Quality of governance has improved
Independent India is now nearly 70 years old. From the high hopes in the '40s that we will be a leading nation by the end of the millennium, the average Indian citizen is now worse off than in any other country of the world. Illiteracy is still rampant. Nearly 50 per cent of the population has anaemia. A quarter of the population does not get clean drinking water; income disparities are among the highest in the world; farmer suicides are rising; every state government is corrupt, and elections are settled by large illegal spending – the dismal list can go on.
In 1984 when Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister with a large parliamentary majority, some hopes surged for improvement in governance – alas, it was short-lived; Rajiv turned out to be hollow and inept. The major achievement of Modi in the three years of governance is that the nation again has been emboldened to be 'hopeful'– he has made the poor citizen 'optimistic' about the future. This may not sound like much, but it is a great achievement. There is now hope, indeed expectancy, that the basics of life – good health, minimal education, and a living income will be within the grasp of the poor villager, within the next ten years.
The sins of 70 years of misgovernance cannot be washed away by 'all the Scents of Arabia' within three years – it will require sustained purposeful development for at least ten years. The foundations largely have been laid in the first years, though it is too early to see the green shoots on the ground. The US took 150 years to develop, China which started its upward thrust well after India's Independence took 40 years – India can reverse its trajectory and rapidly develop within a decade. This is now the scenario that Modi has managed to display to the country – this is why many see him as a messiah. If in a decade these expectations do not fructify, the public dismay will be so intense that the stability of the Republic would be in question. This is the measure of the enormity of the national stakes in development.
Major unprecedented steps in the economy have already been ushered in. The GST, which is likely to be operationalised in July 2017 can bring about a fundamental upgradation of the economy, production and trade, perhaps after an initial year of start-up hiccups. Despite the short-term shock it delivered to the citizens, demonetisation is already proving to be a great boon. The recognition of the parallel economy controlling the system is now revealed, with a number of counter-measures springing into position. The menace of the black market is now under direct attack by the system; at least one crore new taxpayers have been identified.
Energising the infrastructure sectors, and moving towards national digital connectivity (despite the delay in broadband connectivity, as planned, to 250000 villages, as well as 3G/4G connectivity with 'hand-held' transaction equipment) will bring most public services to the village, reduce transaction costs, and drastically bring down development fund leakage. Modi has promised to double the income of the agriculturist in a short period – the recognition of the importance of the agriculture sector (what the Lutyens armchair economist derisively dismisses, erroneously, as a mere 15 per cent of GDP) could be a reality.
The good news ends here. Despite a sharp increase in quality of governance in the Centre, the states are progressively more corrupt now, with the primary job of the state minister and MLA to 'extract rent' in every situation and transaction. The elections to the state Assemblies and Parliament, indeed to the municipalities are now riddled with enormous black money power, negating the fundamentals of a democracy. The basics of a democracy, oft repeated in hyperbole, relate to education and public health – there has been no attention to these, except periodic trivia being touted as 'policy changes'. Job creation and financing the tiny-tiny sector (as per Jaitley in the last budget, six crores in number), the largest employment provider in the country, but only 92 per cent of them even eligible for institutional finance (they have to depend on the local money lender, at rates anywhere from 100 to 3000 per cent) – these sadly have not been addressed till now. It is now evident that the key areas mentioned above need the PM to recognise their importance and crack the whip – the ministers in the social sectors are not capable of any initiative.
In short, the foundations have been laid in the economic spheres – a significant achievement. However, the social sectors, including the vital areas relating to education and health are languishing without leadership and policy initiatives. Electoral Reforms are now a must, so are Administrative.
(The writer is the former Cabinet Secretary of Government of India. Views expressed are strictly personal.)