Taking India Ahead

On the Occasion of Independence Day, Imagining the Politics of the Future

In the introduction to India Today’s Independence Day special issue, Aroon Purie, the editor, writes: “To mark India’s 62nd Independence Day, we asked some of the finest minds to imagine their India of the future, where it will be a decade or so down the line in politics, business, culture, health and sports. So in this special I-Day issue we have provocative essays from reputed scholars and historians, politicians and businessmen on the topics that will shape India Tomorrow.”

One of us (Rajeev Gowda) was asked to contribute an article to this issue on the theme: “Politics of the Future.” Here it is:

Six Steps to Nirvana

I hope that the politics of the future will be like the politics of the past. Where the stage is filled with leaders endowed with idealism, courage, vision, integrity, and character. India had such giants once, who led us to independence and built our nation and our institutions. So my father and uncle, themselves freedom fighters, told me. That inspired me to resolve, at a young age, to become a politician and to do my bit for India.

This was not an ambition that many others shared. For, over time, politics had got tainted. Leaders had let us down. Parties rode to power through the politics of hate and division. Those who spoke compassionately of wiping the tear from every eye failed to deliver. Many politicians’ hands were either blackened by corruption or reddened through communal violence. Money and muscle began to dominate. Criminals felt right at home in legislatures. People despaired over whether our politics could ever improve.

Luckily for us, India is a blessed country. Like in the Hindu scriptures, where avatars periodically emerge to cleanse and revive the system, we have seen the judiciary, the election commission, press, civil society, and politicians themselves step forward to set right wrongs. So if we can identify what is wrong and imagine what we want to be, if we build and nurture institutions and cultural attitudes, I am confident that we will get there. In the spirit of the hymn, tamasoma jyotirgamaya, from darkness to light, let us think through how we can build that new political future.

From scarcity to abundance…We must get the engines of the economy to work at full throttle. For this to happen, political parties must ensure that government steps back from market intervention and focuses instead on facilitating competition and entrepreneurship. Tax revenues must be used to lay the foundations that will enable all of our people to harness their potential. This means building the hard infrastructure of cities, highways, and schools, and also establishing the soft infrastructure of incentives and regulations. We must find creative ways to ensure that the poorest are provided with opportunities to transform their lives, to learn well and to live healthily. Public services must work so painlessly and seamlessly that we will not even notice that government exists.

From apathy to participation … We Indians are adept at free riding, at armchair criticism. But we have the institutions, thanks to Panchayati Raj, to enable people at every level to participate in governance. We must see good people who care about their neighbors and neighborhoods engaging with the system, contributing their ideas, time and energy. They must plunge into the political fray and thus ensure that their efforts have electoral legitimacy, earned through inspiration and perspiration. Indian politics must provide ample room for those educated in public policy and also enable those successful in other arenas to devote time to public causes.

From dependence to empowerment … We must move away from looking at the government to provide us roti, kapada aur makaan. We must create a transformed and inclusive education marketplace that unleashes our potential and empowers every one of us to do well. Then we will create the companies and organizations that address people’s needs in an affordable manner. Education must be empowering enough to help us get rid of traditional barriers of caste, religion and gender. Then we will respond to a politics that sets us free, to soar without bounds, rather than one that poisons our minds and hearts by dwelling on differences.

From corruption to transparency … We must find ways to reward those in public service suitably and equitably. The politics of the future has to ensure transparent electoral funding, thus tackling corruption at its very root. Institutions should come forward with competitions to identify clean, passionate youngsters—especially from non-political backgrounds—and support them while they work on politics full time. Accountability must be the hallmark of elected officials and the unelected bureaucracy. We will then move from a vicious cycle of bribe taking and finger pointing to a virtuous cycle of celebrating dedicated and proactive problem solving.

From division to unity … We must create an India where all our citizens celebrate their roots and diversity, their languages, cultures, cities and villages, regions and religions, while simultaneously rejoicing in their Indianness. People will not fall prey to divisive rhetoric and parties that thrive on identity and hatred will fade into extinction. We will truly celebrate nationalism and secularism and social justice, and parties will compete over innovative ways to achieve these noble goals.

From soft state to superpower … Our intellectual achievements as a global knowledge hub, our willingness to reach out and help others, our moral standing as a nation that exemplifies fairness, our vibrant economy, our diaspora, and our world-class security forces. Together these will ensure that, on the international stage, India champions justice and compassion from a foundation of multi-dimensional strength. We will lead nations towards cooperation and inclusion. We will help the world heal, and the earth heal.
That is the future of our politics.

Rajeev Gowda is Professor of Economics and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore.

incidentally, India Today recently had a special issue on “Game Changers” in the field of education which featured Prof Rajeev Gowda. Here’s the link to that article:

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