26 September 2005

Politically Incorrect : Ravings of a mere mortal.

Washington, DC. 38°12′, -77°10′. In the United States, the governor's race is heating up in Virginia, and we have a lot of talk about widening the I-66, the main artery that feeds DC from Virginia. I-66 is a freeway with a lot of history and today it is exactly that, just an old relic. The lack of space to expand on both sides within the beltway(along the lines of the ring roads in India) has made it a commuter's nightmare. The DC metro area is already one of the cities with the most traffic congestion in the United States. A lot of debate and open forums are being held in the capital to address these issues. Every time I open the local county newspaper (Loudoun county), I see big front page articles about town hall meetings, requests for opinions and other related items aimed at involving local people and communities in resolving this growing urban problem. What is more enlightening is that its not just people, but corporations that rally behind these initiatives and push the government into action. The corporates have a very vested interest which is perfectly alright in this case. A mall or hospital will lose business if traffic problems prevent access to their facilities. Despite all this, I still notice a certain lack of speed in the implementation of these proposals. I say that because living in this country you start expecting everything to happen at lightning speed. The culture of instant gratification has been perfected to utopian levels in this country. This is both good and bad at the same time.

Bangalore. India. 12°56′, 77°35′. Everytime I speak to my dad, I ask him one of my favorite questions; Has the road from our home in Bangalore, leading into Hosur Road been widened and asphalted without pot holes? I am not really surprised when my dad replies that it has only gotten worse by the day and that the traffic congestion is horrendous. This is the story of one of the prime locations in Bangalore, where technology companies and the by product of their boom, the housing market, is making a killing. Home and land prices are sky rocketing, people are busting the city to the seams. But everywhere I read and hear the common refrain is that nothing much is happening to the infrastructure. Six years back, that road from my home was a mess. Six years later, it is still no better. I also hear from friends and relatives that downtown bangalore is so packed during business and evening rush hours that most people have stopped venturing out in their cars or have started hiring drivers who will yell and scream on their behalf, while they sit back and read the evening newspaper. Six years ago when I came to the US, there was a similar problem with three major freeways intersecting down in Alexandria, some 20 miles from here. The I-395, I-95 and I-495 intersected to cause one of the most dangerous traffic intersections I have ever seen. I always dreaded taking a route through that part. Today a billion dollars later, the mixing bowl project is well on its way to completion, perhaps a little over budget, a little delayed, but nevertheless easing traffic congestion in a big way.

I am no expert on anything, but here are my two cents. I think we Indians are used to looking at problems with a highly ideological attitude, as opposed to a practical sense of realpolitik. Just like our bureaucrats and foreign policy analysts we take the high moral ground on everything. Lets take the infrastructure problem as an example. We say either the politicians or the bureaucrats are to blame. OK that is what everyone has been telling us for all these years. Since my childhood. I have written scores of essays on it at school. Population explosion, bad politicians, lethargic bureaucrats are to blame for everything. Yes, agreed. Lets move on and find solutions. Just because the system as a whole is unchangeable, doesn't mean we can't start by changing simple things. The left wing talks of revolution as the savior for this problem. The right wing talks of
a myriad things mixed with religion as the savior. In short, everyone has a reason for why things wont work the way they should work.

Lets think small for a minute. We do not have to do everything with a big bang. Lets try small baby steps..remember Richard Dreyfus in the movie "What about bob ?". Case in point. During the Krishna era of Karnataka, I had heard about a very interesting experiment of public private partnership headed by bigwigs from Infosys and other companies. Now I don't hear anything about that. The changed political weather seems to have blown away that experiment. At least that is the feeling I get. I believe the private sector is as much to blame for this, as the government of the day. So what if the political duds cant make up their minds ? The corporations command the economy of the city and the state, they pay taxes. The corporates drive the boom. Stand up and have your voice heard. Don't you guys do that in your own board rooms ? Don't you all thunder when a project gets delayed ? If India was a more statistically inclined country conducting polls on everything under the sun like the US, I am sure we would have numbers to prove the amount of losses corporations accumulate because of employee frustration, employee sickness and other ills as a result of these problems. You know what, lets create lobbyists like the western democracies. I personally am not a great fan of lobbyists, but hey if that is what it takes to push agendas forward, lets do it. It seems to be working in most developed countries. Why is it that lobbyists for negative change seem to have more success in our country than the ones for positive change ?

OK, so what if I can big mouth these ideas sitting across the cliched 'seven seas' ? How am I contributing to change this mindset ? Sadly I am not, I am just another blogger turning on his tap of frustration and venting. At least others like deeshaa.org seem to be doing more practical things. Bangalorebuzz just states facts. But many more people seem to be at least yelling about it than before. Good beginning. Lets face reality for a second. All over the world, politicians and bureaucrats are the same. But it is the success of a mature democracy to put enough checks and balances around mere mortals to make them rise above their own selfish ways. Just take the enticement for corruption, nonchalance away. Make things as transparent as possible. Let us open source all information archiving, maintenance, and data mining activities of the Indian government. God knows we have enough programmers and engineers and a willing army of data entry operators who have basic degrees or even high school diplomas. What we need is motivation to convert all this paper data into mineable, searchable information banks. If it is out there, lets get it on-line. Lets grease every lethargic piece of bureaucracy into action by dragging them to consumer courts if necessary based on evidence. Lets create a business case out of all this. Lets not do anything just out of a feeling of charity. Let us go away from socialistic notions and use Darwin's theory of "Survival of the fittest". Let us create an environment for the fittest to come forth and fight it out. Let us make every government official sweat for his pay and every action accountable, every act traceable. You don't need an army to do this. Information and Telecommunication technology today can fulfill every single tool to meet these requirements. Look at the STD booths that sprouted across the country in the last century. Why can't we start an information kiosk revolution like that ? Are'nt we the back office of the world today ? Let us become the back office of our own nation.

I think I have vented enough. I am sure someone will read this. I am sure someone may even appreciate it. Some may blow it off as just steam from a deserter sitting far away. But how will that be converted into real change ? How will I contribute to this change, in reality? I am still not sure. My quest for an answer continues.

P.S: Wondering why I have the latitude and longitudes for both cities ? Look at the longitudes. DC is at -77° and Bangalore is at 77°. Two opposite poles. Long ways to go.

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