When days are dark, India grows at night

When days are dark, India grows at night

14 August 2011, 08:14 AM IST

Never has the general mood of the nation been so despondent just before Independence Day. This is ironic for the past decade has been the best ever in India’s economic history; the country is the midst of an amazing transformation, driven by consistently high growth for decades.

Everyone has not shared in the prosperity but a significant number of Indians feel that their lives are better than their parents’ and their children’s will be even better. In contrast to the mood of diminished expectations in the West, ours is an age of rising expectations. If we can now deliver good schools, healthcare and governance to all citizens , then all boats will rise.

In our obsession with day-to-day events, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. If you were a Londoner in the 1820s, you would not have seen one of the greatest events unfolding in world history: the industrial revolution. If you were at the docks, you might have noticed rising textile exports; MPs from the North would have told you that the mills in Lancashire were expanding ; at the India Office, you might have heard about the plight of Indian weavers. No one could see the big picture.

But surely today our prime minister can see the rise of India. It was he who helped unleash the economic revolution in 1991. Then why have there been no economic or governance reforms in the past seven years? Instead, we have had expensive , wasteful, populist schemes, which will not deliver permanent jobs or prosperity but might destroy the nation’s financial health and put to risk the very rise of India. Has the prime minister lost self-belief and faith in reform? The opposition too has been of no help—not once has it focused on the unfinished reform agenda. This is the reason to feel dejected on Independence Day.

The gap between India’s public and private life also causes much anguish. The private Indian home is neat, clean, and energetic. The government office is chaotic, messy and lazy. If it were a home it would look like this: dirty dishes flung about in the bedroom, old shoes and newspapers in the kitchen, and everyone sipping chai. The difference between the two is a sense of responsibility in the Indian home—if you don’t work you don’t eat. This accountability is missing in our public life; corruption is only a symptom of the disease. Hence, Indians believe they are rising despite the state and cynically remark , ‘India grows at night’ .

Because of this, i am less than enthusiastic about the Lokpal Bill. In its obsession with the Lokpal, the civil society movement has forgotten the urgent need for accountability in existing institutions. Reforming the bureaucracy, judiciary , police, and the political system will reduce corruption far more than the Lokpal. For example, a honest and transparent tax collecting machinery will do far more for the Indian character. Nevertheless, something good is bound to come out of the Lokpal movement and we should be grateful to those who have persisted . In the end, we want the rule of law, not the rule of men, and our greatest hope is for a government run by persons of restraint who are accountable to the rule of law.

Yes, black clouds have presently cast a shadow on India’s growth story—a frustratingly persistent inflation, fall in foreign investment, continuing recession abroad and a paralyzed government. But these are temporary clouds and India will soon return to the path of high growth.

In the drama of contemporary India, our nation is at puberty, which is a time that separates men from the boys, as the Americans say. India is succeeding because its citizens are self-reliant , ambitious, thrifty and risk takers.

These attitudes are conducive to economic growth. What will turn us into a nation of men is a supportive government that will build on this human capital, by providing all it citizens good schools, healthcare, and good governance. India’s economic rise is obviously good news for its 1.2 billion people, but is also a lesson that open societies, free trade and multiplying connections to the global economy are the pathways to lasting prosperity.


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