Living with nature, not on nature, should be foundational roadmap for India

After being ruled by foreign powers for centuries, 73 years after independence appear to be not very long. But in such a relatively short time, we have walked with strides by being loyal to our own constitution

Rajendra Shende Aug 15, 2020
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After being ruled by foreign powers for centuries, 73 years after independence appear to be not very long. But in such a relatively short time, we have walked with strides by being loyal to our own constitution. The structured politics, dynamic socialism, and the world’s largest electoral process to select the lawmakers and leaders have worked. There were flaws, aberrations, ups and downs, and even shocks. Some of these were due to inheritance of the bygone era before independence.  Some were our own creations.

True, we have not yet regained our lost glory of Vedic times characterized by a rich tradition of respecting nature, peaceful coexistence, and wellbeing of not only humans but also the flora and fauna. Historians have written that Indian society in the past was the richest in the world. Today India is placed 3rd in terms of GDP and 122nd in terms of GDP per capita. In 73 years, catching up to past glory was an uphill task through democratic socialism after independence.

We did make  progress not only  in terms of the GDP and in the rising number of millionaires  and billionaires  but also in the number of poor that have been pulled out of  the dark and stark poverty,  number of the lower-middle-class that entered into the cherished middle class and then from a middle class to prized the higher middle class. Our development is percolating deeper in social strata. Lot is yet to be done, but the 20th century ended pathbreaking reforms and the 21st century began not only with transformative booms like Y2K but also important and game-changing but indiscernible reverberations that cannot be captured in any infographics.

Over the last decade, the world is waking up to new reality, that is embedded in the predictions like the center of the gravity of the development will shift to Asia’, 21st century belongs to India and China, India would soon be "global guru" and so on.  

There are deflection debates too. "Launching a spaceship amidst the ship full of poverty does not make the nation a flagship of development" or "tinkering with an algorithm does not make the nation super soft-power, and that "sending yoga teachers to all over the world does not make the nation a global guru". Democratic socialism is argumentative. It will remain so.

This is where the point of inflection comes.

We are observing an extraordinary assertiveness at all levels in raising our bars and targets. Our ambitions are soaring as never before.  First, it was Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, past President of India and called as India’s "missile man" who flamed young minds. He told Indian youth that they should dream, without which their dreams would not come true. He also said that dream is not what you get while sleeping. The dream is that which does not let you sleep. 

The son of a boatman in a small town in South India who dreamt of piloting planes and then became a nuclear and space scientists to elevate India into nuclear power was taken seriously by the youth. Youths did not dump his pronouncements. The thought leadership of Dr. Kalam was selfless and strong. Youth learned to set goals higher, even if they appear to be impossible. Even IIT, IIM graduates were charged with soaring ambitions.

 Likes of Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, IBM, Nokia who themselves wanted to raise their bars of ambitious selected young educated and ambitious Indians to be their CEO.

We always said that the future depends on the skill of youth. Now we are indeed saying yes, future belongs to the youth if we let them have it!

Another inflection point

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, son of a tea seller at the train station with no home of his when he was in school, became Chief Minister of one of the progressive states of India and then got elected as Prime Minister of India. His leadership is bold and brisk.  His hymn of life is: Falling down is not a failure but refusing to get up is. He has set up a goal to take the Indian economy to USD 5 trillion and doubling the farmers’ income -both by 2024. His dedicated calls for Swachh Bharat, Smart India, Skill India, Self-Reliant India are all making impacts on youth. They are not dumping his ambitious plans because they come from trustworthy, selfless, and dedicated leaders.

We are, however, told by many that setting high goals are fine, but where is the roadmap? Well, youth in India now has started understanding that leaders set goals, and it is we that have to prepare a roadmap. That is the only way to let youth have their future. Today’s youth who are studying in colleges will be policymakers within a couple of years and they would be in a position to prepare better roadmaps and get independence in deciding their future.

The new National Education Policy, as well as the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund, declared by the Modi government are pathbreaking schemes that are designed to let the youth have their future.

In any business, the CEO follows three Gs: Goal setting, Guidance, and Governance for implementation through monitoring. The roadmap is prepared by managers and the lanemap is prepared by supervisors and the bylane map is set by shop-floor-handlers. It is a collective exercise. Changing technologies help in this process impact speed as well as resource utilization. The add on to this process is Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, set by the United Nations. The process of roadmap preparation is aided by ambitious SDGs, their targets, and measurable indices. 

The world today, unfortunately, going through the shocking events that of COVID19. We are going through learning the lessons on how to be resilient towards shocks and strengthen our systems to take on the future life-threatening disasters.  We are talking os setting new normal, however we have the opportunity to set up a better normal. Better normal is about charting our roadmap towards United Nations Sustainable Development Goals -SDGs and letting youth do it as it is their sustainable future. We should let them have it. 

What youth would learn during their college and university days would certainly mold his or her future. College and university campuses are the laboratories of a smart and sustainable future. Learning by doing, applying knowledge more from campus than in the classroom, tapping on keyboards than the equations written by somebody else on the blackboard, making nature as a prime guru than only the professors should be the better norm and raising the bar high. In brief, mainstreaming SDGs in our lives and everything we do should be the ambition. 

Mahatma Gandhi was once asked before independence if he would like to see the same standard of living for Indians after independence as for the British.  He replied:

“It took Britain half the resources of the planet to achieve this prosperity. How many planets will a country like India require!”

Indeed, the sustainability of resources in our production and consumption is the keystone of our future. Respecting nature and living with nature, and not living on nature, should be the foundation of our roadmap. That would take us back to the lost glory of the Vedic era.

(The writer is Chairman TERRE Policy Centre and former Director, UNEP. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at shende.rajendra@gmail.com)