Indian politics is disconnected from what India actually wants. A week before the largest democracy on Earth goes to the polls, here are 10 things the electorate is talking about even though most politicians aren’t.
1. Unfulfilled Aspiration
If there is one thing two decades of liberalization has given us, it was a sense of hope that things can get better, but not at any cost. People want cheaper food, not cheap food. They want cheaper education, not cheap education. When people in villages have a little money, they prefer to send their children to a private school where there children are taught in English over public school where they learn in Hindi, staff are often absent and standards are low. People across India are aspirational.
They will give their vote to whoever taps into a person’s desire for a better future.
India’s problem is no longer about employment, it is about employability. The trade association, National Association for Software and Services Companies says 75% of technical graduates and 80% of general studies graduates don’t have the skills to get a technical or call center jobs in a country where more than half of the 1.2 billion population is under the age of 25.
Young people want their lives to get better through the jobs they get. But we have to improve their skill sets first. The government has to take a step back and look at the lack of standards and quality that has overtaken our education system. Why are people still flocking to unaccredited colleges and institutes? Because they don’t have a better choice. It is easy to see where their frustrations come from. Unless someone fixes the lack of skills, a demographic nightmare is on its way.
3. Food wastage and underweight children
Let us connect the dots between India’s inability to build granaries and cold storage centers and the hunger that exists in large parts of the country. India has the largest number of underweight and malnourished children in the world but it also wastes as much wheat each year as Australia produces – 21 million tonnes.
People want someone to say they will fix this imbalance. Has a single candidate talked about this? You cannot argue that India cannot fix these things in the 21st century.
4. Drinking Water
In 2012, the Water Resources Ministry essentially told Parliament that in time,groundwater will not be fit for human consumption. The aquifers are drying up and underground water is increasingly polluted or going saline. With India being the world’s largest user of ground water, there is a huge scarcity in the offing.
Add to that, 80% of untreated sewage in India flows straight to into drinking water sources such as rivers and groundwater. Be it farmers or people living in the cities, access to clean water is by far one of the biggest issues for people across the country. There are ways to address this, such as rain water harvesting, but has a politician promised that on a war footing we can solve it?
Three hundred million Indians have never had access to electricity. So when theblackout in 2012 plunged nearly 600 million in darkness – for at least about half of them, it was just another day.
Meanwhile, in a coal abundant nation, all we have heard about energy in the last two years is that the mismanagement of the allocation of coal blocks to private companies resulted in a presumed loss of 1.85 trillion rupees ($31 billion) to the exchequer.
India has barely one hospital bed per 1,000 population compared to the global average of nearly three beds per 1,000. We have one operating theater per 1,000 people. This at a time when the World Health Organization estimates that India is one of the few countries in the world where people have to pay the maximum proportion of their wages for private healthcare – and the Harvard School of Public Health calculates that the country’s economic losses due to non-communicable disease between 2012 and 2030 will be $6.2 trillion. There is an unprecedented crisis of public health and it cannot be resolved in a hurry.
7. The Disease Burden
Our disease burden is one of the largest in the world. We lost 9.2 million productive years to heart disease in 2000. By 2030, the number is likely to rise to 17.9 million productive years. There are no immediate solutions for India and it spells potentially huge economic losses.
8. Civilian Safety
Gun violence is one of the biggest killers in India. Nearly 40 million Indians own guns. Barely 15% of these are registered weapons. India has the second largest civilian ownership of guns, second only to the United States. Around 80% of all murders in India are carried out using these illegal guns. This is one of the biggest security challenges of India – but it is hardly addressed because many of those guns are connected to politics and politicians.
9. Outdated Justice System
There are 30 million court cases pending in courts across India and a backlog of 66,000 cases in the Supreme Court. The system is sluggish. People don’t feel there is a justice system that can back them up or give them any sense of closure. India needs at least 75,000 new judges in the next 35 years and Indians want a government that can create more courts and hire more judges.
- Inefficient bureaucracy
Communicating with an Indian bureaucrat is a terrible experience. They are unapproachable. You have to argue for your rights. Citizens want a voice and any way for them to be heard now is entirely absent.
Other than the elections, there is no other way for the electorate to show their frustration towards a system that is willfully unresponsive; that does not care about accountability. There is incredible frustration here – people, and businesses, are not willing to put up with such inefficiency much longer.
Hindol Sengupta is a senior editor at Fortune India magazine and author of “100 Things To Know And Debate Before You Vote” (Harper Collins). Follow India Real Time on Twitter @WSJIndia