India: A country and an enigma

Tags: Op-ed
India: A country and an enigma
AP
BEING INSPIRED: Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (left) smiles as she is applauded by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, after delivering the Jawaharlal Nehru memorial lecture in New Delhi on November 14
“To balance China, democracies will need new friends — and India with its fast growing economy, youthful population, and democratic politics seems the obvious candidate.” — David Frum

In the world of frail economies, unsettled politics and militant aggression —India shows a ray of hope. India today enjoys a unique and unparalleled global position — the world hopes for it to succeed, as India’s success is required to buoy up global growth. We have an increasingly critical role to play in the world; we have the potential to build this country into an economic superpower; we have the intellect that can think of strategy innovative solutions; the technology that can provide momentum; the human capital required for execution; the youth who is eager, ambitious and industrious. Why are we trudging along then and not moving in leaps and bounds towards our destiny?

The trouble with India is its politics. In her public lecture in Delhi, Aung San Su Kyi spoke of lessons that she has learnt from Gandhi and Nehru. She said that the discovery of Nehru was the discovery of herself. She also spoke of politics and an ethical and moral calling. “I was brought up to think of politics was to do with ethics, it was to do with responsibility, it was to do this service.” It is an irony that while the world learns from India, our own politicians forget the fundamentals of the formation of India as a nation. The ideas of the Constitution and the vision of those who founded modern India have been lost. It is self-interest and not national interest that guides most of their thought and action. This is not party specific. There is no concept of commitment to the cause of the nation. Politics has become a profession that has lost its soul. While Barack Obama said this of the US, it is true about India. “We’ve come to be consumed by a 24 hour, slash and burn, negative ad, bickering, small minded politics that doesn’t move us forward. Sometimes one side is up and the other side is down. But there’s no sense that they are coming together...to solve the problems that we face.”

The current government would serve itself and the nation better if it woke up to the reality that people have native intelligence and will eventually vote in favour of progress. Economics is on everyone’s mind and has a larger connotation than simply GDP growth. The whole country’s future is dependent on how our economy performs and while people may argue that reforms only favour the rich — no inclusion or poverty alleviation will happen without economic growth. It is irrational to oppose reforms. It is also time that the ruling party stops putting the blame for slow growth to lack of consensus. It is evident that when there is real desire to push through reforms, it will happen and consensus will appear because everyone can see that this is in the larger interest of the nation. What ails us more than anything else is the lack of political will, not consensus. Just as the corporate world is quickly realising the importance of governance and that there is no choice but to be “good”, politics too, has to come around to this view for their own long-term survival. In an increasingly aware and connected world, only the truth will survive.

India’s growth story so far, is a salute to the entrepreneurial spirit of Indians. The media industry is an example. Cable TV came to the country during the Iraq War and the State only woke up to its potential in 2005 when it had permeated into millions of homes in India. The government has to play the role of the enabler — every cloud has a silver lining and there are some positive stories in India as well. The first spate of economic reforms in 1991 brought telecom into India. The telecom growth story extends into IT as telecom became the base for IT growth. There are institutions like Sebi, RBI and Election Commission; projects like the Delhi Metro that have made their mark and contributed a great deal to progress. I come back to the point that I made earlier — if there is political will; everything can happen. In a nation of more than a billion, there cannot be just a handful of examples.

What the government needs to concentrate on ensuring that the institutional framework of this country actually works, it needs to work on governance, on tackling the menace of corruption and on delivering swift justice. It needs to simplify, cut excesses and destroy red tape. Thomas Jefferson had said, “My reading of history convinces me that the most bad government results from too much government.” We need to ensure that the word ‘trust’ reappears in our dictionary when we talk of our institutions and our regulators. Why does it take more than 10 years to build roads in this country? Why are areas of central Delhi and probably a number of other states forever under construction? What has happened to the telecom, Commonwealth games scams? Rajat Gupta was investigated, found guilty and sentenced in a matter of a few years, why does justice drag forever in India? Why should anyone be afraid of the law here or follow it; for that matter when there’s no recognition of the right and no retribution for wrong? Is anyone prepared to answer these questions that the average Indian is asking?

“The ship of democracy which has weathered all storms, may sink through the mutiny of those on board.” —Grover Cleveland

(The writer is CEO, KPMG in India)

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