|Sunday, March 12, 2000,
of hi-tech India on the bullockcart
Paradox of hi-tech India on the
To the question what is wrong with us, my instant response will be: everything. This one liner is not based on cynicism, though cynicism and duplicity are part of our national character which hardly allows us to have a rational assessment of where we have gone wrong and why. There is no other reason why even after over 52 years of independence, we are still struggling with the same problems we had inherited on the morrow of independence.
As a people we do not take pains to look closely at things around us and dispassionately assess the areas of success and failure with a view to improving our performance in the competitive march ahead.
We have lagged behind in several critical areas not because we lack the ability and merit, but because we hardly learn from our mistakes. We also lack the killer instinct not only in the field of sport but also in every critical area of national life. This is surely not a happy setting for nation-building.
We cannot afford to repeat past mistakes. Nor can we sit back on our laurels. The problems facing us are manifold. The tasks ahead are tough. The challenges are formidable.
To meet the challenges successfully, it is necessary that we duly stress on competence, qualification and merit in every field of work. In the absence of such an approach, the overall national performance is bound to be below par or inadequate. This is exactly what has been happening practically in every walk of national life.
A lack of transparency and accountability in the system has allowed mediocrity to gain at the cost of merit. The policy of reservation in public offices has also thrown up wrong signals to the polity. No one should dispute the right of the poor and the underdog to go up the socio-economic ladder. This, in fact, poses the biggest challenge to the nation. What is, however, regrettable is that as a people, we have failed to discharge our duty towards the backward, the poor and the weaker sections of society.
We cannot uplift the poor by the policy of reservation alone. There should be a multi-dimensional approach to the real problem of poverty and human enrichment. Also, a firm commitment to the thrust areas of social and economic justice.
The basic rule of governance demands a minimum standard for every job sought at the cost of the public exchequer. No leader during the past 50 years or so has given any serious thought to this matter which, over a long period, has caused considerable decline in the quality of administration.
Populism cannot be a substitute for good governance. Nor can the administrative system be improved through patchwork solutions. We cling to the same colonial rules and regulations which have been discarded even by the former colonial masters in their own country. The trouble is that the new class of Indian rulers has found colonial rules to be convenient to ensure its supremacy vis-a-vis the ordinary citizen.
The freedom struggle was essentially directed against the colonial attitude and the alien system. The colonial mentality still prevailing in the ruling elite should have been discarded long back to bring it in tune with the hopes and aspirations of the ordinary citizens. In its place, a swadeshi system should have come into beingthe system which is democratic, open and service-oriented.
Regrettably, the mindset of our rulers has been such that while making tall promises, they have tried to perpetuate though not entirely successfully their stranglehold on the politico-administrative machinery with the help of power-brokers, middlemen and corrupt bureaucrats.
It is a frightening setting indeed. We, perhaps, do not realise the implications of the wrong acts of our rulers. Perhaps, as a people we are very lenient and tolerant. Instead of questioning the failures of the system and of the persons at the helm and asserting our right to have good governance, we all the while look heavenward and ungrudgingly accept every suffering as the will of God. What a pity! Why blame God for the ills of "lesser gods". They have a glitter but hardly any substance.
To regenerate India in the 21st century, we need to have serious thinking on the basic problems facing us. There can be no quickfix solutions. Without clear thinking, hard work and discipline, we will not be able to provide the right correctives to the mess we have created around us.
This mess can be tackled if, in the first place, we give up the status-quoist and negative "mindset". It is necessary that we keep our eyes and ears open and allow ourselves to be both receptive and questioning. Without questioning the actions of the rulers and their undesirable collaborators, we cannot set the pace for reformation and renaissance.
It is a fact that the vision of the future of India and the problems and priorities of the people have become dim and distorted. There is loss of national pride and self-confidence. That is the reason why we find the growing tendency in the ruling elite to make India "an appendage to the developed market economies", for whom we are becoming sub-contractors in buying and selling as they dictate.
I am not against economic reforms and other related changes and foreign investment. But these have to be organised in the areas of infrastructure, technology upgradation of means of production in industry and agriculture so as to eliminate inequitable income distribution, augment inadequate resource mobilisation and boost low productivity in several critical areas of the national economy.
We ought to have a people-oriented approach to the question of poverty and development. More than the "phoren cola culture", we need safe drinking water and other basic amenities for those living in villages and urban slums.
Development is a complex phenomenon. It demands changes in the political response system, in economic organisations, in family life and also in attitudes. Viewed in this light, what modernisation requires is a more functional view, in which the real agents of change are the producers and innovators, with the active participation of the people from the grassroots upwards. In this new endeavour, the bureaucrats can at best play a facilitating role in socio-economic transformation of Indian society.
God helps those who help themselves. The bitter fact is that we neither help ourselves nor do we allow others to help us. It is like a typical dog in the manger policy.
Indians suffer from a number of complexes. Those abroad have, by and large established a good reputation for themselves even in hi-tech areas. In fact, Indians abroad are a big success. Whether they are working in sophisticated sectors of medicine, computers, space technology or as entrepreneurs in far off places in the USA, Canada and other global centres, they have made a mark.
Why this difference? My answer to this query is very simple: back home, we have not been able to create the right kind of professional atmosphere for the persons who have to show their talent, drive, dynamism, discipline, hard work and overall qualities of entrepreneurship.
Here again, it is the chalta hai attitude which has put the nation in a state of perpetual drift. How can the nation progress faster and in the desired direction if we fail to create the right atmosphere for efficient functioning.
Everybody knows that even after 52 years of independence, 40 per cent of the population is living below the poverty line. Those who have amassed wealth have invariably done so by manipulating men, matters and the system. Indeed, merit has been the main casualty in the prevailing atmosphere of drift.
The points raised above give us a broad insight into the other critical question of what is keeping us back. A simple answer to this query will be that we are our own enemies. We go on fiddling things, cook up excuses, mix economics with politics, fiction with fact, reality with rhetoric, politics and politicking with the system and inefficiency with merit. I often feel that by sheer habit and laziness we have put a hi-tech Indian on the bullockcart and hope for miracles to take us forward on the faster track of globalisation, courtesy God.
India is, of course, a
land of gods and goddesses. Nothing wrong with that. But
we are not being honest to ourselves by making the
Almighty accountable for all our failures. These might
suit our rulers and their collaborators. They exploit the
blind faith of ordinary citizens by rousing communal
passions and keeping the people divided in the name of
God, caste, creed, community and colour so that their
vote and note banks thrive and flourish.
This is one of our main problems. The rate at which we are growing, we will soon touch the billion mark. All our development programmes get negated because of the ever rising population.
In spite of all the work done to spread education, a vast majority of the population is still illiterate, especially women. Illiteracy is largely confined to the rural poor.
India has achieved the dubious distinction of being the ninth most corrupt country in the world. Corruption is eating into the social fabric and it needs our immediate attention. Corruption has gained respectability with time because the culprits go scot free. In the past 50 years only one politician has been convicted on charges of corruption.
We have become more intolerant of other groups or religions. Communal riots are on the increase every year. This is a threat to democracy.
We keep asking more and more without being responsible about our rights as citizens. We lack social responsibility and expect someone else to take up the fight for us.
Justice delayed is justice denied. Most of the poor cannot afford the cost of litigation. The rich manage to hire expensive lawyers, and keep fighting cases for years. The legal system needs to be overhauled. There are thousands of cases pending in the courts with no sign of ever being solved.
In the age of consumerism we have forgotten the Gandhian principals of non-violence, and self-reliance. As a result indigenous crafts are becoming extinct.
As such we think that there is nothing that we can do about it. Lack of political will to tackle it is the main cause of poverty in our country. Here imparting practical education might be the right step.
We have failed to exploit natural resources and human skills. There is a lot of wastage of scarce resources like water. A lot of skilled labour is migrating to other countries though we have invested in their education.
After Nehru, we have not had good leaders. Hence, people have lost all respect for them. We need statesmen who have the long-term good of the country in mind, not their short-term gains.
In spite of all the efforts, we have not been able to come up with a strong Opposition which is vital for the survival of democracy.
Politician-criminal nexus has led to many unworthy people getting elected to different legislatures. Criminals pump in crore of rupees in election campaigns to get people of their choice elected. The faulty electoral system contributes to the mess.
Apart from the reservation policy and other such feeble programmes we have done little to uplift the deprived sections. The minorities feel threatened because of the rise of the extreme right. Tribals are totally ignored.
The rich are becoming richer and the poor are becoming poorer because of our economic policies. The poor have not benefited from the economic programmes.
A large section has been deprived of these two. Although we have some very good doctors, primary health care has not reached the poor.
With so many languages around, we still have not solved this problem. English remains the most popular language as it has become directly linked to jobs. As a result, other languages are suffering.
We should have tackled the Kashmir problem. Our relationship with our neighbours is not good. We should have made our presence felt on the world stage.
Frequent amendments will not make any difference. The problem lies with the way we work and perform, not with the Constitution.
For every problem, the chief ministers have to run to Delhi as they have no powers to settle most of the issues at the state level.
Since we have successfully stemmed population growth in the middle and upper classes, it is apparent that education is mainly responsible for this. We have to educate the rural poor and make them aware that it is in their interests to have smaller families. Strict family programmes like the ones followed by China will not work in a democracy.
A massive literacy drive is required. Education has to reach the masses, and it has not only to be cheap but also practical. So far we have created only babus in the name of education.
The judiciary has to be strengthened and corrupt leaders and officers must be dealt with severely. Here public activism and the media can play a very strong role. Politicians charged with corruption and crime must not be allowed to stand for elections. Bureaucratic hurdles should be minimised so that the common man is not tempted to become corrupt.
People must be made to realise the pitfalls of fundamentalism. They have the right to practice their own faith without coming in the way of others.
The common man must learn that it is all right to expect more rights and facilities, but he should also be made aware of his own duties as a citizen. Every right has a duty attached to it.
The judicial system needs to be overhauled. Justice has to be quick, inexpensive and fair. The legal procedures need to be simplified.
It is all right to race ahead and join the others, but we must not forget the basic values of non-violence, simplicity. tolerance and peace. Village industry should exist along with big corporations.
Poverty has to be tackled with sound economic programmes. What we need is a Management Commission and not a Planning Commission.
India is a vast country with abundant natural and human resources. We must exploit these resources, but not in a mindless way by destroying forests and the countryside. What we need is a sustainable development model.
We need statesmen not mere politicians. It is up to the electorate to choose their leaders, and if they choose the bad ones, they have only themselves to blame.
The need for a strong Opposition cannot be overstressed. Politicians must stop hankering after power, set their differences aside and form a strong Opposition.
This dangerous trend must be dealt with severely. Election expenses must be controlled. Politicians dealing with criminals, or having a criminal record should not be allowed to contest elections. However, the key to a clean polity is electoral reforms.
Our development programmes should take into account the problems of the poor and the backward sections.
Although we cannot do without massive industrialisation and the private sector, we should make sure that the poor are not exploited by the rich, and that the poor get a chance to live with dignity.
The state is responsible for healthcare and basic amenities. It must try to ensure drinking water and electricity to every section of society.
Although the importance of English cannot underscored, regional languages should not be ignored. The mother tongue should be given equal importance.
It is not only domestic issues that should concern us but also the global issues. We have to develop a more sound foreign policy, so that our neighbours do not feel threatened.
Frequent amendments will not make any difference. The problem lies with us, not with the Constitution.
States must be allowed to manage their own programmes. Even at the village level, people should be involved in policy making because a civil servant sitting in Delhi may not be aware of the ground realities. If local people are not consulted, it will lead to unhappiness and unrest among them.
NITISH KUMAR could not, after all, end the Jungle Raj of Laloo Prasad Yadav and is bound to go down in Bihars history as a seven-day wonder. Had he adopted the right means and not attempted to engineer defections and split in political parties, his image of an upright leader would not have crashed. Nitish and his principal ally the BJP had made a bad beginning when they gave the impression of a divided house to the electorate of Bihar. There were also differences over seat allocation and the Chief Ministerial candidate. The bickerings in the alliance came into the open on the eve of the election; it was not a good omen.
Had the BJP improved its tally, it would have certainly claimed the top slot and Nitish would have continued as a Central minister. He came on the scene when the BJP suffered an unexpected setback and the task he set before himself was to stall the return of the Laloo Raj, whatever might be the price; even if it meant adoption of unethical means. Governor Vinod Pande drew a flak by inviting Nitish Kumar to form the government and, possibly, in his anxiety to end the Jungle Raj, he committed what was dubbed as gross abuse of the gubernatorial discretion.
Nitishs defeat in the vote of confidence looked inevitable a day before the Chief Minister was to seek trust of the newly elected Assembly. He could not muster support for his nominee for the Speakers post and sensing an imminent defeat, he withdrew the candidature of Gajendra Prasad Himanshu, paving the way for the unanimous election of Laloo-supported Congress MLA, Sadanand Singh. It was clear at that moment that he failed to woo the Congress MLAs and was fighting a losing battle.
Nitish was a one time friend and guide of Laloo both were products of J.Ps movement. But clash of interests have made them bitter enemies. Nitish had the political foresight to see through the importance of Laloos rustic politics and joined hands with him to open a new chapter in Bihars politics in late 1980. The combination proved deadly having won 49 of 54 Lok Sabha seats in the 1991 elections. Laloos refusal to give credit to Nitish for the spectacular victory soured the relations between the two. Laloos style of functioning and his open support to Yadavas in the caste-ridden politics of Bihar irked Nitish. Other OBCs were neglected and, being a Kurmi himself. Nitish did not approve of it. The clash of interests was so menacing that even the Mandal plank could not hold them together. Nitish flirted with the ultra-Left outfit, the CPI (ML), for some time but the debacle in the 1995 Assembly elections disenchanted him. The popularity of the BJP, in the meanwhile, was growing and, he thought, the party could be a formidable ally in fighting Laloos corruption. His words then were: We are fighting Laloo Yadav and his corruption and the BJP is not an anathema for us.
The alliance with the BJP yielded quick results and the upper caste support of the BJP combined with the OBCs of the Samata Party made a powerful combination. The combine got 24 seats in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections and the figure went up to 30 in 1998.
Nitish is believed to be the real builder of the Samata Party while George Fernandes was considered an ideologue and elderly leader. There was a time when Nitish was not so close to George. In 1994, V.P. Singh resigned as leader of the Janata Dal Parliamentary Party and a keen contest was held to fill the slot. The contenders were George Fernandes and Sharad Yadav. Nitish with his organising ability was instrumental in Sharads victory.
Fifty-year-old Nitish is an engineer by profession. He strayed into politics in his students days, became a J.P. movement activist, met Laloo Yadav in those traumatic days and they were detained under MISA. Both established their identity as future leaders of Bihar when the Emergency ended and the Janata Party ousted Indira Gandhi at the Centre. Having made his debut in the Bihar Assembly in 1985, Nitish never lost an election. He has been successively elected to the Lok Sabha from 1989 and became Minister of State in 1990. The present one is his fifth term in the House.
Nitish made a mark in Parliament as an Opposition leader firm, assertive and witty. In a contest to decide the best Parliamentarian and most witty member of the House, he was adjudged number one for his humorous interludes.
The engineer in Nitish came to the fore when he became the Railway Minister in 1998 in his fourth tenure in the Lok Sabha. Immediately after moving into Rail Bhavan, he initiated steps to make the railways passenger-friendly with emphasis towards improving passenger amenities.
Nitish was holding the
Agriculture portfolio when he was drafted to face his
sworn enemy, Laloo Yadav. Having never faced defeat in
his political career, Nitish was, perhaps, over confident
of mustering a majority by luring the Congress MLAs to
his side. He could not succeed and Laloo has the last
laugh. Will Nitish return to the Centre or confront Laloo
in Bihar? Watch out. A new chapter in Nitishs
eventful career opens with the Bihar episode.
WHY has US President Bill Clinton chosen to sleep-off his jet-leg in India on the night of next Sunday, March 19? His official visit begins on Tuesday, March 21. The Presidential entourage will be flying to New Delhi on Sunday evening and the next day, while India celebrates Holi, the distinguished visitor from Washington will make history by being the first-ever President of the USA to pay an official visit to Bangladesh. Apparently the US Secret Service did not find the hotels in Dhaka secure enough for a nights stay for Mr Clinton. Therefore, the choice fell on Maurya Sheraton Hotel in New Delhi, which has been turned into a veritable security fortress on the eve of the visit.
The US Presidents first-ever visit to Dhaka will thus be a one-day affair. He will spend the previous night in New Delhi and fly back to India to spend the night of Holi, before being received officially by the President and the Prime Minister of India in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan on Tuesday, March 21, to begin his five-day visit. When the last visit of a US President to New Delhi took place 22 years ago, such a situation could not be thought of. Times have changed. The Head of State no longer goes to Palam to receive the guests. Taking a cue from the practice the world over, the President of India now receives the dignitary in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, near the Jaipur Column, on the Raisina Hill.
Though perhaps this will go unnoticed, it is a tribute to Indias infrastructure sector particularly the hotel industry that while on a visit to the sub-continent, the US President has chosen to stay in the secure environs of a hotel in New Delhi while not officially having begun his visit to the country.
A tongue-in-cheek comparison: The brouhaha over his Islamabad stopover notwithstanding, the fact is President Clinton will be spending full five days (plus two extra nights) in India as compared to mere five hours, on transit, in Pakistan.
Pandes penchant for stargazing
The Bihar Governor, Mr Vinod Chandra Pande, may have invited the wrath of the Opposition parties especially the Rashtriya Janata Dal for inviting the NDA leader Mr Nitish Kumar to be the next Chief Minister.
Those who know Mr Pande, who became famous as a strict enforcer of law during Mr Vishwanath Pratap Singhs regime, say the former bureaucrat has a penchant for astrology and looking into horoscopes.
Reports doing rounds in political circles is that he sought janampatri of both Mr Nitish Kumar and Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav before making his next move. But going by the manner in which the NDA threw in the towel at the first sparring match the Speakers election and eventually Mr Kumar resigning as Chief Minister, it appears there was some error in his astrological calculation.
A missed opportunity?
Trust our event managers to wake up late. The proposed two-day World Tourism Summit scheduled for the last week of March had to be put off and the reason only a couple of countries responded to invitations for participation.
Apparently India had been allotted this important Summit nearly two years ago by the World Tourism Organisation but by the time the officials decided to get off the blocks, several months were lost.
According to those associated with the Tourism Ministry, the real reason was the uncertainty during the phase. Real time work on the project began some five-six months ago and some 250 invitations to various countries were routed through diplomatic channels but the end result was poor.
The theme of the Summit was Challenges and Opportunities in the New Millennium and it was allotted for the first time to India. It was supposed to be a platform for tourism and travel-related professionals from around the world to deliberate on matters concerning the trade.
It would have been an excellent opportunity to showcase the tourism potential of India to some of the top travel professionals but just as the golden millennium dawned at Katchal Islands, India missed the bus, nay boat, that could have harboured at its shores.
The tale doing the rounds in the corridors of Parliament was about the manner in which the Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, conveyed her partys current agitation against saffronisation to Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Mrs Sonia Gandhi, who is known to maintain a stiff upper lip, quite like the British, found an occasion to make a witty remark during a meeting of the party leaders with the government in the Speakers chamber. As the leaders exchanged greetings, ripe papayas were served and as the Leader of the Opposition glanced at the plate of the Prime Minister, she enquired if he would like to exchange the plate since the fruit spread on her plate was more saffron in colour. Needless to say that peals of laughter followed.
CEC on goodwill trip
After a heavy dose of work during the just concluded Assembly elections, it was time to unwind for the Chief Election Commissioner, Dr Manohar Singh Gill.
The CEC decided to make a personal visit to Pakistan to attend the wedding of a former Minister in Ms Benazir Bhuttos Cabinet in Lahore.
During the nine-day trip the CEC decided to make best use of the time by completing a circuit of religious and cultural heritage places in that country. Apart from paying obeisance at Nankana Sahib, the birth place of Guru Nanak, he will also visit the tomb of Sufi saint Miyan Mir who laid the foundation of the Golden Temple at Amritsar and Sufi poet Bulle Shah.
Of course a trip to Islamabad is also planned. What is not known is whether his private visit to Pakistan will spur the Chief Executive to announce plans to usher in democracy once again.
It could be sheer coincidence that around the time Dr Gill was in Pakistan, that countrys Election Commission suggested that the term of the CEC, Pakistan, should be extended from three years to six years as in India.
For a party where murmurs of a slide in the electoral fortunes have been doing the rounds, good news flowed for the Congress partys central leadership on successive days.
First it was the decision of the Gujarat government to rescind order permitting its employees to take part in RSS activities and then followed the sudden turn-around in Bihar where its candidate, Mr Sadanand Singh, got elected as a consensus Speaker.
Meanwhile, when the news wires were hot about the withdrawal of order by the Gujarat government, the AICC bigwigs were discussing Kashmir policy behind closed doors. As for the Congress President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, she herself was meeting people at her residence.
As most hacks started pestering the party officials for reaction to the development in Gandhinagar, the meeting was halted midway and the assembled immediately discussed the latest news from Gujarat before letting know the partys official reaction.
IN the course of his speech in the Budget discussion, Sir Basil Blackett made one observation of more than ordinary interest. My belief, he said, is that nothing is going to push forward the development of parliamentary institutions in this country more than the emergence of real parties genuinely divided one from another.
Sir Basil is both right and wrong. He is right because parliamentary government is an utter impossibility without the evolution of real parties genuinely divided from one another.
He is wrong because the emergence of parties rigidly divided one from another in advance of the introduction of parliamentary government can only delay its advent, by strengthening the forces of opposition to it.
Let us have parties by
all means. But let it be clearly understood that they can
be useful to the country on the one condition of their
knowing how to combine in effective opposition to the
continuance of the bureaucratic government and in putting
pressure upon the British Government and the British
Parliament to concede to India at the earliest possible
date her birth-right of full and unfettered liberty.
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