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Perk up, the best is yet to be!
January 01, 2009
In fact, the ancient great poet-sage of Tamil, Thiruvalluvar, said it all three thousand years ago when, in one of his famous kurals (couplets) he laid down laughter as the best answer to disaster. Gird up the loins, get the act together, stop beating the breasts, blowing the nose, and shedding those tears. Stand up and meet challenges head on without flinching or faltering. Follow the new mantra of hope: Yes, I can, yes, we can, yes, yes, all of us can!
Feeling good already! Good. Nothing is lost, as far India is concerned. It has braved oil shocks, Asian meltdown, jihadi depredations, insurgencies, insurrections, the works. When they struck, they looked like the end of the world. Can anyone bear to recall with equanimity the baptism in blood of independent India at the time of its birth, the massacre of the millions and the influx of refugees and their settlements all over North India and in West Bengal?
I remember the dark days following the descent of the Chinese Army right across Assam, the collapse of India's defences, the capitulation at Se La; the morning of February 6, 1966, when the entire Mizo district of Assam was overrun by the Mizo rebels; Naxalism at its peak in West Bengal; the tidal wave of 10 million refugees drowning the districts of the state, North Bengal's five districts alone bearing the brunt of six million of them; Khalistan: All passed, and whatever else confronts India menacingly for the nonce, that too shall pass.
Jawaharlal Nehru used to say, India was beset with, not one, but 400 million problems (equal to the population of his time). Well, India now has to contend with more than a billion problems, seething with pent-up frustrations, its efforts to mend the state of affairs being akin to climbing a greasy pole. This is because India is a big country, bristling with complexities, diversities and contradictions, beggaring description. It fits into no copybook model of a nation.
It is highly developed among developing countries, and developing among developed. It carries its ancient heritage both as a mantle and as a cross. It blends the old and the new in a delectable concoction, so much so a Physics Nobel Laureate C V Raman, a scientist to his toenails, was at ease performing religious rituals at the time of solar and lunar eclipses!
The lesson is that no jargon-ridden, exotic formulas borrowed from elsewhere, and applied wholesale will work. There can be no instant fixes nor a master key opening all the doors. Likewise, there are no standard management practices that will be effective equally all over India. Executives will miserably fail if they assume that ways of getting the best out of those one works with are alike for Punjab and West Bengal or Bihar and Tamil Nadu. One of the reasons for the notorious implementation gap is precisely this assumption embedded in systems and procedures implanted from the West.
The same holds good for the current scenario as well. To my mind, the solution to what is amiss does not lie in structural tinkering, since it is essentially a behavioural problem that encompasses the service delivery by the three branches of the government, and the mindset of the economic players outside the government, the civil society and the people at large.
Let me explain with the help of two daily, familiar experiences. We are adding to the roads, flyovers, public transport and the like. But, unless the people are imbued with road sense, the discipline of the lanes and driving manners, will the augmentation of facilities alone help? The more the roads and flyovers, the more the indiscipline and the chaos!
Or, take corruption. We have a plethora of structures all the way from the Central Bureau of Investigation, to Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Departments. But their activities are up against the collusive behaviour of the corrupt person's entire family, and his circle of relatives and friends who are not only fully aware of his extortions but aid and abet his misdeeds by willingly partaking of the bribes in cash and in kind. So, we must attack the behavioural problem first, whether it is the traffic, corruption or the economy.
It is my conviction that speeding up of service delivery will by itself bring about a substantial change in several directions: Better operation and maintenance of existing facilities; putting the available infrastructure to the best use; quicker redress of complaints and grievances; better participation by different sections of the population in their respective spheres; faster flow of goods; quicker disposal of pending requests and proposals; greater accountability. They all add up to vastly improved governance, which is the touchstone by which the voters of the country have now learnt to appraise the performance of the Central and State governments.
As regards the economy, it is futile to expect it to respond to the furious playing on the three-key (repo rate, cash reserve ratio, statutory liquidity ratio) piano for all it is worth as the RBI governor is becoming addicted to doing, fitful fiddling with taxes and duties or continually coming out with bailout packages, similar to baling out water in buckets from a leaky boat.
India's economic players need to cultivate the capacity to think independently of the shibboleths they are fed with by economic soothsayers and commentators who have had no opportunity to soil their hands with the day-to-day nitty-gritty of running an industry or business. On the contrary, they should take note of the many things going in their favour: a huge domestic market, the people's propensity for savings exceeding 30 per cent of the GDP, a vibrant upwardly mobile middle class and scope for expansion of the information technology, communications, infrastructural and non-conventional and renewable energy sectors.
Focussed exploitation of these advantages will push up the volume and velocity of economic activities to levels that will make up for whatever shrinkage there may be in exports and earnings. The time has come for the government, the domestic banking and financial institutions and the captains of industry and business to form a consortium to draw up and execute projects and schemes so as to absorb the liquidity injected so far and make timely access to further credit easier. If only they show real enterprise and ingenuity, they can just forget about the downturn and look up with confidence and courage to the vistas stretching before them.
Finally, a word on terror. My belief is that the government, however belatedly, has put through the right measures and the terrorists, and their facilitators, are feeling the intense heat of the revulsion of the entire world. The new year may thus see a decline in the number and intensity of attacks. Here, the civil society, the media and the people at large can play a watchdog role in promptly bringing to the notice of official agencies any suspicious movements and activities and putting pressure on governments to ensure that investigation and prosecution are conducted without any political interference whatsoever and with the speed of a court-martial.
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