(Written during the 6 week Eisenhower Fellowship in the U.S. in 2012)
One thing that begins to stare you in face (and you are reminded that others who visited USA before you told you this!) is the better quality of life in USA. These may be early impressions (and there are definite contradictions within the society as well), but for now, we will look at this aspect closely. Nothing is an absolute truth, anyways.
While these impressions are building since the time we reached USA, they have got further strengthened during visits to NYC and Cleveland, Ohio. The Times Square, the street festivities, the ‘cheap and best’ subway, the Statue of Liberty, and the reconstructing WTC towers leave strong impressions. The vibrancy of city reminds you of Mumbai. It is amazing to find the city resurge. The Times Square of 1980s is changed. The WTCs are up again, as if challenging. The city is a Mayor-run city, and besides the resurgent character of the city, they give credit to ‘leadership’ as well. I wonder if polity would ever be mature enough- and citizens aggressive enough (back home) – to use executive power at the local city level. (I don’t know which system is better-the Mayor run, or the city manager run). Another creditable thing is the robust infrastructure, conceived, planned and executed a century ago (hearsay), and still serving the needs of the city. They say that trains run East-West beneath the river! The sustainability of the city is also assured in part, because of the convenient public transport- most New Yorkers may do well without a car! A 2.25 $ for a single trip is cheap. They are also planning to introduce rental bicycles in a big way. The city is a confluence of cultures. Last, but not the least you can make big money in this city, they say. If you are young and are not too fascinated by nature, you will find this city very liveable.
Cleveland, Ohio may be like any other big city of USA, but I was lucky to experience the suburbs. One cannot but compare the ‘suburbs’ of developed countries with the ‘villages’ of India. But that does not disturb us into any inferiority; just jolts us enough to do something. The image of our villages has been debated by Gandhi ji and Baba Saheb Ambedkar as well. No one can deny today the much required focus on cities in India today. Meaningful farm/non-farm sustainable rural employment though cannot be ignored (a one percent agriculture GDP growth multiplies into much larger overall growth!). The quality of life in the suburbs- education, health, environment- here can be the goal for us back home. Before we move on to look at the ‘quality’ issue more closely, there is one more observation. Hard effort (my friend here personifies the Agneepath effort!) here will always bear fruits.
Let us see this ‘quality’ more closely. I had a chance to visit a private school here. It is one of the best here, so comparisons must be made accordingly. But the education system is awesome (for want of a better word). The student-teacher ratio, the emphasis on practical work and creativity and co-curricular activities to develop an overall personality for the child are the big pluses. (Reminds of 3 idiots!) There is a cautious attempt not to pressurise the child. The theory is that a confident child will make much wiser choices ahead. The immense opportunities that lie ahead may perhaps feed into the virtuous circle. The environment for development of fullest potential of a child is praise worthy. With a strong foundation, this culture continues in higher education as well. My friend here says ‘much of the reason for his lack of passion in medical school was poor teaching, which never inspired. Out here, meeting some of the teachers, who are conceptually so clear, he developed a genuine interest in medicine’.
What is also exciting is the fact that everyone seems to have availability of something doable for him/her. And they are at it as well. Till the time they can. So we have a 75 year old guide at the museum and so many more in so many roles. We do not have few ‘doctors’, ‘engineers’, ‘lawyers’, ‘businessmen’ only. The whole potential of the economy seems to have opened up to accommodate, provide ‘niche’ for everyone- whosoever has any skill. And they are not under-employed. There just seem to be so many newer roles. The emphasis on ‘best practices’ and ‘evidence-based’ decisions adds to this kitty of roles.
The ‘quality’ then translates into ‘convenience’ of everything.
There is also a remarkable networking of strengths. The PPP (Public Private Partnership) is very common. And flexible. This must be a big contributor to the quality of governance here. The PPPP (Public Private Philanthropy Partnership) is also evident much more commonly here. We can enlarge (try to!) our PPPP (Public Private People Partnership) to PPPPP (Public Private People Philanthropy Partnership). Despite the caution that each one of these Ps may have their own limitations (the Philanthropy for e.g. even if it comes forward, is ‘brand-conscious’ and may avoid ‘risks’), there is always a possibility of a ‘win-win’ for everyone. There lies the key.
The USA then is a true ‘melting pot’ of talents. If you have it in you, you will get absorbed.
The comparison of governments may be less interesting and offer fewer lessons. The comparison of culture/society/character is more intriguing. Nevertheless, ‘power’ is a ‘contributing’- if not ‘necessary’; certainly not ‘sufficient’- factor to bring about change here as well. While there may be some merit in the ‘young population-a-resource’ theory (back home), unless we quickly pull up our socks to create an enabling environment, it may turn out to be more of a challenge than a resource.
P.S.: While aware of the contrasts, contradictions, and issues here; we have just tried to look at the ‘positives’ here and learn from them.