Talk of future but still caught in a rut
Reviewed by M Rajiv Lochan

India: The Future Is Now: The Vision and Road Map for the Country by Her Young Parliamentarians
Edited by Shashi Tharoor. Wisdom Tree. Pages 164. Rs 495

Shashi TharoorTwelve MPS, from the BJD, BJP, CPI (M) and the INC have contributed essays to this volume to which Shashi Tharoor, of the INC, is listed as the editor. Tharoor insists they are young. All of them share their vision of what is needed in this country of ours to take it forward. Since most of them have been elected more than once and all of them have shown considerable interest in political activism, it is important for the rest of us to know what they think.

The thoughts, in as much as they are represented in the essays here, are of mixed quality. Some, as in the case of Jay Panda, Priya Dutt, Poonamben Jat and Anant Hegde seem to come from the heart. Some repeat vacuous generalisations about India, her vastness, poverty, multiculturalism and corruption and hide behind suspect statistics. "Letís not make it so grim", writes Priya Dutt in her essay that has been placed at the fag-end of the book. There are problems, she lists many, and suggests the key areas where changes are needed so as to leverage the rest of the country towards a better existence. The much-neglected areas of health and education is what she wants the country to focus on. Social sector development is cheap and easy to arrange and brings in tremendous returns, both in the long and the short run. "I have realised that things can change with timely minor interventions", she writes and points out the limitations of an elected representative who is cut off from the people.

India: The Future Is Now: The Vision and Road Map for the Country by Her Young ParliamentariansJay Panda, sagacious as ever, emphasises the positive role that politicians play in ensuring the growth of the country. He insists on the absolute imperative of having a strong infrastructure and the need to strengthen education. That is the only way to move forward and ensure the dissolution of corruption. Corruption remains a major bugbear for Poonamben too as she draws upon her experience of life in a metropolis as also in the boondocks of Kutchh. She shares with us her experience of getting the government to move and complete a road project that had been pending for 27 years following objections regarding environment clearance. The future for her is along the path that connects remote places with the hubs of power. M B Rajesh, without providing any new evidence in support, merely repeats the line of the CPI(M) that the present path of free market growth is a recipe for disaster. Just as Jyotiraditya Scindia confines himself to spouting government figures to repeat the bromide about inclusive growth even while, as Minister for Power, doing little to move in that direction. If anything his plea for better broadband connectivity seems a little far-fetched considering that the government of which he is a part has tried its level best, through its inaction to control ministerial corruption, to destroy Indiaís connectivity and IT revolution. The present UPA government will go down in history for having destroyed the BSNL and MTNL as also Indiaís flourishing telecom sector. Or perhaps, for all their youth, the contributors to this volume like Scindia, Hegde, Thakur, are simply scared of rebelling against their party bosses. Whether it be the task of convincing the party bosses of the incorrectness of the party line on various issues or of providing some constructive lateral thoughts on the way forward. One of the most telling example comes from many of them going on and on about the importance of agriculture and the need to increase productivity.

Looks as if they have not been able to wean themselves away from those brassy times when one could proudly proclaim, for want of anything better, that India is a primarily agrarian country and get away with making policies that only harmed the farmer. For all the space that they devote to suggestions on "improving agriculture", not one of them talks of improved marketing of farm produce. Or, of providing a free-market to the produce of the farmer. However, it is clear that many contributors to this volume feel hemmed in by the restrictions placed on the individual MP by their respective parties. Coming from a political party that has consistently stopped the Parliament from working for the past five years, it is interesting that Poonamben says that "Most importantly, (being in the Parliament) has taught me that if all the elected representatives of the people work together, there is no reason why we canít make India a superpower". Perhaps therein is the greatest restriction on the country moving forward: the desire of the party satraps to gain power even at the cost of stopping their own MPs from working constructively.