New Delhi: As our taxi emerged from busy Jaipur roads, we were excited to reach Ajmer, a sleepy but important town of faith situated 120 kilometres to the south-west. The national highway was well-carpeted and driving lanes clearly marked on both sides. Vehicular traffic was heavy and confirmed a new road order far removed from an era of overcrowded buses, overloaded trucks and bullock carts trundling along potholed thoroughfares.

My Australian guest and travelling companion could not resist surprise at a highway approximating world standards. Infused with national pride, I was secretly relieved about my claims of India’s progress and development. Further tempted to extol the country’s blistering economic and social growth, my enthusiasm remained stillborn.

Whilst our taxi driver was weaving about slow trucks occupying fast lanes, my guest ventured India becoming a developed nation in two decades. Screeching tyres shattered further illusions. By inches, we were saved from a head-on with a tractor driving the wrong way. The rule breaker glared at our driver who reflexively calmed his nerves on a khaini wad and dutifully spat an awful red stream out the window. My guest’s bewildered glance was worth a thousand condemnations.

Before he could recover, a banana peel splotched on the windscreen from an overtaking fast car.

Is India really arriving?

Can we ever become a developed nation?

Here are a few dichotomies to confront and resolve prior:

Civility

Development is an all-round exercise. Economic growth must be complemented with civic advancement. A posh shopping place stained at every nook with betel juice is scarcely posh. Wide and smooth roads populated with rule breakers are a recipe for disaster. Indifference and indiscipline will mar national development. No developed nation has a fraction of our distressed civility.

Are we democratic?

In the last third of Abraham Lincoln’s noteworthy definition of democracy being “for the people”, India was clearly overlooked. Ruling groups have untrammelled powers to abuse systems and laws. Common persons get punished for insignificant offences whereas powerful and networked crooks beat murder and corruption raps with impunity. This is scarcely democratic far from being just.

Quality of elected legislators is manifestly questionable and the vetting process ranges from being lax to nonexistent. Poor literacy or criminal backgrounds are not disqualifications. Merit has no place where caste and communal identities and money/ muscle power are deemed winnable assets. The effects of all this on political administration, law-making and general peace and order are uniformly damaging.

Income and social disparities

India’s richest one per cent possesses fifty-eight per cent of the country's total wealth while the global average according to Oxfam is fifty. The Oxfam study further reveals just fifty-seven Indian billionaires to have an equivalent wealth ($ 216 billion) of the entire bottom seventy per cent of the population. Rising income disparities carry the potential to incite social disorder of a scale to disrupt development. Meanwhile, caste identities skew social reforms. Affirmative action taken to extremes for electoral gains imposes mediocrity on the system and leads to talent flight to developed nations.

Dignity of labour

Inarguably, we have failed to provide equal opportunities to citizens from diverse backgrounds. Lack of educational opportunities compels multitudes to hard labour. Our feudal mentality breeds contempt towards labour. I am yet to see a developed nation where a workman is so scorned. Outsourcing small jobs is expensive in developed nations. This upholds the dignity of labour and encourages recruits.

Political and administrative reforms

Global competition and accountability are pressurizing governments to deliver. Bureaucratic systems in developed nations follow corporate practises of penalizing laggards and rewarding talent. The political establishment is likewise intolerant of nonstarters. Not in India, where elected members enjoy secure term-determined tenures regardless of quality of output, and are paid for absence and avail all retirement benefits merely on a single day’s office attendance. Such anomalies deter development.

One other aspect retarding growth and development is an overextended judicial system and an inefficient, corrupt and extortionist law-enforcement regime.

National character

Finally, there is the great Indian character flaw which makes Indians model citizens in the West and scofflaws here. Running red lights is the most common and a close second is bribing traffic policemen for petty violations. Scaling up the social ladder has become obsessive to the shredding of all grace and decency. Fellow feeling is at a nadir. Mostly in developed nations, citizens meticulously follow laws, behave responsibly, and respect compatriots. Honesty, discipline and mellow native pride build national character.

We have an infinitely long way to go.

An Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, alumni and former Mahindra and Mahindra executive, S. P. Joshi is CEO of Markstrat-Consulting Pvt. Ltd.Email: spjoshi@markstrat-consulting.com

The views expressed are personal.