Let's Feel Happy

Amidst the global chaos, upheaval, and turbulence of 2023, India stands resilient, shining as a beacon of hope

December 26, 2023 By Major General Atanu K Pattanaik (Retd) Photo(s): By Wikipedia / AntanO, X / ekpakistan0, X / DefenceU, DVIDS, Irish Defence Forces /flickr, X / FinMinIndia Illustration(s): By SP Guide Pubns
The Author is former Chief of Staff of a frontline Corps in the North East and a former helicopter pilot. He earlier headed the China & neighbourhood desk at the Defence Intelligence Agency. He retired in July 2020 and held the appointment of Addl DG Information Systems at Army HQ.


Helen Keller, the blind and deaf American educator had once famously said, "I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet." As the year comes to a close, most of us are doing a stocktaking. Has it been good? Did it meet our expectations? Have we as a nation and as a society achieved what we had set out to achieve at the beginning of the year? Answers to these queries always evoke mixed and sometime strong responses. Then there are political, economic and geographical divides which dutifully extends to the fourth estate as well which colour our views. I choose to follow Keller and survey the larger landscape to understand where we are.

Regional Turmoil

In the immediate neighbourhood, Sri Lanka is struggling to recover from the shock economic and political upheaval of 2022, getting even more bogged down by Chinese debt. Bangladesh has been a steady ship under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina but lately witnessing a bitter and violent political feud with opposition BNP leading up to the elections in January 2024. Myanmar junta is losing towns, cities and posts to rebel ethnic armies who have joined hands among themselves and with the ousted National Unity Government. China confronts some deep fissures at home with stalled exports, a housing market slump and a high-tempo slugfest with Taiwan and the west.

Anti-government protest in Sri Lanka on April 13, 2022 in front of the Presidential Secretariat

Pakistan's Problems

Pakistan is in deep economic, political and ethnic and sectarian turmoil, struggling for an IMF bailout as forex has dropped below $5 billion, barely enough for a month's imports, compared to a robust $615 billion held by India. Over the past five years, Pakistan's per capita GDP has slumped from $1,621 in 2018 to $1,471 today compared to India's figures of $1,974 and $2,601 respectively. Without doubt, we have made some right choices. But sceptics will say why compare with Pakistan?


Global Comparisons

That's a valid observation. So, let's compare growth rates with the US and the Eurozone, though prima facie, that's audacious since in absolute and per capita terms there is little to compare. Faced with similar headwinds such as the COVID pandemic since 2020 aggravated by a severe disruption in global supply chains and extreme climate events, the Indian economy is projected to grow at a healthy clip of 7.6 per cent compared to a little over 2 per cent for the US and about 0.6 per cent for the EU.

The Indian economy is projected to grow at a healthy clip of 7.6 per cent, compared to a little over 2 per cent for the US and about 0.6 per cent for the EU, despite facing similar global challenges

Russia-Ukraine War is hurting the Eurozone

More than absolute figures, it is the prospects for a better life tomorrow that buoys sentiments. The Eurozone is faced with multiple challenges as the cost-of-living crisis, triggered by the Ukraine war, the energy crunch and surging inflation, have become the greatest worry for its citizens. A falling population, a surge of migrants who refuge to assimilate and related violence across major cities has helped the rise of the political far-right. The Eurobarometer, a survey released by the European Parliament at the beginning of December 2023 says that over half of respondents (51 per cent) say things in the EU are going in the "wrong direction." Pessimism runs even deeper within national boundaries: 62 per cent of EU citizens say things in their home country are going in the "wrong direction."

Economic growth rate in the developed world has come down

In the US, politics has been generating deep divides, not only over issues, but over culture and character. There is a legislative deadlock as the Democrats and Republicans sharply differ on managing the swelling $23 trillion debt as well as on fundamental issues such as migration policies, gun control, opioid crisis, abortion and gay rights, support for Ukraine and race relations. In the run up to the elections in 2024, it is only going to get murkier, a declining superpower which feels all accompanying pains of loss.

India's unique strength lies in its ability to manage a staggering variety of sub-cultures, languages, dialects, and practices under one umbrella, echoing the sentiment of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

Latin America's Exodus

Members of the Texas Tactical Border Force block migrants from illegally entering Texas

A combination of political strife and economic distress is forcing millions from Latin America to flee their countries and undertake dangerous journeys through Mexican borders to enter the US in search of better livelihoods and a better future for their children. Take the case of Argentina, the land of Tango and football stars Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. Around a hundred years back, it was one of the 10 richest countries on the planet, with wealth similar to France or Germany, and greater than Italy or Japan. Argentines today is ranked 63rd in the world according to the IMF, facing hyperinflation which reached 160 per cent last month. So is the case with oil-rich Venezuela.

African Struggles

The Dark Continent remains the most hostile place to live on the planet. Endemic corruption, ethnic strife, military coups and dictatorships, spread of radical Islamic fundamentalism combines with natural calamities like draughts and floods to keep Africans in abject poverty and misery, forcing millions to take precarious boat rides across the Mediterranean in search of a better tomorrow in Europe.


Middle East Realities

Destruction in Gaza caused by the Israel-Hamas War

The oil-and-gas rich Middle East is at best a closed society ruled by heavy handed dynasties or clergies. It's unimaginable for its people to fall out of line. Just recall the fate of Jamal Khashoggi. In communist China and Russia out-of-line business tycoons and political dissenters are routinely found poisoned or simply vanish from the public eye. In comparison, in India they may at best face the ED and other law enforcement agencies through due process of law, a reason why financial fugitives like Lalit Modi can attend weddings in London or a Vijay Mallya spotted once in a while taking the London metro.

Happiness is when you can look to the future with hopes and dreams, and can envision the direction to obtain them; that's how it feels in a resurgent Bharat today as we bid farewell to 2023

Hope Amidst Challenges: India's Unique Position

Surely, we in India face many challenges at home. There is grinding poverty in many rural areas and urban ghettoes, casteism raises its ugly head in the most grotesque ways, sectarian strife bubbles under the surface, economic inequalities and corruption remains endemic, healthcare and education sectors need urgent fixing. Yet we must be thankful that we are not in situations prevailing in numerous countries and regions embroiled in ethnic and cultural strife and economic decadence, where pessimistic outlook pervades and a bleak future beacon.

An eclectic and agglomerative Sanatan Dharma has absorbed as well as given birth to many religions, cultures and practices over centuries. This enables India to manage such a staggering variety of sub-cultures, languages and dialects, cults and practices under one umbrella and still keep a steady keel. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.

Happiness is when you can look to the future with hopes and dreams, and can envision the direction to obtain them, when a sense of optimism pervades the air. That's how it feels in a resurgent Bharat today as we bid farewell to 2023.