Inaction as policy

Published : Jan 27, 2012 00:00 IST

MIGRANT LABOURERS AT the Bhubaneswar railway station. Except for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, nothing has been done for the rural people in all these years.-PTI

MIGRANT LABOURERS AT the Bhubaneswar railway station. Except for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, nothing has been done for the rural people in all these years.-PTI

It is time for the political executive to take stock of what it has achieved in the years it has been in office.

ONE had pleaded in an earlier article for the awareness, in the year to unfold, of the events of the last year so that we could steer clear of the perils in which we found ourselves in that span of sad time. Perhaps, it is fitting that we try to look ahead, now; not knowing the future, one can only peer at signs and discernible actions and words, and also look over our shoulders at what happened before.

Right now we are a country that is clearly slowing down. According to recent reports, industrial growth is almost non-existent; it can be said to be an engine that is just about ticking over. There is little to be excited about as far as infrastructure growth is concerned; nuclear power stations are still entangled in protests, which seem suspiciously rehearsed, with village women speaking in angry terms of Fukushima and fissile material. Roads show no dramatic growth in terms of mileage, and their quality is reverting, inevitably, to the levels we are so used to pot-holes appearing after a small shower, crazy, erratic levelling, which makes vehicles bounce and careen over seemingly even stretches, and lanes becoming narrower and narrower. There has been little additional capacity to our shipyards; officials will point enthusiastically to one completed berth in one port, which is nice, except that we need about a hundred more. Schools in villages do not, as they have not had for decades, teachers, and if they do, many of the teachers are barely literate and intelligent.

All this is not because the government does not want to improve the infrastructure. It says it wants to and there is not any good reason for it not to be telling the truth. But the plain truth is that it is not happening. Young men and women are not getting enough employment and the heady years of burgeoning call centres seem to have faded away; in the realm of small individual enterprises, there is nothing that provides any secure employment, or returns to the entrepreneurs.

To make more money, many small entrepreneurs find it easy enough to turn out shoddy products, be they electric plugs, screwdrivers and other tools, joints and cables. The services they provide are equally shoddy; repair jobs are never durable and cannot be depended on. There is no pride in workmanship, in what is made or in the service given. This, on a macro level, pulls down the development possible in this area, adding to the slowing down of overall development.

It is not as if the state is not aware of all this. It certainly is, having scores of committees of experts in the Planning Commission and in other bodies who have studied these trends and reported on them. But nothing seems to happen.

Nothing happens because the prime mover, that is, the policymaking structure right at the top, is unable to function as it is caught up in the coils of coalition politics. Dishonesty and thievery at high levels in some coalition members, and irrational, mindless stubbornness on the other and the dishonesty of some prominent members of the main coalition partner have made it virtually impossible for the ruling UPA-II (United Progressive Alliance) to develop and execute a clear-cut policy with any degree of determination.

Surely, it is time for the political executive to take stock of where they are: what they have been able to achieve in the years they have been in office. Surely they, of all people, are not deceived by the glossy brochures they pay huge amounts to advertising agencies to bring out extolling the virtues that they claim to possess and all the goodies they claim to have given to the smiling farmer and shyly smiling women in the touched-up photographs.

It is time to take stock; if social activist Anna Hazare did nothing else, he served as a catalyst for the widespread middle-class anger against the corruption every person has to contend with almost every day, and the arrival of overloaded trains from the rural hinterlands to the already overcrowded metropolitan cities speaks eloquently of the state of affairs in rural India. Has the state done anything really major to alter this, except for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme? One, just one, scheme in all these years?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and even Congress president Sonia Gandhi have spoken of the compulsions they face in running a coalition government. In place of compulsions read compromise. And then let them ask themselves just how long they intend to continue to compromise just to stay in power, when the initial, promising growth of the country has now faltered and has virtually failed. Hard facts need to be faced in these first few weeks of the new year; not just what has not been achieved but what will never be achieved given the composition of UPA-II.

Look at the situation that prevails in the country today, at the fact that food prices have fallen drastically, raising the hope that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will loosen, to some extent, its grip on money supply and reduce interest rates, which may, just may, trigger a renewal of industrial activity and that of the service sectors. Look at the relative incapacity of the government to be able to take any major decision with parties such as the Trinamool Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam for company. Take a look at the strident, near hysterical opposition, chiefly the Bharatiya Janata Party, baying for the blood of the present government, slavering over the thought that it will form the next government.

Take a good look, and then take a hard, dramatic decision that will be more than a wild gamble. Ask for mid-term elections. Perhaps the UPA will come back to power. Perhaps the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) may. One way or the other, the people of India will benefit and get a chance to install a government that may take them forward with a little more resolution and a clearer direction. In their interest, if for nothing else, such a decision needs to be considered.

It may not be the best decision, but it may prove to be the most practical. Democracy is, as has been famously said, the worst form of government there is, but it is all we have in our endeavour to live as free men, with dignity, and try to ensure that our fellow men do the same.

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