Time for change: an avalanche of expectations
Never before so many people expected so much of change in such a little time. The election has given a clear verdict in favour of decisiveness, democracy and development. Whether the secular structure will evolve through demolition of caste and region based identities is an issue to be seen. Hope that the stranglehold of these archaic identities will not come back in the next elections. Why were people so angry? Among many reasons, one major source of annoyance was deeply steeped corruption and indifference towards the concern that people have on this account. If change means India has begun to respect an open, transparent and accountable government, then change must be welcomed wholeheartedly.
How does one determine accountability of a government when the tension between the interests of different classes and social groups are so apparent? If 65 per cent women are anemic, 45 per cent children are malnourished, around the same number of children cannot read, write or calculate properly after completing so-called primary education, then should there be a debate on the priorities?
Undoubtedly, Muslims and other minorities have recognized the need for an entrepreneurial future instead of an entitlement based ghetto. The question is if such a vision has to translate into reality, then what should the NDA government do to prevent a collapse of expectations. First step should be to mount time bound Missions on issues of urgent national concern which are not amenable to solution by trickle down. No country can allow 50 per cent children to remain malnourished. It is obvious that not only the poor, but also not so poor have children suffering from malnourishment and anemia. Growth or higher income by itself will not solve the problem. Second category of problems includes those which are region specific, but have remained unaddressed for long. The tribal regions are an obvious example. Not even one gram of forest produce is valorized in-situ. There is no way one can treat these regions as a source of only cheap labour. God has not designed two classes of people: one to be served and one to serve. The third category of problems is the one where major philosophical shift has to take place. The entire developmental approach for working class has to be liberated from entitlement and turned towards entrepreneurship. We must remember, a successful strategy self-destructs. When I wrote this in 90’s, many of the colleagues were shocked. But, wouldn’t the success of a policy be measured by the fact that it is not needed any more. The criteria for evaluating various employment programme should be whether the demand has been systematically reduced because of alternative means of employment and/or converting workers into entrepreneurs. The work is not just menial, it can also be mental. Despite my best efforts, I could not convince UPA government about this obvious truth. Will NDA government pay attention, time will tell.
The fourth category of problems is about expanding opportunities for youth to engage with unsolved problems of society. In Gujarat, thanks to the partnership between SRISTI’s techpedia.in and GTU, more than 9000 enterprises were linked with 30000 students. A very large number of entrepreneurs have found the projects of the students very useful. If a million students all over the country engage with the MSME, informal sector and public systems, make a map of unmet needs and take some of the problems as a part of their final year projects, the country would change sooner than anybody can imagine. But this will require complete reorganization of UGC as well as AICTE. Not only the corruption involved in approvals of various kinds must be eliminated but also those who cannot see the writing on the wall must give way to those who can. In the last three years of National Innovation Council, not one innovative project of a technology student recognized at national level could be funded to develop into product. If this is the mindset which continues to operate, then people should be ready to be disappointed. But I don’t think inertia in imagination runs so deep that it can overtake a genuine desire for change. A change not monitored is a change not desired. The new Prime Minister will have to draw a list of ten key changes he wants to see in the next ten months, 20 months, 30 months, and finally 60 months. If every leader monitors the results with suitable indicators, the bureaucratic rigmarole will get sorted out. We cannot govern India of 2014 by procedures designed in 1914. Different classes of problems need different strategies. Bureaucracy has a time-tested tool to make an honest leader ineffective i.e. by pushing trivia on his table. I hope the Prime Minister will send trivia back and focus on the issues for which people have given him such a large mandate. Hope is all that one can harness now.