11 Apr 2011

Is it Criminal to Think Small in India? (An article by Gurcharan Das)

There are two spaces in the politics of India. And one of them is empty. The two spaces reflect the classic division between those who look ahead and aspire versus those who look back and complain. Our political parties cater to the second--to the victim in us through their politics of grievance. The present gridlock in the parliament is also symptom of the same dispirited politics—no party is sufficiently hungry for reform to break the logjam. No one reflects the spirit of a rapidly growing India. Nor is anyone thinking big--and it’s criminal to think small in India. Until the second space is filled, our politics will not be whole.

Congress appeals to the victim in the ‘aam admi’ with an ever expanding menu of job guarantees, food, gas and kerosene subsidies, and more. The BJP panders to the sufferer of historical Muslim misrule and to Congress’ minority vote-bank politics. Mayavati and caste parties focus on the historical injustice to Dalits and OBCs. The Shiv Sena gratifies the injured pride of the ‘Marathi manoos’. All of this is about the politics of grievance and injustice.

India, however, is changing dramatically. It is nothing short of a miracle that it has become the world’s second fastest growing economy in the midst of the most appalling governance. With high growth, mobility, and a demographic revolution of the young, Indians who aspire will soon overtake those who see themselves as victims. Pew surveys show that a majority of Indians believe that they are better off than their parents and that their children will do even better. The person who got the 750 millionth phone number last month was a village migrant whose dream keeps slipping as his calls keep dropping partly because A. Raja corruptly handed out the 2G spectrum. India’s 100 millionth internet user in 2013 will have information which only the most privileged could access twenty years ago. No one in India’s political life captures their hopes.

China’s politicians do a far better job. While we debate if growth is pro-poor, China talks about growing rich. It understands that performance is a function of expectations. Those with higher expectations get higher performance. China no longer thinks itself a Third World country—it is challenging America today. In India, only a few politicians-- Nitish Kumar, Sheila Dixit, and Narendra Modi--appeal to the aspirers. They speak the language of governance, roads and schools. But we need many more of them.

When I put this to a powerful Congress politician, he said that ‘India shining’ had died in the 2004 election. I gently reminded him that India’s high growth economy had delivered 300 million into the middle class; another 250 million had been lifted out of poverty since the 1980s. So, a total of 550 million aspirers are surely worth fighting over. ‘Ah, but there are still another 550 million whiners, and their votes are more reliable than the shiners!’ he said. If poverty were to magically disappear in India, the Congress party might lose its reason to exist.

Aspirational politics would tackle our problems differently. Take, for instance, food inflation. The politics of grievance applies short term bandages--it tries to catch hoarders, stops forward trading, forbids export of grains when the country has had a bumper rice harvest and expects a record wheat crop (while ignoring Rs 17,000 crores of grains rotting under the tarpaulins of FCI). The politics of aspiration would recapitalize and reform agriculture and raise long term supply—it would allow competition against FCI in the warehousing of food, permit foreign investment in retail to establish cold chains, and allow farmers to lease their lands in order to raise productivity.

Who will fill the empty space in Indian politics? None of our parties understands that we live in a time of revolutionary change. Could it be Rahul Gandhi? But so far he hasn’t given any hint that he thinks big. India has doubled its cotton crop in the past five years; yet there have also been suicides of farmers in the cotton growing areas. Both facts are correct. Rahul Gandhi has chosen to focus on suicides. The future, however, will be built by those who focus on the first, who think big and give young Indians a sense of limitless possibilities.

Courtesy - http://gurcharandas.blogspot.com/

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