His­tory Made, Now Break with the Past

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - Man­ish Sab­har­wal

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.

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