Saturday, August 15, 2015

Independence Day 2015 Resolve: Clean India – Swatch Bharat – to Cleanse India of Corruption

Prime Minister Modi spoke about corruption-free India in this year’s Independence Day address. He compared it with termites in our homes that require action at multiple levels. We have to give many injections at many places, he said. He was probably suggesting that besides government people too have to play a role in uprooting corruption in our country.

His address last year from the ramparts of Red Fort became famous for the call given for a clean India – Swatch Bharat. It elicited tremendous response from all cross sections of the society with politicians, filmstars and corporate hunchos hitting streets with brooms in hand joined by common people in large numbers. As Prime Minister pointed out children of the country picked up the message of clean India in a big way thus making it into a movement of the present as well as future.

From Clean India – Swatch Bharat – to Cleanse India of Corruption, the Modi government’s journey of transforming India into a developed nation is continuing. We need to wait and see whether this endeavour to end corruption in the country too would receive similar enthusiastic support from the people as did the clean India campaign.

Prime Minister himself acknowledges that it would be a difficult challenge. He narrated how pressure was mounted on him for relaxing the auction norms for FM Radio services. His lament was that in last six decades corruption has almost become a way of life in our country. That people are frustrated by this was evident from the rousing response to his suggestion of doing away with the interview business for government jobs at lower levels. As he rightly pointed out this interview business has literally become a den of corruption.

Fighting corruption can’t be the responsibility of the government alone. While the governments are expected to eradicate corruption from the top the society is expected to impart values at the bottom. While we should have system in place to punish the corrupt we need also to have systems that create incorruptible people in society. That is when a comprehensive and decisive victory over corruption is possible.

The Prime Minister’s other focus was on uplifting the poor and downtrodden of our country. His government has taken a number of initiatives like Jan Dhan Yojana, pension schemes, insurance schemes and gas subsidy etc aimed at improving the living conditions of the poor.

The Prime Minister has a unique way of doing these things. His way is an inclusive way. Reference to Team India of 1.2 Billion people is not a mere lip service. It is his way of achieving things. He is probably the first Prime Minister who has involved people in a big way in achieving the goals of the government. Decocracies are described as ‘By the people; For the people and Of the people’. PM Modi puts this dictum into practise very ably.

The new initiative of Start Up India and Stand Up India too will follow the same pattern. It is aimed at encouraging enterprenuership of the young. India is endowed with a large pool of talented youngmen and women. There is a need for encouraging them to take up enterprenureal activity. The Prime Minister has announced that more than a lac branches of various banks would act as catalysts to promote enterpreneurship among the youth, especially the SCs, STs and women. He exhorted the bank officials to extend similar support to this initiative as they did for Jan Dhan Yojana.

The Prime Minister surely is following a well-defined course. He invoked Gandhiji’s name in a different context. But Gandhiji had actually set out an agenda for the independent India on the last day of his life by way of a draft resolution. In his last public document drafted on 29 January 1948 and handed over to the Congress officials on 30 Jan, hours before his unfortunate and untimely death, Gandhiji had said: “India has still to attain social, moral and economic independence in terms of its seven hundred thousand villages as distinguished from its cities and towns”.

Thus while we became “politically free” on Independence Day in 1947, securing economic, social and moral independence was still to be achieved according to him. That in his view was the real meaning of independence. In his famous poem “Where the mind is without fear” Rabindronath Tagore too calls essentially for social and moral reform of the country. Tagore described freedom as a heaven where there is no fear; where knowledge and reason drive the people; where narrow domestic walls don’t divide them and where creative thinking and action, not dead habit lead the people.

We are going to celebrate 150th birth anniversary of Gandhiji in 2019 followed by 75th anniversary of our independence in 2022. The goal set by Gandhiji for social, moral and economic upliftment of our nation should be the driving force for all of us in the next few years. From the Red Fort’s ramparts the Prime Minister has appealed to the countrymen to share this eloquent vision of our forefathers and turn it into a reality.

(Some musings on the Independence Day - 2015)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Japan in India

Japan in India
It was the afternoon of 16 August 1945. A few eminent citizens of Tokyo assembled at a burnt-out building in the city to chalk out the future plans for the revival of their beloved city. One of the experts present, Okita, narrates the situation: “If you looked out of the windows, it looked like a scorched plain. Everybody was starving. But the committee discussing the future worked really hard”.
It was just the day before, 15 August 1945 that the surrender of Japan before the Allied forces had happened. Once a mighty empire Japan was reduced to a fiefdom of US. Militarily it was finished. One third of the country was completely destroyed. More than half of the means of economic production had been reduced to rubble. Many millions had been killed in the Allied air raids. In one case a night-long Allied attacks on Tokyo city witnessed some 3000 sorties by the US Air Force dropping bombs every which way killing more than 100000 in one night. The Second World War had almost finished off the means of survival for Japan.
Yet what couldn’t be destroyed or written off was the spirit of the Japanese. They thought, ‘it’s bad now. But with a big effort, Japan will get back to its feet again’. While the country was being smothered by the Allied forces during the War and the occupational US Army under Douglas McArthur for seven years after the War, the eminent experts of that country were busy putting in place their plans for future revival of the country.
David Pilling calls this characteristic of the Japanese ‘Bending Adversity’. In an inspiring book with the same title he narrates how the Japanese have made it into almost a national obsession to work towards bending adversities into opportunities.
Japan is India’s largest and most important trade partner. We exchange goods and technology. But we need to exchange this spirit also. India is a land of great cultural and civilizational institutions. Our family and social institutions are an example to the entire world. Japan is facing serious stress at the societal level today. Atomized families and materialist lifestyles of the extreme kind are taking their toll on the Japanese society. Country is aging fast with average age shooting above 50. The aged parents in the country have nowhere to turn to. As the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu told one gathering recently toy business is booming in Japan not just because the children love them but also the old people need them to play with. They have nobody else to turn to in the twilight of their lives. Japan will soon join the club of the so-called ‘evening economies’.
While Japan can benefit from our value system we need to imbibe the great work culture – the single-minded obsessive focus of the entire nation on development – from that country. It is a country with a totally out-of-the-box thinking. It used every opportunity – good or bad – to strengthen its economy and industry. As soon as the Second World War ended one of the first decisions that the country took was to join the NATO – the very force that had caused such a vast mayhem. It was a decision thrust on Japan by the occupying forces of McArthur.
But the Japanese turned that humiliating decision also into an opportunity. Joining NATO had released Japan from a number of international obligations that the country would have otherwise been subjected to for its dastardly role in the Second World War. It now was freed from the burden of its own defence too as the US Army was there in Tokyo and elsewhere to take care of that. The Japanese had cleverly used it to throw all their energies in the direction of economic development.
“Some factories went the other way, from pre-war military production to manufacture of civilian goods. An aircraft factory in Osaka started making nails for houses. Makers of radio parts turned their thoughts to light bulbs. In due course, companies such as Nikon, which had ground lenses for gunships, started producing cameras and binoculars”, writes Pilling. To aptly sum up the post-War mood in Japan Kiyoshi Tomizuka’s diary entry in April 1945, a few months before the surrender of Japan, will be the best source. A professor of engineering at Tokyo Imperial University Kiyoshi wrote in that entry: “An army in uniform is not the only sort of army. Scientific technology and fighting spirit under a business suit will be our underground army”.
Our Make in India needs a lot of learning from this culture of Japan. In fact China emulated Japan in some areas like industrial production. It focused on capturing markets first and for that growth, not profit, was made the target. In fact this is another important trait of the Japanese; ‘growth now and profits later’ was the motto for a long time in Japan. Unlike the notion of the western economists for whom economic activity means securing more and more profits for the shareholders the Japanese companies look for growth first and profits later.
We are happy letting our politics block the economic and industrial development of our country. The most important economic reforms like the Fair Compensation and Rehabilitation Act (popularly known as the Land Acquisition Bill), GST etc are held to ransom for petty political gains.some Opposition leaders are scouting around spreading rumours and falsehoods about the government and its programmes. Prime Minister Modi faces the biggest challenge to his developmental dreams in the form of these political roadblocks today.
There is no other way but to accelerate infrastructure boom in the country. Without that the desired economic and industrial development will not kick-start. Unless we achieve that job creation is not possible. India is a country with a massive young workforce constantly in search of jobs. Every year we are adding about 20 million youngsters to the workforce. But sadly we have been able to add only about 2 million new jobs annually. We need to urgently bridge this gap. But without the required reforms like the ones mentioned above none of this is possible.
It is a challenge for Modi and his team. Can they, like Japan, turn this adversity into an opportunity? The Japanese had used the Korean War in the ‘50s to strengthen their manufacturing base for supplying to the US Army. It was bad; but it was an opportunity. India can’t look for wars to strengthen its economy. But does it have experts in its Niti Ayog or the government that can ‘bend’ the present ‘political adversity’ into an opportunity?
That is the big question for which the nation is awaiting answers; not the silly ones raised in the prime time TV shows.