains of governance at the Centre are visible and opportunities are multiplying even though unemployment and disparities are still to be eliminated. Prime Minister Modi remains the most popular leader of the masses because his endeavours to bring about an improvement are not doubted.

India’s youth is optimistic and despite odds remain engaged in creating innovative ways of doing business, starting new ‘services’ and acquiring new skills.

The challenge that the Modi regime continues to face is that the leaders of state governments – which are totally autonomous in most areas of governance including law and order – are still brazenly exploiting political power for their own benefit. If the state governments join hands with the Centre in providing opportunities to the less privileged – in education, startup funding and free travel for business – the irony of forced options as different from availing choices out of free will would be minimised.

More and more Indian youth with required education and necessary financial backing are opening into the global economy on the strength of their merit and brilliance and bringing laurels to India and inspiration to the boys and girls here.

Many global digital giants are headed by Indians – Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Sundar Picchai of Alphabet, Shantanu Narayan of Adobe, Parag Agrawal of Twitter and Arvind Krishna of IBM are the leading examples.

With the right form of governance, the ‘demographic dividend’ of India will prove a lasting asset – Prime Minister Modi had this vision – but the states must perform at their best in the areas of education, health and funding of entrepreneurship to make that a reality.

This could be a tall order but the force of people’s opinion would get the state governments to improve – a call for which is constantly being given by a popular Prime Minister.

The rise of India as an influencer of geopolitics and world economy is giving Indians a new sense of national identity and adding to their determination to forge ahead with their economic pursuits.

The irony of options accepted not for reasons of personal choice but for their social ‘prize’ is finally getting resolved in favour of new openings in a wide spectrum of opportunities that a nation on the trajectory of growth and international importance is creating. A decisive outcome of the national strategy adopted by the Modi regime will be in evidence in the next few years.(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)

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