Fifth column: Real change please

The Prime Minister has repeated often that he believes the government has “no business to be in business”, but his ministers are not listening.

Written by Tavleen Singh | Published: October 26, 2014 12:54 am
 Not even in a bizarre companies law that gives officials more powers of interference in routine business matters than ever before. Not even in a bizarre companies law that gives officials more powers of interference in routine business matters than ever before.

The Prime Minister makes it clear whenever he speaks that he understands well the need for urgent changes in governance and laws. He talks of ending “inspector raj” and repeats that the government has “no business to be in business”. But his ministers either do not understand what he is saying or do not understand the need for urgency.
This week, in which the whole country worshipped the Goddess of Wealth, is an appropriate one to talk of changes that should already have happened if we want the economy to start growing again at more than 8 per cent. It is a good week to remember that Narendra Modi was given a full mandate because Indian voters wanted radical changes in the way things are. And yet, not even baby steps have been taken so far to rid us of bad policies inherited from the Sonia-Manmohan government.

An example. Every time Arun Jaitley gives an interview, he admits that the land acquisition law bequeathed us by Sonia Gandhi makes it impossible for even private buyers to buy land. He admits that land cannot be acquired easily even for purposes of national security, but instead of ridding us of this misguided law, he announces only plans to tweak it. Has he not noticed yet that tweaking bad policies will get us nowhere near the ‘parivartan’ that the Prime Minister wants? Has he not noticed that investors continue to shy away from investing in big infrastructure projects because, on the ground, they notice no real changes? Not even in a bizarre companies law that gives officials more powers of interference in routine business matters than ever before.

The Prime Minister has repeated often that he believes the government has “no business to be in business”, but his ministers are not listening.
From the Finance Minister’s junior colleague, Nirmala Sitharaman, there have been so many angry statements against private companies that she is beginning to sound like a Marxist professor from JNU.

Most ministers show no signs at all of making the big reforms that are needed desperately if we want India to come closer to developing her enormous potential for being a rich country. They show no signs even that they understand that India counts among the poorest countries in the world because of bad economic policies. Labour laws prevent jobs from being created instead of doing the opposite. But again, they are only being tweaked. India imports vast quantities of coal despite having the largest reserves of this vital resource, but instead of a new policy for coal mining, we get just a bit of tweaking.

As someone who believes that India’s biggest failures have been in the social sector, I wait eagerly for some sign of new policies in healthcare and education. Indians who can afford private schools and hospitals today have world-standard facilities available to them. But those Indians who are forced to rely on government schools, colleges and hospitals know that their children will leave school without learning to read a story or count. And, that if a family member gets sick, his chances of dying in a government hospital are better than his chances of getting well. Yet the Minister of Health has shown no sign that he is in the process of giving us a new health policy and the Minister of Human Resource Development has so far failed to grasp the importance of her job.

Even if investment picks up, even if the stock market soars to new heights, India will remain a backward country as long as we have abysmal standards in public healthcare and education. Skills development is something we hear a lot about since Modi became prime minister, but we need much, much more to be done in education. It is terrific that the Prime Minister has laid so much emphasis on sanitation and public hygiene but what about spreading this message in government hospitals as well.

On the political front, the Prime Minister has been remarkably successful. The results from Maharashtra and Haryana prove that he has lost none of his appeal, but in the end what will bring real ‘parivartan’ are his policies in the economic and social sectors. The two are closely linked. I do not usually quote other people to make my point, but cannot find words more appropriate this time than those of Kemal Ataturk from 1923 when he was rebuilding Turkey from the ruins of the Ottomon Empire — “No matter how great they are, political and military victories cannot endure unless they are crowned by economic triumphs”.

The Prime Minister should remember them because, in more senses than one, he is trying to rebuild India from the ruins of a socialist empire that in its fashion was as feudal as empires ruled by kings. The task is difficult, so tweaking will not do.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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  1. K
    KrishnaBhagawan
    Oct 26, 2014 at 11:52 am
    We need a FM who is an outsider to the delhi club.
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    1. C
      Cruz Ader
      Oct 26, 2014 at 12:07 pm
      The new economic growth rate.. but not Hindu rate of growth!! you seem to have clearly copy pasted this article from somewhere.
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        DA
        Oct 26, 2014 at 3:37 pm
        I do think the PM, FM and nearly everyone except the RSS "swadeshi" installs in the cabinet will agree with every word Ms. Singh has to say. Except that laws ped by parliament cannot be repealed without a parliamentary majority. The BJP lacks that in the other house.There's many a way to cirvent that (joint sessions, for one), but none is elegant. And none of those will escape scathing criticism along the lines of "destroying democracy" and so forth.A majority is needed in the Rajya Sabha, for which a majority is needed in the states. I think the PM has his priorities right. It's the path of hard slog, but it's also sustainable in the long run. The PM wouldn't want his tenure to be tainted by accusation of short-circuiting the due democratic process.Also, we have to remember that we have a Nehruvian Socialist of the retroactive taxation fame in the Rasthrapati Bhavan. Some realism, and patience, is called for. I do not think Ms. Singh will doubt that the PM has his intentions right.
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        1. B
          behera
          Oct 26, 2014 at 8:02 am
          Modi's ministers are so weak by the design that they might be awaiting for his direction. As you said our education & health care needs urgent attention by Govt. Both the ministers are thoughtless. Blind privatization who in India runs in the principle of maximizing profit without creating value for the customers (even in health & education sector as well) will have dangerous consequences in India. Poor people's gradual but systematic elevation from poverty with thoughtful govt support system is key for peaceful and sustainable development in India. We want labour reform but ensure that no exploitation of them like China and Bangladesh where 100s die everyday. We pay taxes on par with developed countries. Corruption takes it away. We have roads but no good system to follow or enforce. We have big business houses who spend very little in R&D. They take consumers for granted. We have local govts who works on the basis of caste, community even in race for creating personal wealth in huge amount to secure exercising power.
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            dsylexic
            Oct 31, 2014 at 2:51 pm
            "Blind privatization who in India runs in the principle of maximizing profit without creating value for the customers (even in health & education sector as well) will have dangerous consequences in India." -explain which other country has done this and suffered? Estonia did this and prospered
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