Millions on the Margins

The spate of brutal killings of Salva Judem members by Maoists in Chattisgarh and encounter deaths of Maoists in Andhra Pradesh expose the fault lines of our society and polity. These are not acts of violence inspired by extra-territorial terrorist agencies to destabilize our nation. These are the products of anguish, despair and bitterness resulting from decades of misgovernance and an economic growth process which relegates millions to the margins.

Growth with Security

Once again, cowardly and murderous terrorist groups attacked India’s financial capital.  Once again, the citizens of Mumbai, in the midst of the shock and grief, have exhibited uncommon courage, resilience and tolerance.  As in April 1993, in July 2006, all of India showed how a great nation could transcend prejudice and bigotry, and uphold its liberal, humane traditions.

Short Term Political Price vs Long Term Public Good

One of the great challenges in any society is increasing administered prices, or reducing subsidies in a politically palatable manner. All democracies wrestle with the problem of reconciling the clash between the short-term political price a government has to pay for temporarily unpopular decisions, and the long-term social good which results from such decisions. Political parties and governments are always mindful of the fact that unpopular decisions, even if they are in the long-term interest of the people, may cost them their power.

Growth and Delivery of Services

The redoubtable Economist (June 3rd – 9th, 2006), in a special report on Indian business, asks the provocative question: “Can India fly?”.  The answer is that it has taken off; but its people could fly much higher without the fetters imposed by poor policies and incompetent government.  Most objective observers share this cautious optimism.

The policy issues are mired in politics and populism.  But Indian entrepreneurs and workers have a way of boosting production and productivity despite policy errors.  The real problem areas are infrastructure, education and healthcare.

Good Intentions and the Way to Hell

It is said that the way to hell is paved with good intentions. Well- intentioned, but unwise policies can devastate local economics.

Corruption – Risks and Rewards

The recent CBI raids and allegations of disproportionate assets of a prominent Haryana politician to a tune of Rs. 1500 crore have barely evoked any interest among political pundits and media. There is such cynicism prevailing about politicians, that most people tend to believe the worst about ‘them’.

Crossing the Rubicon – Tamil Nadu Style

In a democracy, elections are not merely about choosing representatives and deciding which party should be entrusted with the responsibility for governance.  Elections are also about political education and determining priorities for the future. But over the decades, most parties in India have failed to utilize elections as a means of mobilizing public opinion to obtain a mandate for meaningful change.  Instead, elections have become a way of determining who will rule.

Combining Equity with Efficiency

The recent debate generated by the proposal to reserve 27% seats in Union educational institutions for backward classes has predictably been very shrill and hysterical. Reservation is a classic zero-sum-game issue and polarizes society intensely, as the gains to a social group are matched by losses to another. Prejudice and bitterness in this debate must be overcome by facts and logic. We all need to step back a little and take a deep breath.

Rule of Law and Current Discontents

The failure of prosecution in a spate of cases in recent times once again focused public attention on our justice system. Distinguished jurists as well as political leaders and commentators are lamenting the near-collapse of rule of law, resulting from failure of justice system – civil and criminal.

Energy Security – Time for Plan B?

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The recent foreign policy debates are largely centered around our future energy needs. Frenetic economic diplomacy to secure nuclear power generation oil and gas contracts, and laying pipelines on the east as well as west to transport fossil fuels are certainly of value in the short and medium term. Long-term supply contracts and investments in exploration in oil-rich countries will give us some leverage. But we need to plan for the future with clarity in an integrated manner.