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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Wow! Indian Elite Has at Last Come of Age!

All those who lamented all along that the intelligentsia of India is more a self-centered lot—for the sufferings of common man, particularly those inflicted upon by the agencies that are responsible for governing the nation, are never an issue to be debated publicly by them (leave aside the over ambition of expecting them to question the authority that is supposed to be concerned with the issue under consideration) so long as it does not hurt them—have something to cheer about. 

For, here is an intellectual called Ashish Bose—a veteran demographer who coined the word ‘Bimaru’ to refer to the Indian states with the worst socioeconomic indicators, viz., Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh—who said in an interview to Business Standard (March 27, 2012) , “There is no denying this [that poverty has finally come down], but it is blunted by food inflation. People are suffering everyday.… Nothing captures this. That poverty has gone down is all humbug. One of our problems is this lame-duck government headed by a fellow who does not take any bold decisions. It is true that without opening up of the economy we would have been ruined. But credit should go to the Chanakya of our times, the late Narasimha Rao, and not Manmohan Singh. The latter was merely drafted by Rao and he blossomed there. The reforms are all this ‘Chanakya’s’ doing.  ... Moreover, the real issue is not poverty but corruption.”

To say that, and say it so unambiguously, it’s not only gumption that is required but also commitment to the cause of fellow beings. And that is what intellect, of course, intellect that is put to public cause alone, can afford, and as the Chinese wise man, Confucius said, so long as the intelligentsia works in that direction, the political forces of the nation tend to be on course, and resultantly, ‘good’ is likely to take roots, making the lives of lesser mortals more meaningful. Indeed, such courage is contagious—ignites many more such lamps.  

That said, let us now take a look at what Prof. Bose said. First comes first: food inflation blunting the poverty alleviation programmes. What matters most today is not appointing another committee for coming out with the best methodology to identify how many people are above or below the poverty line, but to urgently tackle the poverty itself, for it does not augur well for a nation aspiring to be an economic powerhouse  to have unconscionably high percentage of poor. Which is why we need to have growth—economic growth that gives the government capacity to aim at 100% functional literacy, re-skilling of labor force constantly, and getting every eligible labor employed. This calls for a businesslike approach that sets in motion a missionary zeal that drives the government machinery to achieve time-bound results. And unfortunately, as Prof Bose observed, the present “lame-duck government” can anyway do little; but the opposition too is not all that focused on the ills of the nation as much as it is focused on opposing everything that the ruling party proposes—irrespective of it being good and desirable in the national interest or otherwise. 

The next is: “lame-duck government headed by a fellow who does not take any bold decisions”. Examine this dispassionately: A designated minister presents the railway budget to the Parliament. Obviously, it must have had the approval of the cabinet presided by no less than the head of the government, the Prime Minister. And the budget proposes hike in fare for achieving certain stated objectives. It was all well articulated in the presentation to the Parliament.  Now, suddenly, someone from outside the government says that fare hike is not acceptable and it must be rolled back or the minister must be sacked. And, in no time all that wisdom of hiking fares to improve the safety of poor passenger, etc., etc., and the accompanying articulation turn dirt and the Minister is dumped. That’s Ok! One can view it as coalition compulsions, but how to explain withdrawing of the fare hike. If it is not necessary now, it was not necessary at the time of budget presentation too. Or, is it that someone outside the government knows it better? On the one hand, fiscal deficit is going haywire; Indian corporates are increasingly looking outside the country for their growth, while unemployment and poverty are mocking at the nation. All this calls for bold governance—boldness that enables the government to not only say “I need to be cruel to be kind” but also act.  

Last but the most important is: “corruption” and its cruel dance on the face of every Indian. In fact, if there is one politician who has a better chance to hold it by horns and tame it, it is the present Prime Minister, for he is not personally tempted by it—a rarity in the polity of the nation. But to everyone’s surprise, he is just remaining content with himself being not corrupt. But the nation cries: Is it sufficient? For a citizen, it is sufficient; for a statesman, perhaps not.  

Perhaps, that’s what Prof. Bose meant when he gave vent to his anguish. And now, the intellectuals, taking the cue from Prof. Bose, must nudge the government towards doing what is best for the nation.  


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