[US to India ’15] Pete Seat: “Organized Chaos”
Ask an Indian to describe their country and the answer is quick and firm, “organized chaos.” And it’s a description that’s hard to refute.
Traffic lanes are guidelines to be ignored as cars, motorcycles, and rickshaws and sometimes people move in a mass of metal and flesh that resembles what we would consider a multi-car pile-up in the United States. From time-to-time as the melodic and non-aggressive sounds of honking horns greet each other, vehicles come into contact but rather than stop, assess the damage and call an insurance company, Indians laugh it off as a “huggy” or a “kissy.” No big deal.
Government is much the same way. Visiting the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of Parliament, we saw a new form of obstruction compared to what plays out on C-SPAN cameras back at home. A merry band of members of the Indian National Congress party, which had dominated India’s government since independence until recently, drowned out speeches with chants of “Stop it! Stop it!” from directly in front of the speaker’s chair.
One of the leaders of the chant was Gaurav Gogoi, a member of Parliament who we had met with only days earlier. A bright young man, he was engaging in what has become an all-too-common practice on the Lok Sabha floor. Although it was certainly chaos, it was organized.
Those, however, are the most visible signs of India’s organized chaos. Behind the curtain there are many challenges that the country faces if they are to rise to the top of the world-wide food chain as they hope in coming years. And according to people on the ground, the time frame for progress is a short 2-3 year window which all but guarantees more organized chaos to get the job done.
To be sure, there is great promise in India. Multiple variations of this statistic were thrown at us, but generally speaking over half of India’s 1.3 billion people is in their 30s or younger. That is a demographic reality that will reap great dividends, as we were repeatedly told, but it’s also a demographic reality that poses many challenges, as well.
For instance, in order to keep up with population growth, India must create 1 million jobs a month. To put that in perspective, the United States has created 13 million jobs since the 2008-2009 economic downturn.
Likewise, India will need to create higher paying jobs and better train young people to take on those jobs. As of today barely a tick above 2 percent of Indians pay income taxes, a staggeringly low number when looking at the needs of the country going forward.
And the urgent need to create jobs and train Indians fail to address the basic needs of improved sanitation, environmental safeguards against excessive smog and pollution, and relieving infrastructure constraints and building new means of transportation.
But even so, through its unique form of organized chaos India continues to grow and continues to aspire to great things. Their challenges can be met and overcome. It just may look a little messy and get a little bumpy en route.
Pete Seat is Senior Project Manager for Hathaway Strategies and a freelance political analyst and commentator.