“The forest was shrinking but the trees kept voting for the axe, for the axe was clever and convinced the trees that because its handle was made of wood, he was one of them.” So says an old Turkish proverb.
It is an apt description for politicians around the world. They say, “consider me as one of you, and I alone can uplift you from your misery.”
How many times have we heard these speeches in political rallies or television? Promises after empty promises are made with utmost sincerity and nobility. In doing so, there are comparisons drawn with historical figures — both real and fictional.
And when you are born in the world’s largest democracy, you understand these rants better than anyone in the world.
The basic structure of India’s government
India is a parliamentary democracy based on a federal structure. It follows the dual polity — a central administration complemented by state governments that wield authority in the periphery.
Our democracy has come a long way in 74 years of independence. We’ve seen 14 prime ministers and as many presidents. And our leaders have incorporated changes in governance over the decades. The electoral system, for instance, witnessed a major overhaul. The 10th Chief Election Commissioner Late T.N. Seshan in the early 1990s brought about sweeping reforms in the way we vote. Thanks to him, India implemented the use of electronic voting machines.
In addition, the introduction of the panchayat system or local self-government bodies have played a crucial role in Indian politics, as its focus is on grassroot-level administration.
This is a success for the government and for its less affluent citizens. A key enabler that this system extended was 100 days of guaranteed work annually. For rural residents, this was a great benefit.
There are actually many schemes that empower but amid bureaucratic hurdles and old-fashioned lack of commitment, a lot of these well meaning programmes do not yield the desired benefits.
How the Chinese got ahead
India’s founding leaders had laid out frameworks to establish a “sovereign, socialist, secular democratic republic”. It was a Herculean effort to draft the Indian Constitution but it was successfully fulfilled with Dr B R Ambedkar at its helm. The tenets of this ‘rule book’, however, are often violated with blatant disregard.
Meanwhile, China was once mired in administrative challenges. But there was consensus among law makers when it came time to leverage on its strengths and become a manufacturing powerhouse. Obstacles to entrepreneurship were ironed out and there was a one-track focus on growing its manufacturing expertise. Policy making was backed by enablers and infrastructure upgrades that led to China’s economy registering double-digit gains for several years consecutively.
In the years since, the majority of consumer products bore the term ‘made in China’. The adage goes “God made the world and the rest is made in China.”
A closer analysis of China is warranted here. There was global demand for goods and for cheap manufacturing bases where inexpensive labour was available too. And Communist Party of China leaders successfully delivered on these key requirements. In a span of only two decades, China became an industrial behemoth.
Their cities grew rapidly, and there was a corresponding surge in the socio-economic status of millions. The Japanese could not keep up to the game but they consolidated their position as financiers. In fact, Japan is among a handful of countries that maintains a sizeable current account surplus.
South Koreans and the Taiwanese also played their role as the ‘world’s factory’ for brief periods. They were major innovation drivers. It was also a surprising feat given how small their territories and demographics are. But for the foreseeable future, China will remain the undisputed manufacturing leader.
What can Indians do to drive growth?
I am sure you will agree that Indians are mostly laid-back. In fact, our ‘chalta hai’ attitude has come to define our work and personal life philosophies. And in what is possibly an ‘pandemic’ in its own right, our work culture has been a major bane that only seems to have deteriorated with time.
On the face of it, there is rhetoric aplenty of how India is on track to becoming a super power. There is possible truth in this analysis but it could also be interpreted as a ‘guesstimate’ at best. It might happen one day but with no clear roadmap or timeline.
The reality is that only a handful of multinational Indians companies are doing well. However, numerous companies headquartered elsewhere seem to be registering phenomenal growth with leaders of Indian origin holding the reins.
Indian industry, the country’s infrastructure and its work culture needed a revamp eons ago. American business man and writer Max De Pree said, “We cannot become what we want by remaining what we are.” But with even leading academics and renowned scholars being ‘sons of the soil’, the results are lacklustre. Red tapeism abounds and ease of doing business–although improving–has miles to go before we can be considered as a serious threat to our northern neighbour. What is also alarming is a possibility that India may be superseded by significantly smaller economies such as Bangladesh and Vietnam.
Our governments–both at the centre and in states–need to work in tandem with business houses. Synergies have to be leveraged to create the jobs that India’s youth desperately needs. Going by the country’s population growth rate, an estimated two million jobs need to be created each month.
One sphere where Indians have made a global mark is technology. Indians form a significant share of Silicon Valley’s workforce. We’ve come to be known as software developers and techies. And this is a noteworthy change from when India was referenced by more derogatory monikers.
In terms of companies, tech organisations from India have been able to hold their own amid global competition. The likes of Wipro, TCS, Infosys and HCL are forces to reckon with. But while these are examples to feel proud of, we must take cognizance of the fact that India is also affected by an immense brain drain. We lose some of our most brilliant minds to other countries or multinational companies.
An India of the future
We Indians are a different breed. Our vibrant land is a kaleidoscope of culture, language and ethnicities. We can perhaps never replicate the insatiable capitalists of the west. Neither can we align with the communist hegemony of the east. Rather, our ideology could be a balance of both — a middle path so to speak.
Too many state-dictated restrictions are a bane but then again, excessive leeway is also opening the door to disaster. We have proven in the last 74 years that the largest democracy in the world can be an example, in several spheres, for other economies to follow.
But we could have fared better over the past seven decades since we “awoke to life and freedom,” as Nehru had declared on the eve of India’s independence. The bulk of our citizens are still categorised as poor and the very people who ensure our daily meals are the ones who are most marginalised.
The government alone cannot be held responsible to better their plight. Instead, each one of us can help. It could be by purchasing directly from farmers, helping a farmer learn new-age farming techniques through online platforms or assisting him or her to set up an e-store to build a wider customer base. This approach can be applied to all trades — be it farmers, janitors or repair personnel.
More importantly, our secularism must be protected so that every culture and ethnicity is respected and not hijacked by right wing mischief mongers. India’s strength lies in its diversity — a key population trend that all developed economies desire. It is only when diverse people collaborate can the best ideas emerge or the ideal results produced.
Let us resolve to elect leaders who disregard ideas that divide. Rather, let us choose our representatives based on their development agendas. Let us base our choice of candidate on how well they can offer upgrades to the most basic of amenities such as clean water, sanitation, good roads, quality education and decent healthcare. Only then can we move forward as a people and as a nation — with dignity and resolve.
Mark Twain was put it precisely when he said, “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and the most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.”