NEED FOR CIVIC CONSCIOUSNESS

I had occasion to visit Beijing and Shanghai for a week in March this year. While a week is too little a time a time to form an opinion of any country, especially a country of the size of China, certain impressions remain which perhaps could be a pointer on how India could achieve a faster level of growth. And no, it has nothing to do with the big buildings and the tall skyscrapers. It has everything to do with Attitude.

The first thing that strikes one, both in Beijing and Shanghai, is the extraordinary cleanliness of both the cities. Obviously, this has not come about without effort on the part of the public. The moot point is, how did the government motivate the people to keep their city clean? Perhaps it has something to do with a sense of ownership of the community and of the city. There is a visible pride in each and every Chinese in his city and in his country. This is obvious to even a casual observer. Can we emulate the Chinese on that yardstick?

The Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat campaign is evidently aimed at creating such a consciousness. But it still has a long way to go before cleanliness in public spaces is internalised by the people. Indians are scrupulously clean when it comes to matters of personal hygiene. But in matters of civic consciousness, we still have a long way to go. I attribute this to more than a millennium of foreign rule, where the individual citizen did not look upon the country as one’s own. This has to change.

The second thing that was noticeable was a concern for one’s fellow beings. This is reflected in the traffic discipline, even when there is no policeman around. On the road, everyone sticks to their respective lanes, even if a traffic block occurs. That way, every one gets through faster, despite the fact that at times, the traffic queue is more than a mile long. An aerial view of the busy roads shows this aspect clearly. I have seen the same in my visits to Singapore and Taiwan. And these countries were much like India, just a few decades back. Can we emulate them?

The behaviour of the citizen on Indian roads is a reflection of the individuals attitude and concern for others. Some small changes are creeping in, but by and large there is little care and concern for the other. Lane driving appears a distant dream, despite the fact that a large number of traffic cops are directing traffic, even where the traffic signals are working! The tendency to cut corners while exiting from the expressway is symptomatic of the lack of civic sense in the public. This by itself leads to huge traffic snarls.

We need a change in attitude. From such change will great things emerge. It seems unbelievable that only from India comes calls for a Bharat Bandh! You do not see any other country calling for its own closure. Or burning and destroying public property, which in effect is one’s own, if we consider the country to be ours. Can India rise to the challenge? The jury is still out.

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