The hinterland awaits Modi’s magnanimity

Tags: Op-ed
The hinterland awaits Modi’s magnanimity
AFP
HIGH HOPES: The new government should set up industrial training institutes in every district to train rural youth in the required skills to make them employable in newly erected factories nearer to their homes
Every time a new government takes office, it is bound to raise people’s expectations. Everyone starts compiling wishlists and hopes that the government will take note of one’s demands. I start my wishlist by invoking a message from Bapu to India’s first ever council of ministers in the interim government. “I will give you a talisman: Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test: Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him; will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melting away.”

Now that a new dispensation with a different ideology is in government, I hope that in matters of governance, the nation comes before any organisation and personal ideology. I hope prime minister Narendra Modi will measure everything he or his government does against Bapu’s talisman before embarking on the task to do what is right and essential for the nation and not set standards by any particular agenda. That’s my prayer.

One good way to go about such a task would be to immediately dismantle, disband and discard the khadi and village industries commission (KVIC). I am certain Bapu’s soul will bless him in gratitude. Gandhi visualised the khadi industry as a tool for the emancipation of the rural poor and a means for rural artisans and craftsmen to efficiently ply their trade, become self sufficient and bring prosperity to the villages. However, for almost seven decades since independence, every successive government has treated khadi in a step-motherly manner. Instead of formulating policies to revitalise the village economy, and encouraging it to become more profitable, governemnts have handed out doles making the rural economy dependant on the exchequer for survival, in the process, turning KVIC into a parasite of monstrous proportions that lacks direction and is corrupt to the core. This is not what Bapu had visualised khadi to be.

If khadi cannot be revived, it is best that we get rid of it. More so, when in 21st century India, Bapu’s vision for khadi industry has really come alive in the unusual private partnership model created by Fabindia. By replicating that model over and over again, and employing modern management techniques, it might be possible to rejuvenate our village and cottage industries to bring about a rural renaissance. It would serve the exchequer and the government well to induct professionals with domain knowledge of traditional crafts to restructure KVIC into a dynamic, profit-making enterprise. This would be a far greater service to the rural and urban poor than what the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act can ever hope to achieve.

Also, as primary education suffers more from the lack of quality teachers than from the lack of facilities, it would be wise for the government to set up a network of teacher training facilities focusing on enhancing teaching skills. The standard of education at primary, secondary and graduation levels has dropped to alarming depths because of the kind of teachers employed in government and private schools. I dare say that until a generation earlier, schools usually employed teachers trained in the British system. This ensured quality. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case, with the result that teachers no longer deserve the respect their profession demands.

Modi, as Gujarat’s chief minister drove industrialisation of his state. I suspect this will also remain the leitmotif of his government at the centre. While in India, industrialisation has historically thrived on generation of demand and state incentives to moneybags, it must ultimately benefit the communities to make a lasting impact on the economy.

Today’s age of automated manufacturing requires skilled workforce. Hence, factories set up in backward areas mostly import workforce, resulting in alienation of displaced local communities. The new government should set up industrial training institutes (ITIs) in every district to train rural youth in the required skills to make them employable in newly erected factories nearer to their homes. This can be achieved in partnership with companies, industry bodies and NGOs. Perhaps, the success of India’s future prosperity lies in getting the village economy moving.

(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)

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