India, My India.

This article in the Guardian, is a balanced as well as nuanced one, and for me the key paragraphs in it are these two, almost at the bottom.

“However, beyond the Bangalore IT hubs, the manicured lawns of the ministerial bungalows in South Delhi and the Mumbai stock exchange is another India, featuring neither in the ministers’ breathless itinerary nor in their equally breathless praise for India’s accomplishments. A new UN poverty index shows there are more poor people in eight states of India than in the 26 countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Child mortality rates remain among the highest in the world and two-thirds of the country do not have access to a toilet. In many places, there is simply no rule of law.

“There is a lot to counter the gung-ho optimism,” said Arvind Sivaramakrishnan, senior deputy editor of the Hindu newspaper. “The institutions of the state increasingly serve the very powerful and wealthy. In many states it is getting worse and that is frightening.”

Strangely enough, last week, I have been having an email debate on what needs to be done, arising out of a book that I had just finished reading, a review of which can be had here.

The key paragraph in that review which is the core around which our debate was built is this one:

“Easterly, therefore, argues that good institutions are the basis for economic growth by creating the right market-based and market-guided incentives. And these institutions are: rule of law, competitive markets, low taxation, noninflationary monetary policies, and free trade. These institutions then foster other cultural patterns of conduct, hard work, savings and industriousness, honesty and trustworthiness, creativity, and self-responsibility. These are the bases of the wealth of nations.”

My friend (MF) asked this pertinent question – “Could you clarify what’s referred to by the term ‘wealth’ used below? If it means material affluence, then I have considerable reservations. I’ll need time to articulate these.”

My response was – “I would include ‘human’ to ‘material’ in the term wealth.”

MF responded with – ” Human material wealth meaning HR resources for corporate consumption? Or character, wit, and stuff like that which thrives best outside organisations?”

My reply which will continue to generate more thoughts is as follows:

“Expand the horizon. Go macro and with Indian Human Resources treated as such, rather than as liabilities, healthy and wealthy, can take on the world Karl. To do that, we need to enable them. The brief paragraph gives a route map to achieve that.

Just use your imagination. Supposing all Indian farmers, irrespective of how big their land owning is, are allowed proper records of their titles, are free to use that assets as they see fit, including easy access to mortgage for working capital, or to expand, within an environment that offers them legal protection, the might of the law, with easy access to markets to source their inputs and to market their output, with labour available in plenty to hire and fire, what Indian agriculture/rural sector can achieve.

Similarly, the millions of Indian small businessmen, the road side vendors, the small tea shops, bicycle/motorcycle/other automobile repair shops, the retailers, the push cart vendors and so on, can achieve if they are provided with the same.

I can go on and on.

Indian entrepreneurship is what has been keeping us afloat. Not some great governmental interventions. The last has happened only in the last twenty years, prior to that the ordinary Indian is the guy kept us from becoming another Mayanmar. If that Indian can be given the benefit of all that the paragraph suggests, we can be world beaters. We have done that despite the claustrophobic atmosphere of the politico/bureaucratic set up.

All that is lacking is political will, added to the apathy of the Indian middle class which is busy feathering its own nest. If this class decides en bloc to bring about change in the body politic and the bureaucratic environment, it can. I wonder if it will.

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