United we stand, divided we fall
Sep 23 2013
in India only.”
— Mark Twain
The story of India always makes for interesting reading. We are a nation that has played many roles; there have been many defining moments that have charted our course through the years. We stand at another such moment today as India faces a serious economic crisis. The India of tomorrow will be defined by how we respond to this situation. Will we rise up to face adversity, will we unite behind a common cause and commit ourselves to a vision for the kind of country and society we wish to live in, will we give a better world to our future generations or will we waste this occasion and while away precious energy and time in inane rhetoric and political games?
Yes, India faces a crisis today, but let us not forget that it is a crisis largely of our own making and, therefore, possible to resolve. If our parliamentarians abandon all other distractions and work with a single-minded tenacity for taking action to deal with this crisis, nothing will stand in our way of achieving success.
John F Kennedy had fired up an entire nation to face a task considered impossible. He had said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
The questions is whether all those people, who consider themselves political leaders and nationalists, are willing to take up this challenge and accept that the time has come to throw away all differences.
Here, the much-debated legacy of the prime minister is not at stake, but the future of our country. It affects all of us, irrespective of which political ideology we support. We cannot afford to waste time. Political parties have to stop tripping each other up. Again, in the words of Kennedy, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”
Nothing else matters — the temples and mosques can wait, the yatras must stop, the blame game can be played later — what we need today is a strong economy. Even the common citizen realises that. He may not understand trade deficits, rate cuts or exchange rates, but what he does understand is that inflation is hurting him, that jobs are becoming tough to come by, that we still live with sub-standard infrastructure in most of the country, that setting up a business is a long drawn battle and that making an honest living is becoming more and more difficult. Why is it that people who are supposed to represent the citizens miss the point? Why has no political leader articulated a vision for India? Instead of offering solutions, our leaders waste time in ridiculing institutions. Political debate must not mean disrespect of democracy and its institutions.
Only radical measures will work at this time. So far the reaction has been knee jerk. Some sparks of action have erupted recently, but investor sentiment has remained negative. The RBI’s steps haven’t stabilised the rupee. Traditional monetary measures have failed and incremental steps to stop dollar outflows have proved counter-productive. Global sentiments towards India have turned from cautious to negative.
We need actions that bring immediate results. Instead of going back to license Raj, we must open up our economy for business. All project clearances must be moved on fast track and the government must ensure that vital infrastrcuture development projects become operational soon.
Also, clear the clutter of archaic laws and permissions that suffocate each business. Encourage RBI to lower the cost of funds and provide incentive for both growth and consumption. Make it easy to do business in this country. Stop harassing companies and individuals who already pay taxes. Settle the big-ticket tax cases that have been outstanding. Introduce measures to attract NRI deposits. Once there is confidence about the rupee strengthening, raise petrol prices to help the government reduce the deficit. Work with the real estate sector to make housing affordable as the growth in this sector will have a spiral affect on other sectors in the economy. By cutting red tape and bureaucracy, empower businesses to grow. Let economics and business take over, cut the politics out of everything.
One of the popular statements used by India media is “the nation demands an answer”. Today this is true — the nation deserves a solution and knows that a solution exists. Further, it demands that its parliamentarians remember that their first and only loyalty is towards the country. They must truly follow the oath they take, “to uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India”.
They must remember the words of Dr Abdul Kalam, “Unless India stands up to the world, no one will respect us. In this world, fear has no place. Only strength respects strength.”
(The writer is CEO of KPMG India)