Sunday, April 21, 2024

Poverty of aspirations


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Youths here are faced with a “poverty of aspirations,” as a leading economist has bluntly put it. They have limited ambitions with the smartest among them spending much of their young life preparing for the civil services examinations to become an administrator while many end up as politicians. The youth should actually aim big and aspire to become innovators, entrepreneurs, like Elon Musk, Sachin Tendulkar, Mukesh Ambani or Binny Bansal (of Flipkart). This exhortation, a sad commentary on our times, comes from Sanjeev Sanyal, the leading economist and member of the prestigious Economic Advisory Council (EAC). As he notes, the youths today are rather fancying to be “local goon politicians” as in Bihar, or “pseudo-intellectuals and union leaders” as in West Bengal and Kerala or elsewhere.
The argument and reasons cited are well taken. What has worsened this scenario is the huge publicity that the print and visual media are giving to politicians – most of them semi-literates – while those who excel in fields of intellectual superiority like scientists, technocrats and even businessmen who rise sky-high from small beginnings, are ignored in terms of the daily load of “hero worship” or publicity. The Independence struggle brought up leaders who had a commitment to the society. The post-Independence era is rife with power-seekers and self-serving leaders. Those who engaged in street-fights won adulation and emerged as leaders, while those who had the brain power seldom survived in politics after the Nehruvian era. Today, the worse of the worst qualify to be leaders and people’s representatives, either by way of flexing their muscles or by scheming their way up the political ladder. The nation suffers from a deficit of brain power to run its affairs. Even the upper house of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha, which was meant mainly to accommodate the best talents and brains, is progressively filled with those from the political ranks.
The craze among the brainy young folk to spend their valuable years in preparations to pass the civil services and become bureaucrats — whose media-induced halo is next only to that of senior politicians — is legion. They mug up “knowledge” to pass the examinations and enter fields that have nothing to do with the knowledge they supposedly acquired. The examination system itself is tuned to such a future for our youths. As a result, unlike in the old days, there is less of an obsession among the youth to try and excel in arts, sports or in technical fields. As Sanyal noted, had we not had this obsession to pass the civil service exams and the like, we would have had more Olympic Gold Medallists, innovators and entrepreneurs.

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