strength of the family as an enduring institution with the
attendant sense of responsibility and infinite capacity
to face hardship is at the heart of our resilience as a
society. Ordinary Indians exhibit uncommon ambition and
drive for their economic upliftment. Witness the entrepreneurship
of the dabbawallahs in Mumbai or the millions of tiny enterprises
in unorganized sector which are sustaining our economy.
People are willing to fend for themselves against heavy
odds. For a poor country, the amounts paid by families for
education of children and healthcare are astronomical. The
thrift of our people is legendary, and Indian consumer is
not easily swayed by consumerism, and seeks good value for
money. And time and again, Indian society displayed an enlightened
and modern spirit of nationalism with pride in ourselves,
but without much animosity or jingoism. All these are recipes
for success in the twenty-first century.
yet our antediluvian politics is retarding our society.
Leadership in modern world provides a great contrast what
that in India. In a remarkable speech to European Parliament
recently, Tony Blair exhorted politicians to respond to
the challenges of today. Emphasizing the need for keeping
pace in a changing world, he reminded OECD countries, "The
USA is the world's only super power. But China and India
in a few decades will be the world's largest economies,
each of them with populations three times that of the whole
of the EU
. (European social model) is allowing more
science graduates to be produced by India than by Europe.
India will expand its biotechnology sector five-fold in
the next five years. China has trebled its spending on R
& D in the last five
" Outlining the challenges
of today, he called for renewal of the idea of Europe, and
said, "Now, almost 50 years on, we have to renew. There
is no shame in that. All institutions must do it. And we
can. But only if we remarry the European ideals we believe
in with the modern world we live in". That is the stuff
of true politics and great leadership rooted in genuine
soul-searching, passion and spirit of public service.
our politics measure up to the challenges of today? Four
unhappy characteristics dominate our political landscape.
First is the patronising attitude to people: citizens know
nothing and are parasitic; and they need regulation, protection
and doles. Witness the quality of debate on BHEL disinvestment.
Every perceptive citizen knows that public sector in India
is largely private sector of those in public office. We
only need better goods and services at least cost, and it
does not matter who produces them. And yet, public interest
is sacrificed at the altar of failed ideologies. Or take
the fears of globalization stoked with unceasing fervour.
Mighty US and Europe are showing signs of anxiety with the
increasing competitiveness and growing market share of China
and India, and our antiquated politics can only see dangers
in every opportunity! Or take the labour markets: the world
over, rigid markets and overregulation led to large scale
unemployment; and yet we want to perpetuate status quo at
the cost of the millions of job seekers. And of course the
politicians' eternal preference of doles and subsidies over
empowerment and liberation of productive potential is too
well known to require elaboration.
second dangerous feature of our politics is its predatory
nature. Politics of plunder and rent-seeking have become
the norm, and public-spirited politicians are increasingly
marginalized. Distortion of markets, kleptocracy, and shameless
display of unearned wealth have created a culture of illegitimate
plutocracy. Power and ill-gotten money acquired by abuse
of power have become ends in themselves. Politics has in
a large measure ceased to be a means to public good. Obsession
with power at any cost has created a class of criminals
and crooks dabbling in politics, and decent citizens are
increasingly shunning public life. As Yeats lamented, "The
best lack conviction, and the worst are full of passionate
intensity." In the process very few new and powerful
ideas are vigorously pursued to improve the conditions of
the bulk of our people or to accelerate our growth rate.
politics continues to be medieval in nature. Much of the
debate on education is centered round rewriting history
or detoxification of text books. The 'great' debates are
about the location of a temple or a mosque, or past insults
and private injuries, or perpetuation of barbaric practices
and shunning of modern, humanistic vision. Obscurantism
is zealously guarded, and "the clear stream of reason
has lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit."
incompetence and laziness have become virtues in our political
domain. Even now, our vision of education is merely increasing
enrolment of school children and reduction of dropouts.
Quality of education, high productivity of citizens, and
seizing opportunities that modern world offers do not even
enter our public discourse. Our universities languish despite
the undoubted potential of our youngsters and the civilizational
strength we enjoy. Most households are petrified at the
thought of a kid to be admitted to school, or a sick person
seeking medical attention. Quality education and healthcare
are simply inaccessible and unaffordable to most Indians.
China may run medical schools to educate Indians at moderate
costs; US and Europe may attract bright Indian youngsters
to their universities; India may have the potential to create
world class facilities to meet our growing needs and become
the hub of global education and health services. But our
politicians are oblivious to the challenges of today, and
frame lazy policies and execute them incompetently.
such a mismatch between first world people forging ahead
with growing aspirations and third world politics undermining
our prosperity and happiness is unsustainable. Either the
people will have to force politicians to change and recreate
a polity worthy of us and capable of meeting the challenges;
or politics will retard our future and bring India down
by several notches. Which will happen first? That is the
great question of this decade, and the future of our nation
and world will be shaped by the answer we give together.