The people who created America built a solid structure sans immorality. The puritan legacy inhibited luxury and hedonism. Benjamin Franklin spread a practical gospel that emphasized hard work, temperance and parsimony. Millions of parents, preachers, and newspaper editors and teachers expounded the message. The result was quite remarkable in that part of the globe.
In India, too, our scriptures and spiritual leaders advocated a life based on frugality. Until independence and a few years after that, Indians were seen leading a simple life. Simple living and high thinking used to be a credo in our personal life.
If Mahatma Gandhi was a half-naked Fakir, that showed how the father of the nation preached and practiced skimpiness. Even our ancient sages led an undemanding life. Flaunting wealth has never been an Indian trait. When it comes to penny-pinching, South Indians are a class apart. Prudence in life is what people living on the other side of the Vindhyas believe in.
India was, by and large, not corrupted by wealth until the nineties. Over the past twenty years, much of that has changed. Liberalisation of the economy has given rise to greed and Indians today are seduced by money. The social norms that encouraged frugality in life and spending what you earn by unquestionable means have been eroded. The country’s moral guardians today are sweating to check the unstoppable decadence. If money power has occupied the center stage, the trampling of decent norms- of how to use and harness money- is all around to be seen.
The deterioration of financial mores has meant two things. First, it means running after easy money. Second; the transformation has led to a breakdown of core values of life.
The loosening of financial inhibition has meant more options for the well-educated but more temptation for the most vulnerable. Chasing money has yet another pitfall – chaos. Social values, the invisible threads that guide behavior have deteriorated. No longer is making money by unfair means a taboo. Over the past few years, Indians have become more conscious about money and less about sacred things of life.
The agents of destruction are many. Government spending has played a substantial role in it. With ‘growth’ becoming the buzzword, the governments spend huge amounts of money on social welfare schemes. But the ultimate beneficiaries are the service class. Not for nothing that the adage goes ad infinitum–only 15 percent of the funds spent on development goes to the poor.
Imbibing western culture is yet another reason for loosening financial control over oneself. Flashy lifestyles, availability of cheap credit, access to credit cards all have led to a stark financial polarization. On the one hand, we have the ‘business’ class with all the financial clout. On the other hand, we have the ‘cattle’ class with little access to all those avenues of money, resulting in a big hiatus and a yawning gap.
The governments and political parties have always been insensitive to upholding social values, with themselves playing a disastrous role in encouraging filth. So, the time has come to shift values. Indian Communists have a role to play in it because they have made it prestigious to embrace certain ‘bourgeois’ virtues. We may have been disgruntled with their non-flexible political ideologies, but as moral guardians, leftists can play a better role than the rightists.
(The author Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar based senior journalist and columnist. Views are personal)
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