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TIME TO LOOK AHEAD

Here is wishing everyone a happy new year. One hopes that the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, led by the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, will establish the rule of law in India, and will make the powerful classes accountable to the people. Leaders should stand tall with strength and integrity, and uphold the original idea of the nation as it was envisaged by the great intellectuals who founded the republic. I, as an Indian, have been ashamed of the anarchy perpetuated by the ruling dispensation. It looked the other way when it needed to assert the law; it allowed, in full public view, extortion and corruption to take place. This left ordinary, honest citizens feeling exasperated, harassed and exploited. Citizens only saw their elected leaders protected and inaccessible as horror hit the public domain at all levels, ranging from basic municipal misgovernance to women being repeatedly assaulted and raped.

Where were the Union cabinet members when a young India hit the streets in protest against the recent gangrape in Delhi? Why were most of them hiding from view? It is not the responsibility of just the home minister to deal with the situation, because he presides over that crucial ministry at the pleasure of the prime minister. It is the responsibility of the entire leadership of the country to speak out and walk the talk. Members of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha should have walked from Vijay Chowk to India Gate sporting black bands on their arms, and made a pledge to get to work, for the people. Will Manmohan Singh give his cabinet members time-bound tasks and make them accountable for implementing those tasks without indulging in any illegal, corrupt practices? Structures are in place, but they are grossly misused and manipulated because no one takes responsibility. Each one passes the buck; they all accuse each other if the job is not done.

Solve problems

Reams have been written about how difficult it has been to do clean and legitimate business in India since the opening up of the economy under P.V. Narasimha Rao, when Manmohan Singh was the finance minister. Old regulations allow for constant government interference and harassment in a new and different environment. Under the UPA regime, when one had hoped that those rules would be re-written to permit entrepreneurship to flourish, all honest and innovative entrepreneurs were debilitated by corrupt government officers. That truth has reached unimaginable proportions.

In all sectors of the economy — and particularly in the large service sector, where there is enormous employment from semi-rural and urban areas — the harassment is unending when it comes to clearances. One easy resolution would be to file a fresh set of papers to help liberate ordinary people from the stranglehold of what is left of the ‘command economy’. It is absurd that Indians have to keep losing valuable creative and productive time trying to fight the corruption in the government, as well as the harassment one faces if he or she refrains from corrupt practices.

Government perks, such as free accommodation, electricity, transport and the like must be rationed. The government’s expenditure on itself must be halved. To regenerate pride and commitment to this extraordinary civilization, all museums must be given top priority and restored. All skills must be honoured and a special autonomous corporation, based on public-private partnership, created.

Whatever remains of India’s natural, pristine environment must be sensibly preserved and protected. These three aspects, which affect normal people, need immediate correction.