Never a nation of the Naive

Gopalkrishna Gandhi        Print Edition: Jan 9, 2011

In his new anthology of writings from figures in modern Indian history, Ramachandra Guha has included one from a man who looked at things darkly, through heavy-tinted glasses. Those also seemed to use magnetic resonance imaging to reach facts. Inconvenient facts.

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari wrote 50 years ago, in 1961, the high noon of Nehruvian socialism:

"I want the dense permit-licence fog not to sit on us. I want statism to go and Government reduced to its proper functions… "I want the inefficiency of public management to go…
"I want the officials appointed to administer laws and policies to be free from the pressures of the bosses of the ruling party…
"I want an India where the peasants are not intimidated or beguiled into giving up their lands…
"I want an India where the budget of the Centre does not cause inflation and soaring prices...
"I want the money power of big business to be isolated from politics. Democracy is hard to be worked and it should not be ruined by money power and rendered into a simulacrum by expensive elections and big business supporting the ruling party with funds in return for privileges…
"I want India to regain her moral stature abroad…"

He wrote frankly and administered warnings clearly, though he was given to using out-of-the-way words that sent the reader to a dictionary.

 

The reforms have generated enterprise, but have unleashed a scramble. For the…fruits before they are quite ripe
When CR wrote those lines, "statism" was only 15 years old. But it seemed like it had come for good. Even that far-sighted man did not foresee that the Congress itself, some 30 years down the line, led by a grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru and then by a cerebral south Indian prime minister aided by a worldclass economist as finance minister, would want to dismantle the permit-licence raj.

Today, after 20 years of "reforms", with that finance minister into his second term as Prime Minister, would CR be joyous? Or, like Jagdish Bhagwati, joyous in great part? CR's imaginary response is not, however, the point. He has said his piece, striven and suffered for his convictions and gone, with a liberal democrat's heart beating strong, to his well-deserved rest.

The point is: How and what are we doing? The permit-licence fog has gone. But has not a smog taken its place? Being choked cannot be preferable to being constricted Who can deny that governance - to call "public management" by its current name - is under the severest strain?

Almost every major city and town groans under power cuts, erratic supplies of potable water, high and low tides of garbage, ageing sewers lying close to water-lines, sub-standard, pavement-less and filth-edged roads, murderously chaotic traffic that includes a daily injection of new two-wheelers and automobiles, scandalous levels of air and sound pollution, rapacious demolitions and constructions by money-spinning "developers". And every urban agglomeration is host, unwilling perhaps but helpless, to underground and often over-ground Mafiosi.

"Inefficiency of public management" would be an anaemic phrase to describe governance in India after 20 years of reforms. The public is no less and often more to blame than its "managers". It has ceased to care, seduced by the allurements of middle class lifestyle sops held up by hire-purchase and micro-credit regimes.

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