The food bill finally got cleared through a late- night vote in the Lok Sabha. Sonia Gandhi led the debate and stated quite emphatically that the bill was a landmark legislation and that there is a need to fine-tune the legislation on the part of any state which believes that citizens are its first priority. The vast economic disparities in India, in spite of the phenomenal growth over the decades, demand that governments regardless of ideology take care of the needy and help them move into a secure and dignified space.
India has a great opportunity to structure its gameplan in a manner that permits parallel lines of growth that can add to the common pool of development and change. Government schemes need to address the desperate concerns of the underprivileged — the hitherto ignored and often forgotten men and women, who are the backbone of this civilization. Those who have had the opportunity to grab an idea or to project and run with a dream should be encouraged to do more without being chained to the ridiculous rules and conditions of a command economy. Leaders tend to revert to stringent ‘conditions’ to penalize those who are making good use of their energy to run initiatives so that they can camouflage the faulty nature of governance. The success of the ordinary Indian lies in sharp contrast to the failure of India’s leaders.
Dictatorial stances that compel entrepreneurship to operate within a plethora of redundant regulations, slow government clearances, and corruption in every conceivable government process have reduced this extraordinary nation state to a netherworld characterized by the poor quality of its leaders and the energy and the might of its people. This large pool of human resources and skill has been let down by dispensations that have based policy and governance on alien and meaningless models of development. Such faulty models have been forced upon them by corrosive conditions that they have had to meet when asking for loans and international assistance.
Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi understood and respected the diverse strengths embedded in the Indian subcontinent that are manifest in its people and cultures. They revived and nurtured those intrinsic strengths that the colonial power had consciously destroyed to disable India. They gave enormous respect to the nation’s cultural traditions to generate pride and confidence. When the economy went through a phase of ‘restructuring’, an unthinking leadership, working on what was then referred to as the ‘World Bank model’, put the true strengths of India — those that make it special in the eyes of the world — to the back-burner.
Had India’s leaders in the last two decades comprehended the latent, creative energy in the realm of ideas, had they brought about growth in sectors free of global competition by endorsing the freedom of expression and by providing funds and infrastructural support, the growth rate that the government keeps harping on would have spread evenly across every social stratum.
The closed mindset of contemporary leaders, when compared to the intellectual vision of our founding fathers, boggles the mind. To tear the fabric that makes India unusual, extraordinary and special is unforgivable. To stitch together philosophies of the past that enabled this civilization to thrive as well as to absorb the ideas of those who put together the notion of a modern India, and then build a framework for the future in an age of information are the real challenges in front of the leadership. The real test will be to carry the best of the past while asserting India’s individuality in this new millennium.