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Saturday, December 04, 2021

Governance please

It has to be said and I am going to say it clearly.

Written by Tavleen Singh |
November 20, 2011 2:31:13 am

It has to be said and I am going to say it clearly. It is time for Anna Hazare to go back to Ralegan Siddhi and take his NGOs with him. There is real work to be done and it will not get done as long as he continues to bamboozle Parliament with his totalitarian Jan Lokpal Bill. I am willing to bet that he has not read it or he would know that it will do no more than create another layer of possibly corrupt officials over our existing layers of corrupt officials.

Nearly all corruption in India relates to government but Anna’s team would have us believe that the entire private sector is made up of people like Bellary’s Reddy brothers. The Reddy brothers and others who have become obscenely rich through political clout are looters not industrialists. But because of them,Anna and his team of dodgy NGOs have succeeded in maligning the entire private sector. They have taken to talking a lot of rubbish these days about how corruption has increased in India only after the economic reforms. Nobody challenges them because industry organisations are too timid and there is nobody from government who dares to take them on because the Prime Minister and his Cabinet made such a shocking mess of handling Anna’s hunger strike. The unhappy consequence is that it has made everyone forget that the biggest problem in India is not corruption but bad governance.

Last week,a group of eminent business leaders came up with a schedule of ten reforms that they call an ‘agenda for renewal’. It is an agenda that suggests reforms in the energy sector,agriculture,urbanisation,education and the justice system among other things. And if you read between the lines of this agenda,you will detect a desperate plea for the government to get on with the business of governance instead of floundering about in hopeless confusion as it has done ever since the United Progressive Alliance won re-election in 2009.

Decades of economic dictatorship in the name of ‘socialism’ have taught Indian businessmen to be conservative,cautious creatures. They have learned to fly under the radar and go about their business unobtrusively. So they have never dared take credit for leading the economic change we have seen in the past twenty years since they were released from the shackles of the licence raj. Under it,industrialists could be fined for producing more than their licences permitted.

The economic reforms that ended the licence raj brought India the only prosperity we have seen since the British Raj ended. In the four decades of socialism that followed,the number of Indians lifted out of poverty was too small to count. It is only because of the economic reforms that we have seen more than 150 million Indians rise out of poverty and be counted as middle class.

So can we please stop talking rubbish about inclusive growth? All growth is inclusive. If prosperity were something that could be restricted to those who can afford five-star hotels,700 million Indians would not have cell phones today,more than 250 million would not have access to television and Internet users would not be increasing at the rate of five million a month.

The serious flaw in the economic reform process is that there has been absolutely no attempt to reform our hopeless social sector. We need to makes massive investments in better schools,hospitals and children’s nutrition programmes. We must improve sanitation and living conditions both in our villages and in our cities. It is because nothing has been done to bring reform in these areas that our villages continue to look like cesspools and our cities look increasingly like slums.

The reforms that reputed businessmen are demanding in their ‘agenda for renewal’ will benefit not them so much as the poorest of our citizens. Rich Indians do not need improved public services because they can easily afford private schools and healthcare and private supplies of clean water and electricity. But,the atmosphere has been so polluted in the past two years that educated,middle class Indians twitter on endlessly about businessmen and politicians being in collusion to loot the country. This is nonsense. Their solution,bizarre as this may sound,is that we return to the old days when officials controlled all economic activity in India.

Corruption is a serious problem and must be dealt with but this cannot mean that we forget about everything else that needs to be done. In the past year,it has seemed as if the Prime Minister and his ministers have done no more than handle hunger strikes. It is time they got back to doing some real work. The agenda for urgent reforms that eminent businessmen have come up with is a good one. Get going Prime Minister or please go.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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