History Made, Now Break with the Past
Sir Humphrey Appleby — senior civil servant in the BBC sitcom Yes, Minister — once explains to his deputy that the best way to deter a politician from taking a radical course of action is to tell him the decision is courageous. “Calling it controversial means only the policy will lose you votes. Courageous means that it will lose you the elections,” he says. As India welcomes a new PM, one can say he should ignore our homegrown Sir Humphreys — both political and bureaucratic — because thinking like a one-term PM by courageously taking on vested interests will get him a second term. The results show that Indian voters know that our problems are not like cancer or climate change where solutions are unknown. But they also know India missed her tryst with destiny; there are 300 million people who will never read the newspaper they deliver, sit in the car they clean, drive the tractor they unload or send their kids to the school they helped build. But India has made a new appointment with our destiny and this is one she will keep by taking on vested interests; the vocal but organised minorities that have hijacked the agenda by camouflaging narrow self-interest as national interest. These vested interests include crony capitalists, electricity board employees and stealing consumers, unrealistic environmentalists, road construction contractors, municipal workers, labour unions, government school teachers, politically aligned civil servants, geriatric or dynastic politicians, criminals gift-wrapped as politicians, and many others. Of course, all these professions have good people, but today, the bad are overwhelming the good. The PM must break with the past by not doing many things. He must not confuse the need for consultation with the need for consensus — little happens if anybody can say no and nobody can say yes. Not confuse delegation with abdication — the PMO must regain its role in civil servant postings, priority setting and reviewing execution. Not confuse more cooks in the kitchen with a new recipe — we need fewer ministries and a more adventurous rather than profligate state. Not confuse school buildings with building schools and schooling with learning — we need a radical reboot of our employment, employability and education regime. Not believe bold policies are made by civil servants but create a framework that allows them to execute without post-mortems that do not distinguish between fraud, incompetence and bad luck. Not accept status quo in national civil services — combine the next pay com- mission with lateral entry and sharpening performance management by creating a fear of falling and hope of rising. Not treat development as a battle between the state, private sector and civil society, but a partnership.
He must not believe that young people and old people care about the same things — the instinct to preserve is different from the instinct to create. Not believe that trade unions represent India’s labour force — they are only 5% of our workers and job preservation is not a form of job creation. Not idealise rural life or agriculture — we can’t take jobs to people and need to take people to jobs. Not give environmentalists a veto — we need to balance puncturing poverty and preserving the environment. Not continue with mispricing electricity and diesel — energy security is national security. Not let our rights as consumers be higher than our rights as citizens — we need more competition and quality in public services. Not believe India can be run from Delhi — give greater fiscal and governance space to chief ministers in return for real powers to real mayors.
India voted for change because of fatigue of politics based on winners bribing the losers and the unwillingness to impose short-term pain for longterm gain. The job of an elected government is to get re-elected, and my case for a one-term thought world leading to two terms is not based on the notion of sacrifice of power but the bold exercise of power.
About 100 million new young voters were added in 2014 and another 100 million will be added in 2019. These youngsters — with dreams more powerful than memories — know you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Break away, Mr PM.