Google Translate

Thursday, January 22, 2015

An Expatriate questions India

Tarun Khanna,  professor at Harvard Business School, in his interesting but provocative book—Billions of Entrepreneurs: How China and India are Reshaping Their Future and Yours—while exploring the economic facets of change that the reforms have brought in, both in China and India, raised  a couple of well-meaning and pertinent questions. 

First question first: “Why can China build cities overnight while Indians have trouble building roads?” This question catches us naked. Indeed it is haunting us right from the day we started governing ourselves, way back in 1947 after dislodging the queen. The ongoing reforms have only accentuated the need for ‘good governance’ and ‘good government’, particularly, in the context of our known lack of respect for “discipline” and “accountability” in public life. Ironically, even the government could not command discipline and accountability from its citizens. “When societies first come to birth, it is the leader who produces the institutions”, observed French philosopher, Montesquieu, “later it is the institutions which produce the leaders.” While it remained anybody’s guess whether such a phenomenon is happening in our country or not, one thing appears certain: we have today come to such a pass where even a lone voice—whether sane or insane—could stall things from happening. And many feel that the less said about the leadership that we have had during the last decade, the better. The irony is we had an excellent gentleman—a gentleman who had his Ph.D. in Economics from University of Oxford and then worked as Chief Economic Advisor, Ministry of Finance, India during 1972-76; Secretary, Ministry of Finance (Department of Economic Affairs), Government of India during 1976-1980; Governor, Reserve Bank of India during 1982-85; Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission during 1985-1987; Secretary-General and Commissioner, South Commission, Geneva 1987-10th Nov. 1990 and crowning it functioned as Union Finance Minister during 1991-1996 garnering all the laurels for placing India on a new trajectory of growth by launching economic reforms that nudged India towards market economy —as our Prime Minister for almost a decade. But many had accused him of functioning with “two souls, two thoughts, two un-reconciled strivings” and in the process said to have lost his moorings somewhere in the journey, as a result of which the boat drifted on its own. And the result is: the nation lost its course.  Governance and discipline in public life  have become the worst victims. And in such a democracy/governance, projects, obviously,  get executed at their own  pace. 

Khanna’s second question is: “Why does China prohibit free elections while Indians, in free and fair elections, vote in officials with criminal records?” Perhaps, this is a question few Indians are interested in asking themselves, for the later part of the question is sure to toss them out of their smug complacency. But history will not fear to take a dig at it. India, for most of its history, was under the rule of invaders. And majority of them ruled the country, particularly during the medieval period, much like extortionists. They tramped over the individual’s rights. Yet, the elite of the country cast a Nelson’s eye— they didn’t raise their voice against the extortionists so long as the rulers did not disturb their elite pursuits.  Unlike in China where elite led by people like Confucius worked for “making things right” in the society—intelligentsia  took upon itself the responsibility of demanding compliance from the emperor with the  nine cardinal directions: “cultivating his personal conduct, honoring worthy men, … showing himself as father to the common people…”—we have had nothing of that kind to take as an example from our history where intelligentsia having either taken up the cause of the common man with the kings or raising voice against the misdeeds of the rulers, except for Chanakya and Gandhi. Thus the ordinary man in the society suffered the evildoings of the invader-rulers silently. As a result, over the centuries, the nation as a whole perhaps lost its nerve to raise voice against the evildoers. That is, of course, a history. But history repeats itself. So, be it in elections, or in public life, we only witness Nelson’s eye and muted voice. It may not be exaggeration to say that raising a voice against the wrongdoers is not our national character—in our mai bap culture we have lost it once for all. So, the powerful can always walk away with their wrongs royally.  

Khanna’s third question, which incidentally tells us more about the underlying reasons for China’s success in attracting mind-boggling sums of FDI year after year with which it transformed itself into a global manufacturing hub, is: “Why do the Chinese like their brethren overseas, while Indians apparently do not?”  This question, once again brings out our failure in wooing the Indian diaspora to invest in India starkly by juxtaposing it along the success of China’s visionary leadership in attracting 80% of its FDI from their overseas residents, that too, in the early years of its reforms when no one knew anything about it for jostling investment ideas. Besides our leadership failure, the very psyche of the Indians—who are known to live in isolation, lead a lone path, live for themselves—perhaps, offered no chance for them to realize: “love sought is good, but given unsought is better”.

Cumulatively, all this reminds me of what Doris Lessing once said: “Very few people really care about freedom, about liberty, about the truth, very few. Very few people have guts, the kind of guts on which a real democracy has to depend. Without people with that sort of guts a free society dies or cannot be born.” So let us hope that one day enlightened leadership emerges in India asserting itself fully and fairly by setting an example by its own conduct and corrects our present model of ‘democracy sans responsibility’ and cultivates the spirit of nationhood among us, the Indians. 


Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Recent Posts

Recent Posts Widget