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Saturday, August 17, 2002

Set our course by the twinkle of the distant star and not by the light of the passing ship                                                                                               Anonymous

This week marks the anniversary of our nation’s Independence.  55 years ago Pandit Nehru set course for the new nation-state in his “Tryst with Destiny” speech.  This is as good a time as any to look at what course the country has taken and chart out a new bearing to put it back on course.

We had umpteen number of successive five year plans along with a host of other plan documents charting out ambitious targets in every sphere – education, health, justice, infrastructure, economy, agriculture, etc.   If  you look at the balance sheet for some of these core sectors-two things will strike you – one is the significant progress we made in each of the sectors and the second is the substantial gap between what is possible and what is achieved.  There in lies the paradox!

India is going through an extraordinary phase.  On the one hand, there are young, idealistic, brilliant people who are creating wealth and pursuing  excellence with great vigor.  On the other hand, the governance institutions are in shambles, and government has become the stumbling block in our pursuit of happiness.

In advanced societies, much of what government does is taken for granted.  Public order, rule of law, justice, school education, primary health care,  basic infrastructure and natural resource development – all these are the preconditions for a civilized society and great development.  All these are in government’s hand directly or indirectly, and its failure impedes every citizen’s march of progress.

The problems of India are not poverty or deterioration of values as often cites, but lack of a milieu in which the best in an individual is realized.  The problem in India is bad governance.  We need to reform our institutions to get the best of the governments we elect.  Once we reform the institutions and systems are in place, most of problems plaguing our country – illiteracy, poverty, population, unaccountability and other problems impeding can be effectively addressed.

Towards this end we have to work to redefine the role of government;  to work for electoral reform to ensure that it is possible for the best and brightest to attain public office, survive and serve us;  we have to work for significant decentralization of power to enable citizens to understand the link between their vote and their well-being, between the taxes they pay and public services they receive; and we also have to work at creating instruments of accountability to check abuse of power.

The deepening fiscal crisis of governments in India and the political uncertainties on the one hand, and the dynamism in society and the growth impulses in the economy on the other hand, provide us a priceless window of opportunity for governance reforms in the next few years.  Public opinion has to be mobilized nationally to build pressure for governance reforms, in particular electoral reforms which are central to a fair and effective democracy.  The status quo is no longer sustainable;  if India fails to combat corruption,  ensure fair elections, decentralize

Power, promote high quality public services, and introduce systems of accountability, then a generation or more will pay a very heavy price.

This is the time for us the people to set a new course for the nation’s destiny.


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