As a nation, we seem to have a total lack of foresight. Our speciality is hindsight. Or, to coin a colloquialism with a local flavour, backside vision.
We never act, but always react. We firmly bolt the door after the horse has been well and truly stolen.
As I write this, Delhi is in a state of self-imposed siege. The roads bristle with police checkpoints where men with guns stop and scowl into passing vehicles.
The area around India Gate has been declared out of bounds for aam janta till the Republic Day tamasha is over. At the airport, passengers have to undergo a double round of security checks and frisking.
All these alarms and excursions are a consequence of the jihadi attack on the Pathankot air base. What this hustle and bustle singularly fails to do is divert people from asking uncomfortable questions of the government in general and of the security establishment in particular as to how six youthful—and therefore presumably green—terrorists could have so easily infiltrated into Indian territory and launched such a murderous attack on a key defence installation.
Despite repeated and allegedly Pakistan-sponsored attacks, our so-called intelligence agencies—a misnomer if ever there was one—invariably seem to be taken unawares by yet another terror strike.
We always seem to be caught with our pants down, a state of metaphoric undress which facilitates backside vision.
It’s not just with terror attacks that we display just how backside our vision is. We do the same with a menace that some say is even greater than that of terrorism: pollution.
For years, environmentalists were sounding alarm bells and warning anyone who cared to listen —which no one did—that thanks to an unmanageable increase in the number of motorised vehicles in Delhi and other cities, urban atmospheric pollution levels were rising alarmingly.
Such warnings were pooh-poohed. What was this plooshun that these environmentalists or whatever they call themselves were carrying on about? And who were these environmentalists anyway? Probably a bunch of crypto-commies, and half of them homos to boot. Sod them.
So no one in authority did anything about pollution, or plooshun as it came to be called. Till one day Delhi woke up to find that its atmosphere was just a little more breathable than that of Mars, causing Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to switch his trademark muffler for a gas mask and declare his odd-even scheme for the national capital by which odd- and even-numbered private cars would operate in the city on corresponding odd and even dates, a practice which might be adopted by other cities as well.
This has proved to be a great boon to makers of fake licence plates and registration papers, but apart from that, it seems to have achieved not much except causing a lot of inconvenience to commuters whose dire straits demonstrate only too clearly just how abysmally inadequate public transport systems are in Delhi and other cities.
Backside vision now tells us what we should have known all along: we need to beef up our bus fleets and other forms of non-private transport.
Bijli, electric power, is another victim of backside vision. Today, lack of power is identified as one of the major bottlenecks to industrial and economic growth.
In the early 1960s, the then privately owned Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation sought permission from then Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu to augment its power-generating capacity. In his Marxist wisdom, Jyotida is reported to have replied: “What are we going to do with so much power? Eat it?”
It was an attitude typical not only of the Bengal of those days but of the country as a whole. Power? Who needed more of the stuff? We already had enough, thank you.
The result is that India Inc is virtually being run on diesel gen sets (never mind the plooshun they cause) till such time that the mega power projects stuck in the pipeline for a variety of reasons finally become operational.
Whether it’s exposure to terror, pollution, or lack of bijli, it’s our backside vision which has ensured that we continue to get a bum deal.
The author is a writer, columnist and author of several books