HOW do you empower a citizen? How do you enable him/her to pursue dreams? What is the role of the state? The Preamble to our Constitution lays down the ideals: “Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and opportunity; Fraternity, dignity of the individual…” In the pursuit of these ideals, we are still a work in progress. What is missing here? What essential component is missing that will galvanise us at home to achieve our dreams, to create what might be called the ‘Indian Dream’?
The answer is simple in its essence… we must become a land of equal opportunity, of meritocracy, of a rules-based society governed by laws. The role of the government should be that of a facilitator, not that of a ruler given to occasional largesse. At its core, this is what will unleash enterprise, this is what will empower and enable our youth, for it can be seen in the progress that has been made wherever and whenever a sliver of opportunity has been given.
Take sports, for example. Youths from small towns and rural areas have excelled in sports. They usually come from low-income or even poor backgrounds and yet with sheer grit and perseverance excel in their chosen fields. There was a time when top sportspersons usually came from cities and elitist educational institutes. In cricket, we have the Dhonis, Hardik Pandyas and Mohd Sirajs dominating the game. Boxers and wrestlers of Haryana are world champions; boxers, weightlifters and footballers of the North-East are on top. Archers of Jharkhand, hockey players from Punjab, sprinters and jumpers from Kerala, chess players from Tamil Nadu — most of them come from humble backgrounds.
This success can also be seen in the All-India Services. Increasingly, officer-level entrants in the Army and the civil services are coming from small towns or rural areas and low-income families. Gone are the days when Army officers and civil servants came from a very exclusive strata of society. Only the other day, a CO of the 19 Rashtriya Rifles made the supreme sacrifice in Kashmir. Col Manpreet Singh was the proud son of a Naik, who had retired from the same battalion which his son later commanded (12 Sikh Light Infantry). This is not a solitary example but represents a social and generational change. This was enabled by the meritocracy-driven selection process and the opportunity given by the system. Similarities can be seen with the engineers, doctors, teachers, etc., working in public sector fields which are now being flooded by entrants from hitherto unknown backgrounds.
However, this progress has failed to generate the millions of jobs that we need to provide for our rural and small-town youth. We are a nation of 1.4 billion and the government alone cannot fill the unemployment gap. Hundreds of millions remain engaged in subsistence agriculture and related rural jobs. We have failed to generate the economy of the future in our vast hinterland. Industry and business continue to restrict themselves to urban spaces and even there they are not growing at the pace we need. The landholdings are not conducive to bring about a major revolution in agriculture. New seeds, new fertilisers, new implements have run their course and nothing much has changed. Agro industries have had limited success. This has resulted in millions of unemployed youths across the country who either migrate to the slums of the cities or seek their future in foreign lands. This has resulted in vast inequalities between the 1 per cent at the top and the lowest levels of society. The way out of this zero-sum game is not patronising a few chosen industrial houses. They will not be able to stem the tide of unemployment. This vast gap in living standards and the accompanying unemployment can only be filled by a vibrant private sector. Entrepreneurship at micro, small, medium and large levels of the industry has to be encouraged and promoted. We have to empower our youth and unleash their talent and potential. To do this, a platform for ‘ease of doing business’ has to be provided at the grassroots level.
Much talent and knowledge lie trapped in this vast nation. Whichever nation or region in the world has managed to go beyond its tertiary produce and convert the same by adding value through industrial processes has achieved a higher growth in incomes. This can be seen in agriculture and its allied sectors — the cheese industry in Italy, the wine business in France, the dairy products of Australia and New Zealand. As in agriculture, so it is in heavy industry. Japan is a classic example of a nation which imports most of its raw material but has got the industries and the technology to add tremendous value. The Hondas, Toyotas and Sonys were not born multinationals but had very humble beginnings. Similarly, IT and broadband are now reaching far and wide and along with it modern education in the form of online academies — the possible businesses and professions which could result are infinite through this access to information and knowledge. In order to enable this industrial revolution, security, education, health — the primary duties of the state — should be fulfilled on a war footing. The old adage, ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’, is apt.
So, how do we free this enterprise, how do we release the citizen from the choke-hold of ‘red tape’? Yes, it comes down to that old foreboding ‘red tape’. Much success has been achieved since Dr Manmohan Singh laid out the roadmap for the opening of the economy in the early 1990s. From being a bankrupt state to the fifth largest economy in three decades is no mean feat, but we have ‘miles to go before I sleep’. Most of the taxation ‘reforms’, such as GST and lowering of income tax slabs for companies, and actions such as demonetisation have favoured corporate India. Has it been at the cost of small businessmen and women in not only urban India but also in the mofussil towns and villages of the hinterland? India does not need one or the other… we need both. Rather, we need micro, small, medium, large and whatever other category that might exist. Red tape needs to be cut for all; encouragement and reform need to be done for all. In this way, we will have thousands and thousands of small entrepreneurs capable of providing employment to not only themselves but also others.
Today, we are faced with tremendous challenges and disruptions such as climate change, AI, shared economy, the increasing fragility of the geopolitical peace. These are all massive hurdles just by themselves, collectively they will be a tsunami which only the well-prepared, tough and agile will survive. The GoI has to confront this massive challenge. We have the youth and the enterprise; it is for the government to stand by as a facilitator and release their chains (the red tape). Release them and you will discover their might, not by binding them to doles.
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