India’s thought process needs a change

Tags: Op-ed
India’s thought process needs a change
AP
TALL TALK: It is all very well to make general statements about bringing the economy back on path, empowering women and youth. But will anything really change in our day-to-day lives irrespective of who comes to power?
“The purpose of government is to enable the people of a

nation to live in safety and happiness. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors.”

—Thomas Jefferson

These words must be embedded into the minds of all the people who aspire to be elected representatives of the people of India. With such a vast and diverse electorate, hopes and expectations are bound to vary. Yet there is a clear shift in the agenda of the people — the two issues reign supreme for the majority of Indians are economic growth and social justice. The battle lines have shifted from the past. I don’t know about other waves, but there is surely a wave of discontent amongst people.

In all the raucous analysis of elections being presented by media today, no one is talking about the frustrations that Indians feel. It is not uncommon to find Indians who are otherwise clearheaded and proud of their personal achievements, wringing their hands helplessly when facing the decision for whom to vote. Our decisions are based not on what’s the best but on what’s the least worse? Will anything really change or will it be business as usual with any party that comes to power? As Franz Kafka had said, “Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.”

India has come a long way; we have achieved a lot for which we need to be proud of. Most political parties that are in the electoral race today have been in power at some time or the other. In all the debate and drama being played out vocally, and I say with regret, is any party or politician laying out what they will do for the country in real terms? It is all very well to make general statements about bringing the economy back on the growth path, improving governance, empowering women and youth.

What India needs today to restore its growth story is to rejuvenate the manufacturing sector, focus on infrastructure and logistics, open up FDI in sectors that will not only create jobs for our youth, but also improve the standards of performance and delivery across the country. A modern and reasonable tax and regulatory regime that will improve business confidence, both in the domestic and international market, and of course, a complete crackdown on corruption is also required. This may seem like a tall order, but all it needs is political will. It is unfortunate that we have not seen that will in any of the parties as yet.

Will anything change in our day-to-day lives irrespective of who comes to power? With such a vast and diverse country, it is not possible to present a picture of everyone’s daily lives. But let’s look at that of an honest, hardworking, salaried individual who is paying an average of 30 per cent of his income to the coffers of the government; or the various inefficient governments that have been unable to provide even basics like water, power, and roads, among other things. It is a tribute to India’s tolerance levels that he does not expect anything in return other than the government machinery leaving him alone to get on with his work. But is he left alone by the powers to be on his own? The average Indian citizen who is honestly paying his taxes will be slapped with scrutiny notices and be forced to spend time and effort explaining to the tax authorities what he does with his post tax income instead of spending time in purposeful economic activity. The tax authorities —even after pan cards — do not have an ability to swoop down on the vast cash economy that exists in India. They fail to make the correlation between assets and income and have a single-minded focus to hound those individuals and companies who already pay taxes.

His job requires him to travel so he faces the inconvenience of multiple security checks at various points in his journey. The government seems to think that all criminals have assembled at various airports/hotels across the country as it deploys huge forces and leaves the cities, towns and streets unprotected. So criminals have a field day and thefts, riots and rapes continue unabated. God forbid, if he is the victim of a crime, as dealing with the police will make him feel he made a mistake by reporting the crime as he is made to feel like the villain. Private security agencies have a great future in our country due to the lack of public systems to keep citizens secure.

The wave of discontent in India is coming to a head. The power still lies in the hands of the people. If change is not delivered, it can lead to a people’s movement. As we reflect on this, let’s not forget the Arab Spring, which was led by normal people. Will any of the above change? That’s what we should be asking the politicians who come to us today with folded hands and vague promises; never to be seen again post the elections. Is India a democracy that has gone wrong, whose citizens are not even treated equally? There is a strong VIP culture in this country, but it’s the wrong people who are accorded VIP status. They should be reminded of the words of Mark Twain, “The government is merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn't. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them.”

(The writer is CEO of KPMG India. These are his personal views)

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