New Delhi: We are the new emerging super power of the world and all decent, patriotic countrymen are getting together to make this millennium into an India Century. The ‘manifest destiny’ of the Americans appears to have run its course, the Chinese are ‘overheating’, Africa is still the ‘dark’ continent, Europe is in decline, and the Russians disintegrated after an overdose of ‘Molotov cocktails’, Australia and New Zealand are too far off to bother, but India; well we are ‘emerging’ and are being much admired for that by the rest of the world, excluding Pakistan.
Raj Liberhan, Director, IHC, New Delhi
The truly modern history of India beginning with the tough fight for freedom saw us rebuilding the nation with diligence. We started to scale the commanding heights of the economy on the back of the public sector giants. So many hungry and unemployed people got loaded on to the backs of the giants that they became top heavy and ponderous, unable to move in any direction. In a majority of cases the backs remain broken till this day. But we continue to ride them. Heard of flogging a dead horse? Yes, but we remain optimistic and do so because flogging dead horses is the surest way to give them a ‘fresh lease of life’.
The consequential outcome of such economic diligence had an interesting dimension in our journey of national survival: we brought ourselves to the ‘take off’ stage. This uncomfortable posture endured in our national psyche until we decided that enough is enough, we must en masse’ move to ‘liberalization ‘. This started a new trend (we hoped it would be an era) and became a fashion statement for the hoi-polloi, while more than half the country were yet to grasp its meaning.
But the ‘era’ had dawned bringing in its wake a heavy dose of the ‘down’ syndrome. The capricious licensing regimes were brought down. In its place was installed a matching approvals mechanism. FERA was brought down. In its place we instilled FEMA. Import controls were brought down. Instead we built in RBI approvals for foreign exchange releases.
We launched a programme of disinvestment in the public sector, so the shares of public sector companies had to be bought by other public sector banks. Many things changed and yet inspite of that, more of them remained the same! Instead of licenses we had regulations. A veritable transformation of India’s economic scene had taken place. All the licensors of yore became regulators of today. We had successfully modernized and emerged from a black hole of our own making.
The era of liberalization, being the trendsetter, was succeeded by something called second generation of reforms. What this means, will be deciphered hopefully by the next generation. However, these had a devastating effect on the middle class who had put their lifetime savings in Unit Trusts. It effectively left us without a whole generation.
But never mind, as an emerging economy we are doing rather well. And we are yet to get over our love for playing with blocks. Put them in everybody’s way, without distinction. New wide roads, toll bridges, over bridges, under bridges and half built bridges are a common sight in urban India. But mind you, every eight-lane highway will also be littered with more than an adequate proportion of speed breakers.
If we are not able to find a reason to build speed breakers we will position police barriers (generally decorative), failing which any other kind of a barrier will do. And if we still cannot do any of the above, we will close the highway for annual pilgrimages, bandhs, demonstrations, or any rasta roko initiatives. Any wonder then that though we have swanky limousines and SUVs which are raring to go, our fuels are adulterated enough to exhaust their performance.
It seems anything, just about anything to block and impede, but certainly not to hasten the pace – is the mantra. We licensed TV channels but have not allowed people freedom to watch a programme of their choice; we created a world class IT industry that turned into a global hub only to have the government say that women will not be allowed to work in the night shift.
We are guaranteed rights, but we lock up one Lalchang in Guwahati and forget that he needs a trial for 54 years. A criminal trial still takes an average of 10-15 years, a civil suit by contrast, a lifetime. And am sure you would not want to hear about single-window clearance systems and 24x7 water or power supply situations.
But of course, we are now an emerging super power. We will beat China in about 100 years, that is, if China stays at its current levels. Our sense of bravado is even more pronounced given the fact that we have the US on our side, so we do not need to beat them.
That is it. The world is a simpler place. We are the Ridley tortoises, designed to let all hares overtake us, but we will outlast them. After all, we have had a government that fought poverty, we had a government that worked, we had a government that made India shine, though we still yearn for something called governance. Have patience, my countrymen, we will get there too, surely but slowly.
Raj Liberhan is Director of the India Habitat Centre at New Delhi. Send your reactions to firstname.lastname@example.org