Nation – a people collective…

So what are the biggest complains you have with your government?

I asked my Singaporean colleagues out of genuine curiosity. I view Singapore as a fantastic place to live with the government having provided state of the art facilities… and so somewhere in my guts I was expecting them to respond like the princess sleeping over 40 mattresses complaining about the pea at the bottom of it that gave her the sleepless night…

But their answers were brutally real and very relevant to a lot of what other developed countries citizens complain today… that their government has not done enough for the locals, the citizens (even though the housing for them was subsidized, education till high school was almost free, all are given subsidized medical cover)… that it has allowed too many expats to get in to work in Singapore (even though the government now had almost killed the employment pass program to the extent of not renewing even the ones issued before, had removed the ability of spouses of expat workers to work on their own and giving permanent residency was made tougher than winning the 1 in million chances of a TOTO lottery)…

I got thinking… about the similarities between America and Singapore… size of geography and economy apart… but both of them were built and developed with a strong immigrant population support… both (although Singapore is much higher here) have very high immigrant population that is relatively more educated or experienced and in higher paying jobs… both have developed world class facilities and attract lot of foreign talent… both provide quite a few subsidies for their local population… both are right now squeezing the flow of expat entry under nationalistic fervour (I see so much synergy here – I heard that Singapore government like America has stopped issuing IT work permits and raised unofficially the limits for employment passes to mirror the American limit)… both have comparatively weaker views on climate change (whilst Singapore has fantastic water recycling, but plastic and waste segregation for example is not focused upon… there is no strong emphasis on renewable energy… no subsidy on electric cars for example)… And citizens of both the nations feel that they deserve more and immigrants flow should be controlled…

Its amusing though that Americans for similar policies have to be under the world’s scanner but Singapore gets to do what it wants without a flutter of a wing in the world media… maybe it is the size and the power America influences on the world that puts it under the spotlight… Singapore does not have that impact on the global scale…

And Singapore is unabashedly open about the same… Singapore PM was interviewed by BBC and was asked about how Singapore government controlled everything… whilst I do not remember the specifics, I do remember 2 of his statements… that if he is not coaching the interviewer how to run his channel, why is he being coached how to run his country… and that if what the government is doing really a problem, then why are people not leaving Singapore… you certainly have to agree – there are no lies – the objectives and direction is transparent… and people living here are ok with it…

However is it right for the government of a nation to restrict itself and focus on the upbringing of its citizens only? I recently had a huge argument on social media with some of my liberal Indian friends who were vocally opposing the American policy of restricting entry of people from certain countries and on refugees… to them the decision was inhuman, naïve, bigoted, myopic, etc…. To them the whole world needs to be open…

Whilst I wish this was true and possible… but its utopian… we have to wake up from the dream… reality is that we live in a world divided by borders, into countries and nations… nations are built based on common race or religion of people or common history or common values / constitution… And democracy – the very system which is revered by people who believe in humanity, for it gives people the most freedom… is by definition a system by the people, of the people and for the people… and people who are in that system have taken a right to decide whom to allow and whom not to… and to what extent… its obvious and natural…

Think of it like this… you are walking on a street and see a destitute on the road… you would feel sorry for it… you would feed it… give the person money… maybe try and get them into a shelter home… if its a child, see if the child can be educated… if its an adult at max. see if they can be employed somewhere… but hardly would anyone think of bringing them into their own home… most of us would like to keep that personal distance… The point is… you will want to help someone else in need… but mostly never till the extent of intrusion of your personal comfort… Why should you expect a democratic government to behave differently? Isn’t such a government eventually the sum total of the mind set of the majority?

Another point made is on lack of values of inclusion and acceptance… let me give you a personal example… I am a vegetarian, do not drink, do not smoke, do not use foul language, believe in Hinduism… that’s my way of life… That we (me and my wife) have inculcated from our parents and it has become our family way of life… we know that outside our home, our friends and colleagues, in our society – smoke, drink and eat meat, follow multiple different religions… we are absolutely ok with that… does not affect our relationship with anyone at all… but that relationship does not mean we have to accept someone with different values into our home… When one speaks of inclusiveness and acceptance, one has to understand that the onus has to be on the one coming in that needs to adapt to the values and constitution of what they are getting into… not the one offering the entry… unfortunately the discourse this days is very high on the reverse…

I had a discussion with my boss who has travelled and stayed around different continents including Singapore for quite a few years… and he told me that he would prefer that his kids do not grow up in Singapore… for its too controlled, make believe… real world outside is not like that… But that’s what I do not understand… its a complete ecosystem… what if its still like the Truman show… if a person can live a happy life in it, after knowing the realities of the other world… what is wrong in it… Control only brings discipline… only keeps things in order… there needs to be a balance – the scales of which are determined by the acceptance of the control by its citizens…

The basic premise of a nation is to serve its citizens… any government’s first priority is the welfare of its citizens… any country… be it India, Russia, America, China or Singapore that speaks and acts in that direction is not being narrow but only serving what its actual purpose is… to protect and further its nation… which is its citizens… to fulfil their wishes and look for their people’s long term growth…

The solution really should be in educating the masses in the desired direction… change is driven when people are made to believe in it… not by criticizing the government or shouting at it to do things differently… put in another way… people should have a discourse with people and masses and not the government to say be more open minded – if that is the complain…

Bhutan for example is a fantastic nation that measures Gross National Happiness and not Gross Domestic Product as its barometer of growth… It focuses and strives to remain as a carbon negative country… I believe such values are not driven because of the government or the monarch… but because of the value system of the people…

The key hence is values in the general public… Singapore is perceived rule driven, clean, controlled… India is viewed as colourful, festive,  rich in heritage, corrupt, not really safe for women… and all this perceptions depict how the masses behave and believe in… There is no difference… The nation is the product of and in service for its people…

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