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Some Home Truths



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SWAMINOMICS: Home truths for the President 

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar

Dear President Narayanan, Congratulations for telling us
some home truths in your address on the 50th anniversary
of the Indian republic. You rightly say that our moth-eaten
republic has fallen far short of the ideals set by its framers.
Forgive my rudeness if I point out that you yourself are a
prominent member of the system that has let us down so
badly.

You rightly say that 50 years after becoming a republic, we
should be ashamed of our appalling poverty and illiteracy,
our mistreatment of women and social and religious
minorities, the erosion of accountability and criminalisation
of politics, the sad lack of justice or voice for the common
man. I agree wholeheartedly with you that the way public
servants treat the public, the manner in which we squander
or pollute precious reserves like water, the way we allow
children to be exploited and the disabled to be passed by,
all speak of a stony-hearted society, not a compassionate
one.

But who is responsible for this state of affairs? On this you
have little to say, and what little you say is incomplete or
false. Many people, many political parties, many sections of
society are responsible for the mess we are in. But the
Congress Party has been at the helm of the country's affairs
for the overwhelming part of the last half-century, and must
bear the overwhelming share of the blame for the mess.

You knew this when you retired from the foreign service.
Yet you joined the Congress. It was a passport to power.
You rose fast in its ranks, and this helped ultimately elevate
you to the Presidency. So you have done rather well by
joining a party which bears the most responsibility for the
stony- hearted mess that you decry in your Republic Day
address.

This is a time for home truths. Too many of us have done
well by joining the existing system instead of opposing it
from outside; too many of us have compromised with
corruption, banditry and injustice because it helps us get
ahead. You are not the only one; I and many fellow
journalists are also guilty of making too many compromises.
But you are the President and we are not, so excuse me for
focusing on you in this column.

You say the three-way fast lane of liberalisation,
privatisation and globalisation must provide a safe
pedestrian crossing for the unempowered. Fair enough. But
why do you not say that this very scepticism about
economic freedom was the excuse for imposing the neta-
babu raj which has ruined us? Or that you yourself were
part of and supportive of that same neta-babu raj which
castrated economic freedom? You fail to mention that
poverty and illiteracy dropped much faster in neighbouring
Asian countries that emphasised the very policies which you
now warn against. Left-wing intellectuals, among whom you
are counted, failed to see that outward-looking policies
would soon make Thailand 10-times richer than India,
Korea 30-times, and Singapore almost a hundred-times
richer. You leftists sneered at these countries for being
neo-colonial puppets. The supposed puppets have become
prosperous, literate and healthy, while the system you
espoused has failed on all three counts. I wish you had
talked about this home truth too.

India today is a land without justice. Nobody is convicted
for corruption although it is omnipresent. Murderers and
thieves are not in jail, they are in Parliament. Law-breakers
have become law- makers. Why? For many reasons, but
one stands out: The dissipation of government energy on
issues other than the ones crucial for good governance. You
socialists saw the prime role of government as being the
ownership and control of industry and commerce. In your
eagerness to snatch economic control, you neglected
primary education and health, administrative fairness, legal
fairness, and all systems of accountability. Indeed, in the
name of protecting workers, you created a system where
no government employee could be sacked for
incompetence or corruption, thus encouraging both.

In the holy name of socialism, Left-wing politicians imposed
a thousand controls, and then used these to line their
pockets and create patronage networks. In the name of
democracy, ministers obtained the power to transfer any
official at will, and then used this power to literally sell
lucrative transfers and make officials accomplices in political
crimes.

All this was supposed to strengthen socialism and the
power of the state to do good. In fact it created the callous,
stone-hearted mess you now complain of. Merit and
excellence today do not count for much. Money, muscle
and influence count for much more. This has caused glaring
inequalities and injustice, not economic freedom. Bihar is
poor today not because it was neglected in Plan allocations,
not because it had insufficient quotas for dalits or tribals,
not because of liberalisation or globalisation, but because
governance there collapsed long ago and shows no sign of
reviving.

This is the root cause of injustice, Mr Narayanan, and it
cannot be tackled just by quotas for dalits, tribals or
backward classes. Justice rests ultimately on good
governance, not on giving every community a quota in bad
governance and banditry. There is indeed a case for reverse
discrimination as a temporary measure, but there is a much
stronger case for meritocracy and good governance.

Consider two prominent dalits, Mayawati and you.
Mayawati represents dalit power through quotas,
maladministration and a division of spoils. You represent
honesty, meritocracy and dignity. Which of you two
constitutes the better route to social justice? Your speech,
surprisingly, suggests that Mayawati is the superior route. I
much prefer you. I may criticise your policies, but cannot
fault your professionalism. You have risen to the top not
through quotas or reservations, but through professional
excellence. We badly need social justice, but this must
ultimately be achieved through good governance for all, not
a division of spoils among rogues of all communities. That is
a home truth I sorely missed in your Republic Day speech.





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