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Saturday, June 7, 2003

One should set their course by the twinkle of the distant stars and not by the lights of a passing ship

Last week, chief minister Chandra Babu Naidu has suddenly decided to bless us with a shower of gifts to make up for the sweltering heat wave that we are going through. He has announced a package of sops worth Rs 700 cr for the farmers, Rs 300 cr for fishermen and agriculture labour, Rs 1000 cr for artisans and weaker sections. He has also resolved to gift every girl child attending a government school with a bicycle!

Of course, like a good politician, he is obviously doing this with an eye on the elections due next year. He is not alone in resorting to this sort of electioneering tactics – every major party and politician in the country is doing the same. Recently, we were witness to the chief ministers of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh doing a similar thing in their respective states – this time they have opted to curry favour with the upper castes by proposing reservations for the economically weaker sections among them. In a democracy it is normal for a politician or party to take a populist stance during campaigning, but the conflicting demands of diverse sections in a society and the rigours of the legislative process moderate their stance and ensures that most of the time they behave in a responsible manner.

While it is perfectly legitimate for either the executive or legislature to announce emergency relief measures to help any section of the society in a time of distress, it is unacceptable if they think that by doing so they have fulfilled their duties and can wash off their hands. While the largesse that they are bestowing on us may help in a small way, it does not in any way address the larger problems afflicting us.

For example, the Rs 700 cr bestowed on the farming community is not even a drop in the ocean for them! It doesn’t provide answers to any of their pressing problems: quality inputs at reasonable prices, access to credit, access to markets, harnessing of irrigation potential, quality uninterrupted power etc. The government does not really exhibit resolve to improve the farmers’ condition. For instance, the market cess collected over the past decade, amounts to about Rs 5000 crores even at a modest interest rate. This amount is meant for improving marketing infrastructure. Most of this money has been appropriated by the state, and not utilized to improve markets. Net result – mango farmers this year had to literally dump their produce on roads; and horticultural markets are controlled by mafias, fleecing farmers and retail sellers.

Every society faced their own share of problems which were as grave and alarming as the ones that we are facing – Britian in the middle of 19th Century or US in the post civil war period. But they have diligently applied themselves and transformed their societies forever and laid the foundations for their current prosperity.

Even in the recent past, the Chinese showed us the way – in 1979, when they embarked on a drive to modernize their economy under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, they have clearly identified four core sectors – agriculture, industry, armed forces and exposure for Chinese students in western universities. They went about their task methodically and have completely transformed the country in a span of 20 years.

The nature and gravity of our problems demand a long-term vision, a well thought out course of action followed up by a commitment to implementation with perseverance. Grand announcements, photo opportunities and empty gestures are no substitute to resolute action. Politics of tokenism may fetch short-term votes, but leads to long-term misery.

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