‘Wow!’ I exclaimed, looking at my friend’s flat. “What did you do with the bottles and the cigarette cases?”
His uncle and aunt were visiting. They will report back to his parents. My friend had cleaned up his living room. Years of accumulated muck had vanished. I congratulated him. How did he manage it?
It turned out that the muck was just moved and dumped into the other rooms. They looked like shit. The living room shone, ready for the face presentation, while the rest of the house looked like an atom bomb of grime, dirt and disorder had gone off there. A Hiroshima of clutter.
I wouldn’t want to start a ‘we Indians are like this only, blah, blah and blah’ etc. But don’t we have a tendency to a split personality, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide? That includes me. I have to live. I have to work. Idealism stays in my head, like a trapped parrot, yelling its head off.
We pretend that basic healthcare and education are free for everyone. We are idealistically committed to insisting that they are not tradable commodities. We insist that private health care providers and educational institutions are rascally anomalies, peddling shamelessly, that which is unpeddlable. Yet we go to five star hospitals for a common cold, and send our children to the ‘international’ school.
Let us go back a few years. The court had ruled that a private higher educational institution cannot subsidize fifty percent of its seats for a nominal fee for deserving candidates. And charge heavily for the rest? That would be against the Right to equality. Cross subsidising cannot be accepted. One is tempted to say, “what BS!”. But I wouldn’t out of respect for the judiciary. Huge money is involved, and humungous power groups will exert their weight.
Aren’t we cross-subsidizing basically everything? Can we afford not to? Every PHC and government hospital runs on that principle. Each public school runs that way. The vast majority of the money that is with the government is obtained from entrepreneurs who produce, innovators who set up businesses, managers who grow money, and basically, mostly from people who work.
But that is OK. We are a deeply unequal society where many are just out of the race for generations. And education is seen as a potent tool for self-advancement. If we deny that, catastrophe will result. And at a fundamental level, it would be grossly wrong.
What do we do? Just insist that Government should provide all the health care needs and educational aspirations of one and a half Billion people? Or pretend that is happening and let the money system flourish at a subaltern level, like a smiling man who has a terminal cancer inside his body that no one can see?
Why don’t we have half the seats and half the beds at nominal rates for the deserving and let the rest be charged whatever they want, sticking to a minimum criteria for eligibility. That would give the private players an incentive to achieve excellence. If the government decides the price, everyone will just stick to the minimum standard prescribed. It is a prescription for mediocrity. If we don’t allow market forces some wriggle room, the market doesn’t disappear. Like a thwarted phantom, it just moves underground, spewing venom that will poison everything from the ground up.
Heresy, you say? Very un-idealistic? Pandering to the rich and powerful?
Realism was never easy.