What does infrastructure really mean?

I had to travel on March 7 night to Coimbatore. My mother decided to settle down in a community of retirees in Coimbatore, not wanting the responsibility of maintaining a house in Madurai, all by herself. Fair enough. It is a good place. I spent two days there.

I can see why it is completely peaceful. One does not have to worry about things and if your children take care of themselves and you are well provided for, this can be a world in itself. You can be connected to the world whenever you wish to – there is internet.

Temple, chanting, similar concerns, priorities, good walks, television, magazine, etc. Life can be uncomplicated. It is tempting for all of us too because modern lives have become overwhelming.

There is gym, library, clubhouse, squash court, pool, even a beauty parlour inside. The place is well lit in the night.

Actually, for some of us, it is also a place for humility because no matter how young and fit, active and good looking you are, this place reminds you as to where and how you will eventually become. A great way to be reminded of one’s mortality and hence, humility.

But, somehow, I expected Coimbatore to be a lot neater than it really is. It has definitely become more sprawling. It takes quite a while to cross the city. I had to take the road to Tiruchi on Friday, March 10.

There is a ‘Swachh Bharat’ campaign. Posters are visible and they are cute. Young children ask their parents, uncles and elders to consider the incongruity of using public spaces as toilets while boasting of smart phones and gadgets in their private homes. But, the posters are yet to result in a cleaner looking Coimbatore. There is a long way to go.

I noticed protests led by O. Panneerselvam faction of AIADMK demanding a probe into the death of the former CM Ms. J. Jayalalitha. That made me think about the mess that she had left behind simply because she did not trust anyone to be able to develop them into a second line of leadership. Succession planning is conspicuous by its absence in most Indian political parties and hence, in the political leadership of the government too. Adhocism rules and governance suffers. The incumbents are never confident and secure and they resort to cheap populism in the fond hope of securing their seat.

Indian politics is highly competitive. Market economists would say that competition leads to better outcomes. That might be true of economics. But, is it the opposite in politics? Does competition lower the standard of governance and also the ethical quotient in politics? What is the optimal number of political parties, in States or at the national level?

On one of the evenings I was at Coimbatore, it poured for an hour. Heavy downpour. That was it. Networks ceased to function. Could not place calls. SMS did not go through. There was water logging and flooding of subways. Traffic stalled. My driver could not reach my spot for more than 40 minutes. When we talk of infrastructure deficiency, we think of roads, ports, power, etc. Really, at the common man’s level, it is about well-functioning drainage system and smoother roads in the cities. Seventy years after independence, even in so-called better developed States in the country like Tamil Nadu and in an important city like Coimbatore, they are still missing.

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