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Sumant Sinha Image

It is now handily over 50 years since India became independent and our Constitution was adopted with India becoming a democratic republic. The idealism with which the country embarked on its journey has been dissipated somewhere along the years. I shall list below what I think are the major problems facing India and a way of changing the emphasis going forward.

To my mind, top of the charts would be corruption. It is endemic in our society and is no less than a cancer rapidly eating away at our country’s vital organs. Our civil institutions, such as our polity, bureaucracy, business class and even the armed forces and judiciary, are riven by this disease. Corruption has become a way of life in India and it leads to sub-par infrastructure, poor regulations, day-to-day hassles for the common man, loss of revenue for the government, ineffective services, inefficient subsidies, lack of accountability, gross wastage of tax rupees and so on.

Corruption itself is an outcome of the deep ethos of exploitation in our society. In our country’s history, the benign king and the kind zamindar are more the exception than the rule. This attitude of “I” and “to hell with the rest” is deeply embedded in our people’s psyche and explains the actions of those in power who cut deals to enrich themselves, to the detriment of the nameless, faceless masses of the country.

This lack of compassion and emotion for our fellow Indians, the lack of pride in our nation, the lack of ownership in taking our country forward rather than backwards, or what I call the absence of “Indianness”, is what has caused such actions to become the norm. The just released Aamir Khan movie, Rang de Basanti, seeks to delve into such issues too, and bring back the selfless idealism of the independence movement but, sadly, those days are long gone.

The second big problem is the lack of education among our people. It is a crying shame that even so many years after Independence, our literacy rates are so low. In the modern world, we are an anachronism. How can a democracy function effectively when so many people still cannot read or write?

Sure, in election after election political commentators make a big deal about the maturity of our voters. But if more of them were literate, how much smarter could they have been in electing better- quality politicians? Maybe the political discourse would then have been more mature and focused on the real issues facing the people, rather than degenerating into rabble-rousing on the basis of caste or religion. Our current political system is all about emphasising divisions rather than inclusiveness. Of course, education helps in many other ways, such as improving health, infant mortality, population growth rates and so on.

• Corruption has led to poor infrastructure, inefficient services, et al
• Large numbers cannot read or write; with repercussions on areas like health
• As for our economy, the focus has been on garibi hatao, not pure growth

The third big problem is the lack of focus on the economy. It is only recently that growth has become a focal point for our policymakers. From the early 70s, the focus has been on garibi hatao—as redistribution of income rather than pure growth. The accepted wisdom is that the NDA government took a beating for its urban-oriented India Shining campaign, which turned a blind eye to the rural masses and the dispossessed. But this “redistribution” mindset really hasn’t worked that well in the 50 years since we have been at it. On a lot of social indicators, we are still no better than sub-Saharan Africa. Poverty levels are extremely acute in our country. Surely, even the most obstinate must recognise the need for a different approach in our economic planning?

Mukesh Ambani has articulated a new paradigm that we could shoot for— amiri badhao. This reflects the more confident thinking of a more assertive nation. It is more forward-looking and constructive. It is not a defensive mindset, but a proactive one, that seeks to take advantage of the country’s strengths. Amiri badhao looks to expand the wealth pie aggressively. It changes the government’s role from playing Robin Hood to becoming a facilitator, partner, regulator in the path to growth and prosperity.

More wealth at the national level will lead to higher tax revenues, a richer government, one that can spend more on defence, education, and the other essential tasks that a government must do well. India’s politicians should then focus on improving the impact of each rupee of government revenue. And this is where the political discourse needs to shift to.

Source: The Financial Express