When India held its first democratic elections in 1952, many thought it would be India’s last. The air of cynicism has dissipated over the years. Gandhi, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabbhai Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Sarojini Naidu and other great political leaders of sixty years ago have passed away. But they and freedom fighters like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and others who sacrificed their lives for Indian independence have left behind a legacy of democracy, which will not be easy to dismantle.
At the moment, India is in the midst of another election, with about 814 million citizen eligible to vote. A complex, gargantuan task. One of our books, “Moving Mountains in India, Drinking Tea in Tbilisi,” comes to mind because its author was one of the finest, wisest, bravest human being I have known. The late Yun-Chong Pan spent years in India working for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). We shared an intense love for India and Chinese food.
Unfortunately, although well ensconced in a corporate position in a foreign company in Calcutta, my wife and I decided to leave India in 1971 to pursue graduate studies in Boston. Family and friends thought we were crazy to uproot ourselves, with two children to boot, a son aged four and a daughter aged one. But we took the plunge, leaving behind a small, beautiful house we had built three years earlier. Even more difficult to part with at the time were paid memberships in three Calcutta clubs – the yacht club, the swimming club, and the Royal Calcutta Golf Club. A good life, indeed.
On a cloudy weekend two months ago, seated on the lawns of the Delhi Golf Club, with a chill wind blowing, I listened in amazement as a senior club member narrated how the club, on leased government land, now had a twenty-five to thirty years’ waiting period for new members, how the lease was to expire in 2020, and how it was renewed to 2050 eight years early in 2012. The cost to the club, if one can call it cost, was twelve new and immediate memberships to the club demanded by senior Indian bureaucrats with positions of authority in the ministry handling the lease. I did not care to enquire about the golfing skills of the new members. Well past their physical prime, each had won a coveted trophy in advance. I remembered golf from forty years ago, but not any trophies.
India is awash with trophies, accessible to a privileged few with money and/or power. Five-star hotels and hospitals, exclusive gated communities, fashions to bedazzle the world are ready for the taking if one takes the media, barring a few notable exceptions, seriously. That there is a total disconnect between media ads and the state of ninety-five percent of India’s 1.3 billion people troubles no one. So it seems.