Every 6th person in the world is an Indian. We are blessed with ancient civilization. History tells us that we have never been expansionists and have never attacked other countries. We have been happy to live within our borders and yet, we are afflicted by terrorism and are 4th most unsafe countries in Asia. There is no peace in the country which can come only after safety.
Our Hanuman Chalisa mentions exact distance between earth and the sun. Ramayan talks about Pushpak Viman, the aircraft. Ramayan and Mahabharat talk about many weapons which sound like modern nuclear weapons. We are among the handful countries with space launch technology & our own super computer and yet, a Collector is proud to have introduced citibus services in Indore just 10 years ago. Most primitive form of economic development, agriculture is about 1/3rd in productivity in comparison with others. Our industry is not competitive and hence, we cannot pay for all the imports that we want. Despite being ahead in getting independence by 20 years, our per capita income is 1/15th of Singapore! We are among the poorest in the world, although situation has slightly improved thanks to liberalization of early 90s but we seem to have already jettisoned liberalization in favour of failed socialism once again. There is no prosperity in the country either.
We are a bottom performer in almost everything. Almost all international surveys put India in a position of shame but that does not agitate our leaders and policy makers who never seem to take note of these surveys. It is not that they are not exposed to the world. When Madhya Pradesh’s rural development minister goes to Paris on official visits, lack of exposure just cannot be the excuse for their under-performance.
For several years, I have been wondering what do we want to achieve in India. Is it prosperity for our people or is it spirituality that takes us to religion? I find society completely materialistic. Money making methods are hyper-aggressive. Almost 2/3rd of time, we watch commercial breaks on TV and in the remaining 1/3rd programme time, we watch film promotions inserted into the story or theme of the show even if it is not a reality show. News Channels and news papers present a horrific picture of India which seems to be at war with itself. Crime, corruption, lies and hyper money making are the defining characteristics. Courts take decades to decide a case which invariably goes into appeals. High Courts list 100 to 150 cases for hearing on a single day, and naturally rush for even basic details of a particular case, and yet, they take special sittings on Sunday to hear an election related petition of a city club! In one case (Tarun Tejpal), police starts action without the victim registering an FIR and at the same time in another case (Retd Justice Ganguly), despite preliminary enquiry confirming the allegations, police and courts do not wish to move without victim filing an FIR. Where is the objectivity in the country?
We are world’s largest democracy and about the only successful democracy in third world. All other democracies are rich countries. Matter of pride, isn’t it? But are we really democratic? Did our people vote to be ruled by Deve Gowda or Chandra Shekhar or I K Gujral or even Man Mohan Singh in 2004? If Parliament can refuse to consider public opinion and can refuse to make laws (Jan Lokpal) according to wishes of people and claims absolute right of representation even over those being represented, is it democracy at all? If political parties can bind MPs through whip to vote for or against a proposal, who are not allowed to vote according to their conscience, is it democracy? If VIPs and VVIPs are exempted from toll taxes and common men are only required to pay, is it democracy for the people? If politicians are de facto exempt from everything, is it democracy by the people? If a voter cannot vote outside his constituency but a candidate can move anywhere in India and seek elections, it is really representative democracy? Can Man Mohan Singh really represent Assam in Parliament? How much does he know of Assam? If a Punjabi can represent Assam, why can’t an American or a Singaporean?
India held plebiscite in Junagad in 1947-48 but is loathe doing that in J&K which has given rise to terrorism, loss of life and money. India is the 4th most UNSAFE country in Asia, and yet, there is absolutely no demand from people or their ‘empowered’ representatives in parliament to solve this problem. Why do we adjust with any problem including terrorism?
India got her freedom in 1947. Singapore got its freedom in 1967. Yet, they became a fully developed nation in 1995 and their current per capita income is US$60,000/- whereas our per capita income is still US$4,000/- . This is when we are blessed with resplendent natural resources whereas Singapore has got none, not even land to do cultivation or mining, and not even drinking water which must be imported from Malaysia. China shared same per capita income as ours till late 70s when they launched economic reforms. Today, their per capita income is 2.5 times ours! Japan was devastated in 1945, and yet, they emerged as leading examples before the whole world on how to manage a country and a society.
India is an agriculture based country, yet share of agriculture is now below 16% in our GDP. Our farm yields are about 1/4th of the world’s best and less than half of the world averages. Why couldn’t our agriculture be competitive internationally? Why do we need to keep hiking support prices, keep buying farm produce for ultimate rottening and discourage improvement in productivity? Why are we so short sighted? When 3 to 4% growth in agriculture due to a good monsoon is known to be creating such a positive charge for the economy during that year, why can’t we see that doubling or tripling of the farm produce will revolutionize our economy?
Our labour laws have been counter-productive. Meant to create employment, they actually encourage atomization in factories. Labour Deptt offices are de facto trade union offices. While reforms have reduced strikes a lot, still PSUs and occasionally private sector like Maruti are still hurt from strikes. Like Rent Control Laws, labour laws are also one-sided. They heavily favour labour and biased against employers despite the fact that labour has not invested anything, has full freedom to resign and move to another employer whereas the employer has invested all his fortune and cannot move out. Yet, employer is at the receiving end which is a serious hurdle in creation of jobs. Is it so hard to understand for our policy makers?
Indians going abroad have been doing a fine job. They abide by all laws and norms of a good society as can be easily seen in probably the world’s most perfect country, Singapore. They are highly respected in many countries including USA and UK, and yet, they can’t manage their own country just like almost any other country has done in the world. Are we an inferior race to these countries? Is it the caliber or the character that is holding us back?
Our international relations are equally tainted. We do not have any friend in the whole world. We have all sorts of problems with our neighbours. Even Bangladesh who got its freedom because of us, does not like us, and is much closer to Pakistan who raped their women, killed their men and even tried to destroy their future by selective killing of all known intellectuals of their country just before surrendering to Indian forces. Our prime minister had to skip trip to Sri Lanka, and Nepal is getting closure to China in order to get out of our shadows. Bush once stated that USA was the only friend India got, and yet, India has locked its horns with USA in Devyani’s case recently despite Devyani being a culprit in Adarsh scam and would have been behind bars had she been a USA citizen for same guilt. China fought for same nuclear agreement for Pakistan that India managed to get from USA. Who is fighting for us in any international forum? Is it religion? No, Nepal is a proof that it is not religion but something else that the world does not like about us.
We are proud of our educational institutions like IITs and IIMs, and yet, our students flock to USA and UK for higher education while higher education in India suffers from massive reservations, political controls and scams of all sorts. No wonder, we do not find any Indian institution among the world’s best 100. USA educational institutions earn over US$12 billion from foreign students. Why couldn’t we do that, despite being in the forefront of knowledge in ancient history?
We are a major military power in the world, far superior to Pakistan. Yet, Pakistan finds it easy to keep inflicting wounds on India time and again while our military is busy receiving kickbacks in weapons and VVIP helicopters. We are outright superior to them in conventional military terms and yet, we change rules of the game by conducting Pokharan-II and facilitating atomic power status to Pakistan. Are we really so dumb not to appreciate the impact of this development?
Our laws are among the most unstable things in the world, probably more unstable than even weather. Our law factory is hyper productive. It is churning out more and more laws every day. We have made a complete mess of the legal system which still can be influenced at will. There is tremendous subjectivity in judicial system which is not only causing injustice to our people but also a breeding ground for corruption.
Our history is full of examples where an exceptional provision for a particular situation becomes a leading norm for future. Reservation at the cost of merit was adopted as an exception measure for 10 years. It has become a fundamental characteristic of our life in India to an extent where there is a race among the politicians to be more and more in favour of reservation. Merit is not relevant in our public life anymore. Even a chaiwala mockery against Narendra Modi has become his Unique Selling Point in run up to elections as if this is his biggest qualification. All levels of government and bureaucracy are soaked in reservations and thereby, complete sacrifice of merit. In fact, competence is not even a relevant factor in our elections or selections.
Babus ruled the roost till reforms came into being. Reforms have been short lived and babus are back in business. Governments collect more than Rs 30 lac crore revenue from a GDP of Rs 113.71 lac crore. Ours must be among the world’s heaviest taxed nations and yet, our finance minister is perennially aggrieved at low tax to GDP ratio, because he does not wish to recognize state government taxes as Tax and is concerned only with central government tax revenues. India is hostile to business; naturally, it is difficult to do business here. Mittal’s father had to shut shop in India and go to Indonesia where he made his fortune. Coming back to India, he still finds India hostile, and has to pull out from announced major steel projects from Orissa and Karnataka. Despite having 4th largest reserves of coal, we are a big importer of coal. Railways, a gift of the British to India, added only about 10,000 kms of track since independence whereas China added more than 80,000 kms of track during the same period. No wonder, railways are losing share in freight market to road network which itself is in pathetic condition in India apart from causing huge loss of foreign exchange in imports of petroleum. Railways’ share has dropped from 65% in 1985-86 to just about 30% now. India could have easily concentrated on massive expansion of railway network and reduced freight movement on roads to local areas and thereby, reducing petroleum consumption a great deal, and saving on cost of highways which is far more than a railway track as well. Railways could work with electricity from hydro or nuclear plants.
PSUs are massive burner of money if they are monopolies. Air India and Indian Airlines should have been wound up long ago if there was not buyer for these sick giants and yet, an economist ruled government went about merging them both, creating more problems and burning more money. Is it that once a babu always a babu?
Revenue interest has become public interest. For Rs 4000 cr revenue from toll tax, government does not mind inflicting a cost of Rs 91,000 cr on people of India. The offices of state governors, the upper house of parliament (Rajya Sabha) etc are universal proof of wastage of public money and yet, upper houses are being set up in more and more states. States are split into smaller states. Not for the stated purpose of higher administrative efficiency, but actually for providing more opportunities for netas and babus. Government is no longer a custodian of public interest anymore. It cannot be trusted even for non-revenue work like conducting exams for PMT (pre medical test) for medial admissions. Government servants can produce scams in anything and everything. They are simply predators wherever they sit. Government does not respect itself. It doesn’t rust itself or its own people. One organ of government condemns the other and so on. Mistrust is the underlying spirit of governance. Massive checks and balances are introduced into the system which only produce more and more scams.
We clearly have two classes of people in India. One, that is supposedly intelligent and economically successful. This class does not vote in herds and hence, is difficult to please with token favours, and hence, is a resource in the country. It is needed only is to keep paying taxes to the government. Government will keep devising new ways to extract more and more from them. No policy or budget speech will ever be made for them. They are de facto muhajirs in India. The other class is the real India, the sons of the soil, who are entitled to all the resources harvested from the first class. This class consists of rulers (politicians and government servants, the VIPs and VVIPs) and vote banks (farmers, dalits, quota-class). Each policy announcement will address this class. It is evident from any budget speech that India exists for serving this class only, which has done a great favour to us by being poor or deserving and hence, giving us an opportunity to serve them. They are the Brahmins whom we need during Shraadha days for feeding, hoping that the satisfaction will reach the souls of our forefathers. It is hard to imagine what would India be if it is without these poor and deserving. Life will suddenly become meaningless. Isn’t it?
In nutshell, I find almost everything mismanaged in India. We simply do not seem to want to learn from success of the world. When UK was privatizing their PSUs, and China was resorted to reforms through capitalist policies, we were nationalizing our private sector banks. If Singapore without any natural resources can be a rich country, why can’t India? Is it that we are specialist followers but incompetent leaders who can perform well under able leadership but are not blessed with enough talent to provide leadership ourselves?
How does it matter? Those of us, who have not seen the outside world, do not know what they are missing, what life would have been had India been lucky to be doing as well as others in the world. A person born in 1967 when Singapore got its freedom, would have considered himself lucky to be born in India than in Singapore, but come to 2013, he would have been 15 times richer in Singapore, would not be suffering from paucity of water and electricity, poor roads, poor schools, inefficient police and hardly moving judiciary. If he were to be in business, he would have been at least 5 times more successful than in India. This is the cost of dismal governance in India which our generation is paying. We life only once, and hence, this cost means everything to us.
Then what to do? In theory, any individual could make a difference just like Gandhiji did. But in practice, we have to wait for one leader with character and competence. Competence alone is worthless because it soon gets eaten by lack of character. Most brilliant children take civil services examinations meaning that our babus should naturally be the best talent in the society. Given them a few years of service and they perform like the most substandard even if they don’t come from quota class. This is what character does to caliber. This was the difference between Karna and Arjuna in Mahabharata. Character enabled Arjuna to finish as a hero while lack of it condemned Karna as a villain. This is the difference between the developed world and us. Character is the reason why Pakistan is a failed democracy while India is a successful one. Those in power in 1947 were vastly different in India in character, than those in Pakistan resulting in loot for power and money right from day one across the border. Unfortunately, we are fast catching up with them. If this trend continues, we should not be surprised to see India completely Pakistanised, fragmented and in civil war with itself in less than two decades. Competence can still be hired, but not the character. Therefore, India needs a leader with sound character to survive as a peaceful democracy. If we don’t get one, consider outsourcing the government. Sounds radical? Yes, but why not? If we can hire a foreign technician to do a skilled job for us, why can’t we get a foreign leader to do a far more skilled job like leading the country for success? If Man Mohan Singh can take care of Assamese interest in Parliament, why can’t Singaporeans safeguard Indians’ interest in their Parliament, doing the outsourced legislative work for India?
We have tried educated people like APJ Kalam as President and Man Mohan Singh as Prime Minister. It has not worked. We are about to try the opposite. It is not likely to work either. Solution lies in paradigm shift in our thinking which requires 100% literacy. We need to be pro-business. Let socialism take a break for 10 years. Our success will reflect in our ranking in Ease Of Doing Business index where we stand at 134 out of 184 countries. If we move up the ladder, we are doing better. In my view, this is the single most important benchmark for success.