Retired engineer-in-chief, Public Health Department, Haryana
On this Republic Day, roughly 260 million people are living below the poverty line under very dehumanising conditions. An equal number, called marginally poor, live just above that line. Their progeny is born sick and suffer from nutritional problems throughout their lives. The life of people falling in the lower middle income group is also not free from miseries and struggles. Now rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. Insanitation and corruption have become omnipresent. The purpose of demonetisation stands defeated because anybody can draw any amount from the bank to use it for bribery. In fact, it was done to remove the tag of ‘Soot-boot Ki Sarkar’. Business in Sadar-Bazars is still being conducted in 'Number-2'. Healthcare is on the verge of collapse. Major cities have become virtual gas chambers. Indices for Human Development Index and Ease of Doing Business are very low (134 and 90, respectively). Farmers are committing suicides. Progress in hydro power and water resources development (the backbone of agriculture) is notional. Infrastructure development is tardy. The amount of non-recoverable loans has gone up to Rs 10 lakh crore. The amount of stressed loans may be even more. The quality of engineering and medical education has touched a new low. All states are debt-ridden. The FDRI Bill will create trust deficit among depositors. The GDP growth of 7 to 8 per cent is putative and jobless. When asked to bend, the media chooses to crawl, with few exceptions. The poll bonds scheme is glossed with opacity. POSCO is sitting idle in Orissa for 13 years to set up a big iron plant. Air India and power utilities are under heavy debts. Insanitation and financial crunch mar the Railways. Damage to the reputation of judiciary is now beyond redemption after the press conference of the four Supreme Court judges. These are all clear signs of a failed nation.
Look at the developed nations. They were ravaged during the World War II. Poland was annihilated. Japan was bombed and burnt. But these countries were able to stand on their own feet within 15 years. China was raped and ravaged by Japanese forces for 10 years. Then the Cultural Revolution of Mao killed 70 million people in 1950. Its economy was in a shambles till 1978 and GDP growth in 1961 was -27.2%. Then the doughty Deng Xiaoping came and transformed China into the third largest economy in the world.
On the other hand, people in under-developed countries are struggling with abject poverty because they are reeling under a corrupt and rotten political system. Rot in India's body politic started in 1966 after the death of LB Shastri. The usurping and corrupt political class gradually polluted the bureaucracy and destroyed meritocracy. The political class is flushed with time-servers, sycophants and power-hungry people. As many as 33 per cent legislators are tinged with criminal records. It is operating like some kind of a mafia and is busy practising divisive, disruptive, dynastic and vote bank politics to rule and befool the people. The main avocation of ruling parties has been to throw crumbs to the poor in the form of freebies.
High hopes were raised when Narendra Modi came on the national scene in 2014. Now his 42-month rule has belied all such hopes. Rhetorics like Skill India or New India do not enchant people anymore. The PM has become more pompous than a pragmatic doer. The Gujarat model was deflated recently when it was revealed that farmers' community was in dire straits. Only projects of national highways, coal mining, freight corridors, metro and providing sanitary toilets to make India open defecation-free are making good progress. But this is not enough, considering the demands of the time. A strong impression is building up that the BJP rules India and the RSS rules the BJP. Buses and buildings are being given a saffron coat.
The job of a visionary prime minister is to draw a precise roadmap to ensure eradication of poverty and remove the ‘under-developed’ tag in the least possible time. No PM has followed this cardinal principle after Nehru. Instead of raising the slogan of "Garibi Mukt Bharat ", Modi raised "Congress Mukt Bharat" which speaks of an attitude of the worst kind of demagoguery.
According to Jeffrey Sachh, the four keys to open the doors of prosperity for a nation are strict population control, sanitation, infrastructure development and administrative and economic reforms. China did that and transformed itself into an economic powerhouse. It completed its 18,200-MW Three Gorges Dam in just six years. (Total installed capacity of NHPC since 1982 is 6,500 MW). The most threatening crisis facing India is of population explosion. Now it is 132 crore. We are adding one Australia every year and, at this rate, it will be 150 crore in 2027 and thoroughly unmanageable. But, how many MPs have raised the issue of the looming demographic disaster in Parliament or waging war against poverty? The PM has never called a meeting of the CMs to discuss the strategy of economic development. The CMs are treating the states as their fiefs. The Parliament has become an exhibition of mudslinging matches among different parties, bedlam and adjournments. The MPs and MLAs behave like brothers only when it comes to enhancing their own emoluments.
Communal flare-ups like the one in Pune and violent reservation movements are only a trailer of the anarchy waiting to happen. The country is in a now-or-never situation. This is the only time to take up radical measures. But unfortunately, there is a famine of visionary leaders like Sardar Patel or Xiaoping or Lee Kuan Yiew who can steer the country out of the mess.
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