Seeking Saraswati
‘For those who have left the Congress, I can say, as a partyman, good riddance!’

Fifth Column: Myths, lies and punditry

Unless the licence raj goes, India will never build the institutions of higher learning that we so desperately need.

Written by Tavleen Singh | Published:August 31, 2014 12:00 am
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation on India's 68th Independence Day at  the Red Fort on Friday.  (Source: Express phot by Neeraj Priyadarshi) Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation on India’s 68th Independence Day at the Red Fort on Friday. (Source: Express photo by Neeraj Priyadarshi)

It is no small thing that the Prime Minister used his first address from Red Fort to announce the end of the Planning Commission. In doing this, he indicated not just a complete change in India’s economic direction, but also an end to central planning and thereby an end to Nehruvian socialism. You would think then, would you not, that us political pundits would have analysed why this became necessary and explained that the reason was that Indian bureaucrats had failed spectacularly to make the right economic decisions.

Under the aegis of the highly-educated officials who ran the Planning Commission was created the worst social and physical infrastructure in the developing world. While they planned badly for the average Indian, they planned very well for themselves. Their children went to the best foreign universities while Indian students struggled to get into college even after getting 95 per cent marks. They went to the best foreign hospitals when they got sick, while the average Indian was forced to rely on private doctors because public healthcare was so abysmal. These are things that should have been analysed by us political pundits, but instead we have mostly heard the voices of those who mourn the end of Nehruvian socialism. Why? Could it be because the media continues to treat Narendra Modi as a pariah in Lutyens Delhi — an usurper who does not deserve to spend even 100 days in this exalted space?

The same people who made the Gujarat riots of 2002 sound like the worst communal violence since Independence now perpetrate the lie that incidents of communal violence have gone up since Modi became Prime Minister. Every stupid statement by inconsequential Hindu fanatics is magnified on front pages and every effort is made to find flaws in the Prime Minister’s methods. So the latest whisper campaign, reflected even in the headlines of important foreign newspapers, is that he is running a ‘one-man government’. The irony is that the people who make this charge never noticed that in the past decade Sonia Gandhi had total power without an iota of responsibility.

The truth is the opposite of the whisper campaign. The Prime Minister is not interfering enough. He must do much more to make his ministers understand what he means by ‘minimum government, maximum governance’. Far too many of his ministers are carrying forward the very policies that kept India poor, illiterate and vulnerable in the first place. His Minister of Human Resource Development has so far shown no signs that she understands the need to dismantle the licence raj run by outdated and regressive bodies such as the UGC and AICTE. Unless the licence raj goes, India will never build the institutions of higher learning that we so desperately need.

His Minister of Environment has been giving environmental clearances with alacrity, but has not noticed the importance of laying down measureable and objective norms. As long as every project needs to be individually cleared by the ministry, there will be delays, bribery and corruption. In wiser countries, it is absolutely clear what you need to do if you cut trees to build a road, tunnel or factory. And what you need to do if you pollute the soil to mine for bauxite, coal or iron ore. The ministry’s role should be to interfere only when rules are broken. This is not how things happened in the past, so India paradoxically has the most polluted rivers and degraded living standards along with the strictest laws to protect the environment.

As we approach the sixth horrible anniversary of 26/11, the Prime Minister needs to ask the Home Minister what has been done to prevent future attacks of this kind. Has policing improved? Is there more electronic communication between police stations? Are ordinary policemen better trained in counter-terrorism? These are all areas in which the last government failed to make a difference, so it is very important to know what the new Home Minister’s agenda will be. So far he seems to have been far too preoccupied with defending his son’s reputation.

In these first 100 days of the Modi government, the only person who has clearly indicated a new direction is the Prime Minister himself, and to a lesser extent his Minister for Finance and Defence. This is not enough to make real the dream of ‘parivartan’ and ‘vikas’ that won the Prime Minister a full majority for the first time in 30 years. Change has to come faster and more fundamentally. And if to achieve this, the Prime Minister has to become a ‘one-man government’, then so be it.  My own humble view is that this cannot happen fast enough. There are far too many ministers in the government who have not understood the mandate that they have been given to make a radical difference.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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