10 02 2013
No Country for Honest Indians
As a nation, we Indians are the epitome of under-performance, goldbricking and deceit. Our collective DNA is infused with abhorrent phrases like “kindly adjust“, “hota hai, chalta hai“, “swalpa adjust maadi” and “do the needful“. Our comfort zone lies in slacking and providing as little value as possible while expecting more than fair compensation in return in the form of bribes, exorbitant service fees and ridiculously high taxes.
This malaise isn’t restricted to the Indian government and its tentacles like the police, power companies, public transport, infrastructure, etc. (albeit those “organizations” excel at being otiose). Private telecommunication companies, private cable and digital TV operators, private internet service providers, private transport companies, airlines and a plethora of private product sellers and service providers continue to live in the dark ages of civilization, where accountability, quality and timeliness have been decimated by subterfuge, graft and unreliability.
Most internet and telecommunication companies still consider land telephones, mobile communications, mobile internet and broadband as luxuries, rather than necessities. This includes the biggies, like Airtel and Aircel that promise and charge customers for 3G, but provide 2G – or less (actually, India’s average internet speed is 0.9 Mbps, making it one of the slowest in the world) – and refuse to consider that high-speed internet is a necessity for efficient business. Then there are the smaller, local companies, like TTN and Hathway, that are the bottom of the barrel with their unmitigated lack of reliability, quality of service and customer service. Government companies are no better, with BSNL and its cousins (xxNLs) still assuming that phone connections and internet connections are not for the masses, but are for people who are willing to bribe or lick the backsides of telephone linesmen.
Government power companies and their doppelgangers - private UPS manufacturing companies – laugh at the idea of uninterrupted 24×7 electric power supply. ESCOMs across India lose 22% of power during transmission, making them among the most inefficient in the world. Indian power corporations lose considerable power through rampant thefts by Indian citizens themselves. The very citizens who complain about regular, everyday, multi-hour power cuts, steal electric power under the watchful, bribed eyes of electricity linesmen and engineers. The sufferers are industries and honest citizens who pay through their noses for the luxury of electricity for a few hours a day. In the mean time, UPS companies like Sukam and Microtek make a killing selling faulty UPS units that rarely work, are as predictable as the weather and need frequent repairs by engineers who don’t arrive unless they’re threatened or bribed.
The safety, quality, timeliness and reliability of private and public transport are laughable at best. In the last 6 months, the media has focused the spotlight on the number of assaults, rapes, attacks and murders of women and children on public and private buses, while the police’s response to the problem has been to get cars to remove their protective sun-films. Buses, trains and airlines are rarely, if ever, on time, and their owners and drivers think it’s perfectly natural – even expected – to delay their departure or arrival by hours. Even the so-called super luxury buses that charge exorbitant rates, like those run by Olivea and Airavat, have non-functioning seats, faulty entertainment systems and broken toilets. Despite this, Indian citizens are expected to pay the full charge, not complain, and shut up and accept the “privilege” of riding on the bus.
Look at our crumbling cities – gigantic slums that never got off starting block, leave alone compete with those in other countries. Builders flout building norms and encroach on public roads and land with the tacit and bribed approval of the government, while Indians turn a blind eye and willingly buy/rent such buildings. 90% of Indian citizens think it’s perfectly normal to throw garbage, spit on and urinate/defecate on the streets. Road are regularly dug up – almost always illegally – by the government and by citizens trying to pull an illegal water, phone or power connections. Most of these are rarely, if ever, resurfaced, leading to a nation of potholes - cratered “paths” instead of motor-able highways and roads. Traffic conditions in these cities are so bad, that India now occupies the ignominious reputation of killing the most number of road users in the world.
Multinational corporations that are customer-focused, quality conscious and conscientious to a fault in Europe and the US, turn rotten when they enter India. Dominos India, for example, jettisons their “30-minute-or-free” paradigm, and makes a mockery of the online ordering system. KFC India serves stale chicken, sometimes worm-infested, and yet they continue to operate with impunity in the country. Walmart India, in conjunction with Bharti, has been exposed for bribery and corruption. Websites like Mouthshut abound with literally millions of complaints against MNCs. Despite these problems, Indian citizens have not boycotted these companies, or stopped using their service. Is it any wonder, then, that international companies that enter India know that Indians lack integrity and quality focus, and therefore they can get away with practically anything?
Indian taxes and finance laws are among the most skewed in the world. For example, less than 50 million Indian pay taxes, for a country with a bulging population of 1.3 billion. That’s close to 3% of the population supporting 97% of the country. Compare that to the US, where 45% of the population pays taxes. This means that Indians pay higher taxes on everything – from income to goods to services – than most countries in the world. By PWC estimates, Indians pay a tax rate of 61% as a percentage of commercial profits. Air fares in India are about 300% higher than those in most other countries because of high tax rates. The Indian government imposes massive amounts of “other” taxes (19%), outside of taxes on labor and profits. Despite these despotic – not unlike British rule – conditions, Indian citizens accept these burdens with docility and forbearance.
Indians still seem to live in the pre-independence era, where they were treated as second-class citizens who had no right to complain, and had to yield to the whims of their masters, the British. Common citizens are treated like dogs both by companies and by the government, and they accept it with no compunction. Companies are treated shabbily by the government, and they accept it as a part and parcel of their operations. The government in turn, behaves like a cross between a tyrant and a bank robber. Case in point: after the horrendous rape and murder of Damini/Nirbhaya, when Indian students went on a peaceful procession to protest the government’s inaction, the police resorted to attacking the protesters in an action likened to the Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre. What did we do as Indian citizens? We meekly accepted it.
This is what we are – a nation that deserves to be ruled with an iron fist. We don’t deserve our independence. If he were alive, Mahatma Gandhi would be ashamed of us.