Too much of talk

While commemorating NDA’s one-year rule at the Centre, it is indeed surprising to find Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressing in his speeches the shortcomings of the previous UPA rule, rather than stating the achievements of his own government or better still, his plan of action for the future.

For the people of India, Narendra Modi represents their aspirations. In fact, his landslide victory in the general elections of 2014 can be attributed to the scenario of a nation he painted that included the hopes and desires of most sections of this country. Modi has been a master painter. But instead of painting on a white canvas, he now prefers to paint on a black background – the background of what, in his opinion, his predecessors did not do or did wrong. Modi’s ‘chai’ now tastes and smells of the leftover tea leaves.

Each of Modi’s promises during the election time – return of the black money stashed abroad; clean and transparent administration sans all corruption; a clean river Ganga; a clean or ‘swachh’ Bharat; jobs for all; ‘Make in India’ on a nationwide scale; control over price rise; more money in every Indian’s pocket; railways like never before with high speed, great safety, much conveniences; bullet trains stitching the fabric of the nation rapidly, cities getting ‘smart’ (not the 4 metros as on today but 100 smart cities, ample power, excellent roads, etc) – was heady.

Each of these promises involved ‘transformation’. Modi promised ‘transformation’. Incrementalism, it seemed, was a lazy government’s excuse for all its vices. It was Modi’s projected transformative ability and perceived revolutionary makeover capability that swept the entire nation in 2014. Each one of his pledges required such magical changes to occur.

Let us take the ‘Swachh Bharat’ slogan. Yes, slogan; because without any semblance of heartfelt implementation a slogan cannot become a campaign. Mobile phones are all full of messages on ‘swachh Bharat’, but the road in front of your house or in your mohalla remains dug for various reasons – this month for laying some cables, next month or two for laying broken sanitary pipes, few more months for want of funds or labour.

The dust, the mud, the rubble, the filth that accumulate around it all, the huge manholes of the drains can, during a mishap, carry a person straight to the sea-shore where the muck is ultimately deposited. There is no sidewalk to speak of and you walk on the periphery of the road with your heart in your mouth. Even an urbanite cannot think of ‘swachh’, because preserving your life is your priority.

Now, can you think of ‘swachh’ for a rural dweller? The women do not have  toilets; they go to the fields or to the canal or the stream. When they go, it is not ‘swachh Bharat’ that is on their minds, but the rowdy men who might pose a danger to their modesty.
Unless the government’s ways of managing basic necessities undergo radical changes, the campaign will remain just an empty slogan. It is easy to preach to a helpless citizen; but it needs dedicated efforts by the government for any results to show. Modi’s Gujarat needs many toilets. Dwaraka, Lord Krishna’s capital, should have been a model for ‘swachh’ pilgrimage places, unfortunately, it is quite ‘un-swachh’ to say the least.
Take the ‘Make in India’ campaign of the Modi government. Modi is exhorting  foreigners to invest in India, in manufacturing industries, and sell the products abroad so more jobs may be created. Everyone knows that for job creation on a largescale, one needs investment in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME). Will the foreigners invest in these MSMEs? Do we have skills in such labour force to make globally competitive products? Have we provided good basic education, even if at the primary level, to rural youngsters? Vocational education is another step. Remember, we are talking of building a huge ‘MSME’ India and soon. What transformative steps has the Modi government planned for the same?

Workforce with ‘quality culture’
Manufacturing is not producing ‘something’. The “chalta hai” culture does not hold any water in the global market. In order to produce better quality product or service and on a large scale, one needs a large, skilled workforce with ‘quality culture’ ingrained in them all.
It is sad to find that today we Indians show a lack of concern for the other citizen. We are full of ‘aspirations’ for ourselves but are unmindful of the others around us. We need not go too far to notice that. Our roads – whatever that exist – are a spittoon and a toilet. People spit, cough, remove sputum, urinate, defecate, and make their pets defecate with no concern that this will spread communicable diseases.

We cannot build, make or offer anything of world-class consistently unless we have a basic respect for the ‘other’. ‘Vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ and similar words are good to hear – it transports us back into the great thoughts of our ancestors thousands of years ago. But, we need to put that into practice today.

Indian people need a transformation. Modi has so far proven incapable of generating any such transformative process. For that, a person of the class and caliber of a Mahatma Gandhi is needed. Modi himself, obviously, has not transcended these boundaries; and, honestly, he does not claim to have done so.

But the first thing must come first. India is a country where still a large percentage of people are hungry and malnourished. Food is the biggest issue. It has to be produced in abundance, processed, transported, distributed and made available to all affordably. This is the biggest challenge, particularly when the population is increasing at nearly 2 per cent per annum.

Our demography can be a dividend – as Modi says – but only when all people are well fed, well educated, and well looked after. After the first green revolution, India has now reached a stage when a new approach – a radically different one – is needed to feed its burgeoning population.

India needs a transformation, a new look. Unfortunately, the man who is to provide that is getting stuck looking into in the inglorious past of the others.

(The writer is former professor, Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore)

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