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BACK AND FORTH

The Congress released its manifesto, with the topbrass of the party fielding questions from the press after the document had been presented. Rahul Gandhi was unusually cogent, and articulated the long-term strategy he wants to introduce that will alter the corrosion that has weakened the working mechanisms of the party. It made sense and reinforced the perception that he is a long-distance runner in the political space, waiting for his moment. In spite of the confident statements about how the Congress will fare in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere, the general mood today says that the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance under the stewardship of Manmohan Singh, particularly his second term, have been rejected. Their inability to have ensured the start of administrative and legal reforms to establish the commitment of the party to the radical reduction of corrupt practices in government dealings, was a gross failure of spirit and action. India expected the incumbent prime minister to act with honesty and integrity. Instead, scams tumbled out of the corridors of power and discredited the government and the party.

The manifesto promises all the basics that governments are expected to do for the people of any nation. Housing, health, education, social security, the availability of potable water and electricity supply for all, roads and sanitation infrastructure — all are sorely lacking in this country in spite of the six decades of ‘growth’ and ‘development’. There is no excuse for the municipal mess nor for the faulty, failed infrastructure. It is the direct result of archaic colonial over-regulation in a supposedly free market economy. To rewrite laws to suit a changed socio-economic environment requires mental agility and a deep connect with reality. Sadly, in recent years, those who enter the Houses of Parliament remain up there in a realm that has no engagement with a rapidly transforming India in a world that has become inclusive and transparent in the Information Age.

First steps

Our leaders make outlandish statements as they pontificate in their constituencies, speaking one language in the districts and another when in metropolitan India, forgetting that television has been a great leveller, with instant electronic transmission in real time, exposing them, their stances and their blatant lies. There was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when Indians were in awe of the leadership. They respected the national and regional leaders who walked the talk with dignity of purpose. The slide into mediocrity has been quick, making the political arena dangerous and volatile. In almost every ‘point’ made in the Congress manifesto of 2014, there was a sense of déjà vu because those were the exact promises made by the Congress in the 1950s and every five years thereon. Why did the party endorse faulty governance? Why did municipalities get away with zero accountability? Why was governance reduced to nepotism?

Imagine if the Congress had put all the ‘promises’ into play, starting with the Moily administrative reforms, transparency in government, as a work in progress, and shown effective municipal intervention in our cities as well as intelligent laws for new development in the real estate sector. But instead, the men and women in command faltered as they succumbed to irregularities and insular governance. The only hope is that the good intention of Rahul Gandhi in trying to garner the views of diverse professionals as important ingredients to feed into masterplan India, is the first, albeit tentative, step towards participative, democratic functioning. Needless to say, this will have to be followed by a meticulously detailed, composite design, that will cater to all the diverse layers of this fragile but confident civilization.