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Home > Business > Special

Speaking for the aam aadmi

Arvind Singhal | February 15, 2007

In this age of uncertainty, even the weather gods seem to be missing a step or two once in a while and have been bringing unseasonal warmth or cold or rain or snow. It seems the only thing we can be sure of is the unfaltering concern of our political leadership, ever since our Independence, about the plight of the common man or the Aam Aadmi as he is now referred to even in the English media.

From Nehru to Shastri to Indira Gandhi to now Sonia Gandhi, the slogans may have changed but the purported message remains the same -- concern for the average Indian. It is a different matter that in these past six decades, most of these politicians have now upgraded their own standards to palatial bungalows in national and state capitals replete with Jacuzzis and round-the-clock commando cover for themselves and their offspring and other relatives.

Their personal preference for transport vehicles now include Bentley cars for self-use or for gifts to their near and dear ones, while the preferred healthcare destination is London. In the meantime, the common man has become even more "common" if we are to look at the absolute numbers of Indian citizens below the poverty line and just above it.

In the name of the "Aam Aadmi", our politicians continue to fight election after election and continue to stall even the few basic reforms that can make the life of the common man just a bit easier. For the purported benefit of the common man, they have no hesitation in converting even cities like Delhi and Mumbai into urban slums and letting the land sharks overrule the law of the land with legalised impunity.

Perhaps if some of these modern-day leaders were to actually alight from their armoured cars and Air Force or other aircraft to just take a casual walk in the streets of present-day urban and rural India, unescorted by their minions and their ubiquitous security detail, they may get some idea of who this common man is and what his pressing needs are.

It may actually lead to some much-needed enlightenment where it is needed and probably help our political leadership arrive at some consensus on the need of the hour as far as their political ideology is concerned.

To start with, India needs � desperately -- education at all levels, starting from the primary to specialised higher levels. While the affluent (including the politicians) can even start their own private schools in major cities or get their wards admitted wherever they wish to in India or overseas, for the common man, even having access to any decent institution of learning is a fading dream.

Our resources apparently are not enough to create adequate seats for all those who should be going to school or wish to go for higher studies. Yet, the silence of our leaders on this issue is almost deafening and they continue to stonewall any effort to revitalise our education sector and meet the resource shortfall with aggressively wooing FDI in this sector.

The common man needs urgent access to quality and affordable healthcare, which cannot be met only with the five-star hospitals that seem to be mushrooming in the top 10-12 cities in the country, and vague Budget-day promises of starting a new AIIMS.

Would it be too much for the common man to expect our leaders to bring this need on their agenda on priority, and start a nationwide campaign to direct domestic and foreign investment in this sector?

Inflation is the worst scourge for the average Indian as anyone who has any direct contact with the "Aam Aadmi" can empathise with. Modern retail, with its proven ability to reduce the cost of intermediation and minimise systemic inefficiencies, has the best potential to keep inflation under check.

Yet, politicians of all hues do not shy away from writing letters and holding agitations to stall any whiff of reform in the primitive Indian retail system, purportedly to safeguard the interests of the small retailer and the common man, while in reality, they are protecting the interests of a much smaller number of commission agents, wholesalers, and hoarders and traders who routinely jack up the cost of basic products including vegetables and pulses on some bogey or another.

Some of these letter writers and TV channel debaters should actually visit the newly opened modern supermarkets and large wholesale businesses such as Reliance Fresh and Metro to check out the prices (and their supply chain development efforts) in those stores versus others and then decide if modern retail  -- be it of Indian origin or foreign -- is harmful or beneficial to the country.

The list of basic needs of the "Aam Aadmi" does not stop here. They also need security not only from drunk baba logs who do not think twice before shooting down anyone who dares to defy their commands, but also from corrupt policemen and even more corrupt civil services providers. They need clean drinking water, and access to basic sanitation. They need electricity and basic infrastructure like paved roads.

How nice it would be to see public morchas, fasts, bandhs and letters to the Prime Minister or the chief ministers to reflect and act on some of these matters too!

The writer can be contacted at

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