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Aug 08th 2022
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Home Lifestyle Miscellaneous Rise of the merit nation

Rise of the merit nation

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Indian flagMJ Akbar looks at how the new India distances itself from the traditional shackles.


I have just found an excellent role model for anyone interested in survival without self-inflicted wounds: the gentleman who drove me from Bangalore airport to the city hotel over two difficult hours. He was gentle. He was patient. He did not get exasperated when an auto-rickshaw wedged in his way, further delaying a snail’s movement towards an uncooperative traffic light. He knew the road map. Progress would be splendid along the highway, and then the crawl begins. He did not encourage false optimism.

He was a professional, a driver. He treated work with diligence and dignity. He went home, about 20 miles outside the city, to his family on Saturdays, his single weekly holiday, and took cakes or some other food for his two sons. The elder, now nine, had become resentful about his father’s absence, but realised that his father was away because he was working for his children. Like all patient men, my driver was part-time philosopher when offering advice. He warned me that traffic would be far worse if I attempted to venture out in the evening. Everyone was going to parties on Friday evening. India had changed, he said. IT had changed India.

He was right in the limited as well as larger sense. Information Technology is both symbol and reality of a new, youth-driven life-culture, the triumph of professionalism over traditional influencers like ancestry, family, caste or faith. The new heroes are those who deliver, and if, as individuals, they have triumphed over difficult circumstance then the pedestal for their reputations is even higher. India has become a land seething with aspiration. The tension now lies in the distance between ambition and opportunity.

The evidence is everywhere. The catapult industry of the last five years has been sport. A brilliant threesome marriage of entrepreneurial ability, popular hunger for healthy entertainment, and the exploding horizon of communications technology has begun to lift even the “beemaru”, or financially beleaguered, games into the orbit of spectator-driven profitability. So where are the big beneficiaries, the players, coming from?

That morning’s newspapers had printed names of 30 probables for the Indian World Cup cricket team. Once upon a time — it all seems so remote, one is literally forced to use that quaint phrase from fairytales — that list would be scrutinised to check whether every geographical zone had been represented, whether X or Y from some highly “connected” lobby had retained his place, and whether a Muslim had been chosen or shunted out because of positive or negative prejudice.

The good news today is not only that Parvez Rasool, a fine player from Jammu and Kashmir, is on the list of 30, but that he could be dropped when the group is pared to 15. He is a probable not because he is a Kashmiri, or a Muslim, but because he is good; and if his talents do not make the cut for the next grade, then so be it. Parvez is in the team because of ability, not patronage. This is wonderful. This is something to be proud of. Kuldeep Yadav, just 19, is in because he bowls an exciting chinaman, not because any commission has reserved a place for him. I do not know what caste Virat Kohli belongs to, and no one cares. Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan have not been dropped because they come from minority communities, but because they have crossed their sell-by date after outstanding career achievements.

The success stories of cinema, and its upwardly mobile first cousin television soap, are shaped by talent and market acceptability. Stars succeed because they satiate the appetite for romance or tears or laughter or justice and not because they were born in this home or that faith. The Indian audience is many steps ahead, in this respect, of Indian lawmakers and politicians. There is at least one politician, still in the limelight — although that light has become a lamp — who used to believe that he could push his son into the Indian cricket team by virtue of his political clout. He remains a ranking celebrity of cloud-cuckoo land.

India has become a merit nation. It is leaving dynasty and genetic inheritance behind. Entitlement has not fully disappeared from public and professional life, but it is in the emergency ward of an old-age hospital. This is the true democratic dividend of a nation which seeks to abandon a past full of inequality and denial.

This is why the gentleman who drove a car in Bangalore works so hard; not just to add some masala to his dosa, but to ensure that his sons enter the list of probables in 2025. They do not have to be on a cricket list. If they are on the interview list of an IT company, India will have found its destiny.


—MJ Akbar is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.


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