by Dr.Jayaprakash Narayan
picture and attainable goals
that Gujarat elections are out of the way, the nation can
get back to the business of the more pressing, long-term,
important issues of economic growth and alleviation of poverty.
For several months now, our whole energy and attention were
focused on the tragic event of Gujarat, and more specifically
to the political fallout of the vicious battle for power.
Happily, the doomsdayers were proved wrong. Gujarat people
voted peacefully, and communal violence has not spread to
the rest of India. Once again, Indian people showed they have
too much of resilience and good sense to be influenced by
hatred and bigotry.
Given our historical baggage, fiercely competitive political
process, and the power-centered nature of our society, communal
and caste poison is bound to be injected from time to time.
But Gujarat of 2002 is an aberration, not the norm. Mumbai
of 1993 was the true reflection of our society.
terrorists blasted many buildings, and over 300 innocent
people lost their lives, there was not a single incident
of communal violence or hatred. The people picked up the
pieces calmly and rebuilt their lives.
But the economic situation the world over is less than satisfactory.
We are slipping behind China. Even the mighty US is faltering.
Japan has been facing crisis for over a decade now. Germany
is "plagued by a severe economic malaise and uncertainty",
to quote the redoubtable Economist. What then, can we do
to bring good cheer to the millions of our long-suffering
Perhaps the answer lies in the big picture. Sometimes we
are lost in the triumphs and travails of the moment, ignoring
our long-term real goals. Look at the US economy. The artificial
wealth created by the bubble of the 90's has disappeared.
Investors lost an unbelievable $8 trillions! The nation
is beset by several problems: excess, unused capacity; high
individual and corporate debt; rapid stock-market changes
in a hyper sensitive economy; and enormous and growing inequities.
Top 20% of Americans enjoy 50.4% of after tax income (top
1% enjoy 12.9% income), while the poorest 20% earn only
5.2% of the income. 15% of all Americans have no health
coverage, though health costs are an astonishing $1.3 trillions
per annum. There are, of course some signs of mild recovery
lately in the US economy. If the strongest economy in human
history could be subjected to such vagaries, we can well
imagine the plight of Indian economy.
Over the past two decades, we have tended to focus undue
attention on the capital markets and macro-economic stabilization,
ignoring the bigger picture. Given our state of economic
maturity, there has been over financialization with excess
emphasis on stock values, mutual funds and daily trading
volumes. No matter how much we imitate the US, it is unlikely
that India will ever achieve the level of American prosperity.
But that need not deter us. Fortunately we live in an age
and time when many things are possible at a low cost. There
are three goals India can and should aspire for over the
next decade. First, we need to promote human dignity through
strong policies, effective laws and allocation of resources.
In today's world, child labour, back-breaking drudgery,
hunger, and public defecation are unacceptable and unnecessary.
Some 30 - 40 million children are now child workers, eking
out a precarious livelihood, with their potential unfulfilled.
Incidence of hunger in India is on the decline, with a reduction
from 19% in 1983 to 7% in 1993. Although this is a welcome
trend, no Indian needs to go hungry with food grain surplus
and resources. 70% of all Indians are forced to defecate
in public, and over 80% of all illnesses are water-borne.
These are problems which can easily be addressed with available
technology and resources. These are the tangible indicators
of human dignity.
The second fundamental goal ought to be accessible justice
with accent on rights of the poor. Local Courts, fair process,
just compensation for rights violations, and speedy resolution
of disputes are all easily achievable goals. Judge/population
ratio can be dramatically improved at low cost, and procedural
changes effected at no cost at all. Once people's rights
are protected, the poor will get their due, and rule of
law will encourage investment and hard work.
The third goal should be creation of opportunities for vertical
mobility. Global history teaches us that people are willing
to accept any amount of hardship and privation, if only
there are realistic avenues of emancipation from poverty
and drudgery. Every child should be entitled to reasonable
quality school education which imparts skills and knowledge
and enables participation in wealth creation. And good health
care is both inexpensive and attainable to all Indians if
only we build sensible systems. Finally we need to focus
on basic infrastructure, particularly transport, power and
water to promote growth and create job opportunities.
These goals are well within our reach in the next decade,
thanks to modern technology, communications and democratic
institutions. Once they are achieved, embarking on a path
of rapid growth will be easy and inevitable. We need not
envy China. We can catch up with it. Democracy is not a
handicap. It can be an empowering tool. But first, we need
to get the big picture right, and focus on the essential