Thursday, September 17, 2020

India’s language conundrum: The National Education Policy has skirted elegantly a political minefield. But the obstacle is the teacher

The Times of India | September 2020

 In 1947, a weary Britain packed up and left India, leaving behind absent-mindedly the English language and a headache for Indians. Ever since, we’ve been quarrelling over the place of English in our lives, particularly in what language to teach our children. The latest to join the debate is the National Education Policy (NEP), which to its credit, has skirted elegantly a political minefield, coming up with an answer that has satisfied almost everyone, offending only those who insisted on being offended. But the obstacle is the teacher.

At the root is a conundrum based on two facts: One, children learn best in the early years in their mother tongue; two, if a child isn’t fluent in English by age 10, she’s disadvantaged for the rest of her life, especially in getting a job. There’s plenty of research to support both facts. Nativists and educationists focus on the first, practical parents on the second.

The answer is simple: Teach the child in grades 1-5 in the mother tongue but also give a strong dose of English to ensure the child is fluent by 10. Since a child is naturally bilingual, this is possible. Have a dual medium of instruction – teach the arts in the mother tongue; the sciences in English. The practical problem is the average Indian teacher cannot teach, not just in English but in any language. 91% of 7,30,000 teachers tested in 2012 failed the basic teacher eligibility test. This is not a failure of policy but of governance.

NEP, through brilliant drafting, has given freedom to states, schools and parents. While strongly recommending learning in the mother tongue, it has refused to ban English medium schools. Its framers were mindful of damage done in Bengal, Gujarat, UP and other states that had banned English earlier in primary schools and decimated the futures of a whole generation. Having missed the IT revolution, all these states have made a U-turn. Mamata Banerjee destroyed communists in Bengal on this issue. Yogi Adityanath proudly reintroduced teaching English in primary schools in UP.

BJP-RSS, by accepting NEP, has in effect conceded defeat. One of its oldest, dearest projects was to rid India of English and make Hindi the national language. Just last year, Amit Shah pushed the case for Hindi. But the Sangh Parivar has lost its convictions – its own sons and daughters want to learn English and get a good job. Imposing Hindi today is a vote loser.

Sometime in the 1990s, India’s mindset changed. The constant whining against the colonial language died and English became an Indian language. A middle class of aspirers came up after the economic reforms. Confident in its own skin it regarded English not as an alien imposition, but as a skill to navigate the global economy. With the IT revolution, parents began to move their children from government to private schools that taught English. Today, 47.5% of India’s children are in private schools, making it the third largest school system in the world. In it, 70% of parents pay a monthly fee less than Rs 1,000 and 45% less than Rs 500. English has been democratised.

Meanwhile, English is even more dominant globally after the IT revolution. Linguists believe that whoever speaks a language owns it. They predict that India will soon have the world’s largest number of English speakers. Given the proliferation of Indian writing in English, they foresee Indian English becoming a widely spoken variant like American English.

NEP rightly reminds us, however, of the virtue of bilingualism and let’s hope we’ll do a better job this time. The last time, it led to a tragic social divide. The well-off kids, led by the Khan Market gang, went to English medium schools and aam admi’s kids in Sadar Bazaar went to Hindi (or regional language) medium schools. The former became brown sahibs and the latter were condemned to be ‘deaf’ in any serious discussion in business, government, or the university. HMT, ‘Hindi medium type’, became a slur. English became the new Sanskrit, the language of exclusion. In the charming film Hindi Medium, Irrfan Khan makes heartbreaking attempts to get his daughter into an English medium school. Frustrated, he says, “India is English, English is India.”

Back to the conundrum: The rise of English shouldn’t be at the expense of the mother tongue. Language is not just for communication; it’s a source of new ideas, new emotions. I cannot think and feel without language. There are certain emotions I feel in Punjabi that I don’t in English. Since a child is naturally bilingual, India should aim for bilingual instruction. Today, technology can help. There are a number of interactive apps on our phones, such as Hello English, that can make one fluent in English and become teacher aids. It’s also possible now to have bilingual teachers since teacher salaries have risen to respectable levels.

The NEP envisions teaching becoming a true ‘calling’ and has even proposed a four-year BEd professional degree. But India’s problem remains governance. Unqualified teachers have proliferated, hired not on qualifications but by paying a bribe. A chief minister is serving a 10-year jail sentence for selling teaching jobs to 3,206 teachers. Once hired and protected in this way, teachers don’t feel they need to teach and are routinely absent. Unless state governments fix this problem, no amount of good policy making will help the Indian child to realise her future.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Ten steps to $5 trillion: Lesson from RCEP fiasco is that India must execute bold reforms to become competitive

 The Times of India | December 2019

November 4, 2019 was a sad day. Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to walk out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations at the eleventh-hour, admitting that India couldn’t compete with Asia, especially China. It was a big and painful decision as this is no ordinary trade agreement. Had India joined, RCEP would have become the world’s largest free trade area comprising 16 countries, half the world’s population, 40% of global trade and 35% of world’s wealth in the fastest growing area of the world.

India should have joined RCEP. The deal on offer was a reasonably good one and many of our fears had been allayed. Our farmers had been given protection from imports of agricultural products and milk (say from New Zealand). A quarter of Chinese products had been excluded, and for the rest a long period of tariffs was allowed from 5 to 25 years. The deal offered a unique safeguard from a sudden surge of imports from China to India for 60 of the most sensitive products.

If much smaller countries in Asia – Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos, Myanmar – can compete and have joined RCEP, why can’t India? Why does it need tariff protection, normally meant for infant industries? Why are India’s companies still infants after 72 years of Independence? No nation has become prosperous without exports; open economies have consistently outperformed closed ones. The $5 trillion target cannot be achieved without exports. The lesson from this fiasco is that India must act single-mindedly and execute bold reforms to become competitive. We can still join RCEP by March 2020. Consider this period a pause to get our house in order. It’s never too late to do the right thing. Here are ten ways to make the nation competitive.

First, get over an inferiority complex and change our old mindset of export pessimism that has limited our share of world exports to 1.7%. Pessimists fear a growing trade deficit. They forget that low cost, high quality imports are necessary to join global supply chains. Competition from imports is a school in which entrepreneurs learn to hone their skills. Ditch the bad idea of import substitution that has made a recent comeback. ‘Make in India’ should be ‘Make in India for the World’. To the voices moaning about bleak global trade prospects: Vietnam’s exports have grown 300% from 2013 to 2018 while India’s have remained stagnant. India’s share of world trade is so small – growing it will bring acche din.

Second, lower our tariffs, which are amongst the highest in the world, and have worsened in recent years through nine rounds of tariff increases in the past three years. Smart countries have a sunset clause to every tariff. Cheaper inputs from abroad will not only make our entrepreneurs more competitive but will also improve domestic productivity.

Third, national competitiveness requires collaboration across a dozen ministries and the states. It cannot be left to the ill-equipped commerce ministry. It needs a high-powered initiative under a senior Cabinet minister. Like the US trade representative, the minister should be empowered to monitor and implement reforms across ministries to enhance competitiveness. No one listens to the commerce ministry.

Fourth, a key roadblock is red tape. Keep a relentless focus on improving the ease of doing business where the country has been rewarded with significant gains in recent years. Minimise the interface of officials and citizens by transferring all paperwork online. Reduce the time it takes to enforce contracts in particular, where India’s performance is amongst the worst in the world.

Fifth, let the overvalued rupee slide, say to 80 to a dollar, which will mitigate the many cost penalties that our exporters pay. Exchange rate should not be a badge of national honour but reflect sound economic sense and competitiveness. Meanwhile, keep lowering interest rates, bringing them closer to our competitors’ levels.

Sixth, reform our rigid labour laws that protect jobs not workers. Companies have to survive in a downturn. When orders decline, you either cut workers or go bankrupt. Successful nations allow employers to ‘hire and fire’ but protect the laid off with a safety net. India should have a labour welfare fund (with contribution from employers and government) to finance transitory unemployment and re-training. We should not insist on lifetime jobs.

Seventh, acquiring an acre of land for industry is not only lengthy but also expensive. The present law, enacted during UPA-2, requires hundreds of signatures. This bureaucratic nightmare needs to be replaced by a sensible law that was, in fact, introduced during Modi 1.0 but failed to pass the Rajya Sabha. Since Modi 2.0 has better numbers, it needs to be moved urgently.

Eighth, treat farmers as business persons, not peasants. Have a predictable export-import regime for farm products – stop the present ‘switch on, switch off’ policy which harms both farmers and foreign customers. Ninth, Indian entrepreneurs bear a huge penalty versus our competitors in the cost of electricity, freight and logistics. Stop subsidising railway passengers through freight; stop subsidising electricity to farmers through industry; and bring down taxes on aviation fuel that make air cargo rates highest in the world. Tenth, keep reforming our dreadful educational system, focussing on outcomes not inputs to produce employable graduates.

There is nothing new about these ten ways to make India competitive. Fortunately, India is in the midst of an economic crisis. A crisis brings urgency to reform as the government has shown by dramatically lowering corporate tax to competitive levels. Now is the time to act. And always remember that rule-based trade and open markets are the best way to lift India’s living standards and build shared prosperity.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

In search of a conservative Indian: We are drowned today by the shrill noises from Hindu nationalists and left secularists

 The Times of India | October 2019

The precipitous decline of Congress worries many Indians who believe that choice and a responsible opposition are important. Democracies elsewhere offer a choice between liberals and conservatives through a two-party system. Liberals prefer modernity while conservatives favour tradition and continuity; liberals want rapid change, conservatives prefer it to be gradual. Conservatives tend to be more nationalistic, religious and market oriented; liberals are more secular and oriented to social welfare. It isn’t easy to transpose these terms to India but it can serve a useful purpose.

In India, a single party has dominated since Independence and the opposition has rarely been constructive or effective. That single party today is BJP, having replaced Congress’s long rule. India’s two national parties reflect partially the dichotomy between liberals and conservatives. More importantly, many Indians feel left out. Some of them are deeply religious who seek continuity with tradition but they do not want a ‘Hindu Rashtra’; they prefer ‘Indian’ nationalism over ‘Hindu’ nationalism. Others are suspicious of utopias like socialism. Can conservatism give them a home?

Soon after Independence, Congress made a radical departure from traditional economic arrangements by adopting a socialist, statist agenda. Opposition to it came from the conservative Swatantra Party, which defended economic freedom against Congress’s Licence Raj. Although in 1991 Congress jettisoned socialism, it has remained a reluctant reformer. Liberals within the Congress have invariably prevailed over conservatives. Even if the dynasty were to abdicate today, it is unlikely that the party would shed its left of centre, pro-poor, liberal, secular credentials. Those who want to transform it into a modern day Swatantra Party are chasing wild dreams.

BJP can lay a stronger claim to conservatism based on its religious nationalism. Republicans in America, Tories in England and Christian Democrats in Germany also provide a home for religious and nationalist conservatives. In 2014, the mesmerising aspirational rhetoric of Narendra Modi persuaded many middle of the road Indians to vote for a reinvigorated BJP. The Chaiwalla’s victory was compared in social terms to the British conservative Disraeli’s Tory democracy. Although the new supporters of Modi were religious, they did not care for Hindutva and hoped his economic agenda would prevail.

One of them was Jaithirth Rao whose forthcoming book, The Indian Conservative, draws inspiration from a long line of conservative Indian thinking from Ram Mohan Roy (and even the Mahabharata) through Bankim Chatterjee, Vivekananda, Lajpat Rai, Rajagopalachari, BR Shenoy, and others. Like a good conservative, Rao values continuity and regards the modern Indian state as successor to the British Raj.

He appreciates the British for unifying India and leaving a legacy of Enlightenment values, enshrined in our Constitution. He offers a provocative counterfactual: what if the governors of Bombay and Madras had been independent and had reported directly to London (as Ceylon’s governor did), independent India might have been a much shrunken nation. Rao believes that the tragic Partition of India might have been avoided if Baldwin had prevailed over Churchill and India given dominion status in the 1930s.

In the 19th century ferment, Ram Mohan Roy wanted Indians to tap into their rich intellectual traditions, modernise and reform them. In response Bankim, the Arya Samaj, and others preferred to revive them instead. This opposition continues today. Ramachandra Guha asked a few years ago, ‘where are India’s conservative intellectuals?’ His premise, like Jaithirth Rao’s, is that conservative intellectuals could help BJP modernise its ideology; shed its divisive, majoritarian mindset; and broaden its appeal to today’s young, aspiring Indians.

Someone like Edmund Burke (father of modern conservatism) might even help bring closure to the wounds of Partition that have been reopened by the change in Kashmir’s status. Liberals, from Nehru onwards, have tried but failed to bring about a non-resentful assimilation of Kashmiris into India. Might a conservative today, someone like Rajagopalachari (the only self-styled Indian conservative) succeed? Burke, after all, did bring closure to the restless English mind over the violent French Revolution that was as startling and tragic as our bloody Partition. His message was a conservative credo: stop chasing utopias and worry about common decencies.

We do not hear voices of moderate Hindus or Muslims in contemporary Indian public life. They are drowned by the shrill sounds of Hindu nationalists and left secularists. Both have failed us. Once upon a time public figures like Gandhi, Maulana Azad, and Vivekananda spoke with credibility to the silent majority of religiously minded Indians. We could do with such persons today who will dare to ask, why do we need Hindu nationalism in a nation where 80% are Hindus?

The problem with left secularists, on the other hand, is that they were once socialists and only see the dark side of religion – intolerance, murderous wars and nationalism; they forget that religion has given meaning to humanity since civilisation’s dawn. Because secularists and Hindu nationalists speak a language alien to the aam admi, they are only able to condemn communal violence but not stop it as Gandhi could in East Bengal in 1947.

We should have no illusions today about the rise of a contemporary, conservative party like the Swatantra. Our best hope is the spread of conservative ideals within the two national parties. It could result in a softer, more inclusive BJP and a more market friendly Congress. A conservative temper would help make Indians more comfortable with the free market and governments would not have to reform by stealth. It would further communal harmony, not by weaning people away from religion but encouraging moderate religious leaders to speak up for a decent, inclusive polity. The conservative ideal of modernising tradition is certainly worth embracing in a deeply traditional society like India.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Is Milton Friedman dead? Not quite. Individual social responsibility, not corporate social responsibility, must be the mantra

 The Times of India | September 2019

Capitalism has been on the defensive ever since the global financial crisis of 2007-08. Young people in the West have been turning away from the market system because of widening inequality, revulsion against high CEO salaries, and deepening distrust of business. By 2016, half of America between 18 and 29 years of age rejected capitalism in a Harvard study (with one-third supporting socialism.) Two years later, a Gallup poll in 2018 confirmed these findings when only 45% in the same age group expressed a positive opinion of capitalism. The election of President Donald Trump and the Brexit vote echoed this trend.

The fear that capitalism might be failing forced 180 CEOs of the largest corporations in America to unveil last month a new statement of purpose. It replaces the present doctrine of profit and shareholder primacy, which was famously articulated by Nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman in 1970: “There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources to engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it … engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.” Friedman’s comment was so influential that it was written into law. The new statement of purpose wants a company to balance the interests of shareholders with those of customers, employees, suppliers, communities, the environment and be accountable for its social impact.

Of course, a corporation should promote the interests of all stakeholders, but how do you then make it accountable with so many goals? Every institution in society needs accountability. Democracy, for example, is superior to other systems because rulers are accountable to citizens, who can vote them out periodically. Similarly, profit informs a company if it is healthy and efficiently employing its resources. It is accountable to shareholders for its profits through a board of directors, who can fire the CEO. The problem is how to measure performance with multiple fuzzy goals and then who is it accountable to?

The second problem is that the statement may be hollow. A company’s profits already reflect the interests of all its stakeholders. A company is only successful if it “creates value for its customers”; it would not exist if people did not prefer its products to its competitors. Second, a company’s results depend on its ability to hire and retain the best employees. A young MBA today wants to work for a company that not only pays well and develops her skills, but shares her values, for example, in caring for the environment. Third, a good company knows if it squeezes its supplier too hard on price, it will receive a sub-standard component, which will damage its own product. So, “dealing fairly with suppliers” is also an empty flourish. Finally, in “supporting the community and protecting the environment” a company builds a reputation, which translates into higher sales, motivated employees and improved profits.

Is the statement of purpose then merely a self-serving exercise by CEOs, a publicity stunt as its critics say, or will companies now become proactive on the environment; engage in less tax avoidance; place greater focus on long-term health of society? Will companies stop selling soft drinks and candy that promote obesity, and painkillers that have led to the opoid crisis? Does corporate responsibility mean the lose-lose policy of stopping US companies offshoring jobs to India? Dharma is subtle, says Bhishma in the Mahabharata.

The new goals of the American corporation will have consequences in India. Although two decades have passed since the reforms of 1991, capitalism is still trying to find a comfortable home. Indians still believe that the market mostly helps the rich. They do not distinguish between being pro-market and pro-business. Being pro-market is to believe in competition, which helps keep prices low, raises the quality of products, and serves everyone. Being pro-business is to allow politicians to distort the market through excessive intervention, resulting in ‘crony capitalism’. The result of this confusion is the timidity of reform, excessive number of dysfunctional public sector companies, and a nation that is not performing to potential.

The ambivalence towards profit, i fear, will also make young Indian managers in the private sector not value the work they do. They will forget how their products improve peoples’ lives; how companies create millions of jobs; how taxes on corporate profits allow the government to run schools and hospitals. This may lead to low self-esteem and low motivation at work. A poor investor already feels cheated by the CSR law which ‘steals’ 2% of her profits for non-profit making activity. This is certainly not a formula for creating competitive Indian companies to win in the global economy. It is not how to transform India from a poor into a middle-class country.

It is good to search your soul. All of us want to be noble and do some good in the world. This is why Bill Gates is a hero. Everyone applauded Gates when he declared at Davos in 2008 that capitalism should have a twin mission: “Making profits and improving lives of those who don’t fully benefit from market forces.” But people took the wrong message. Gates expressed two different ideas. He did not mean that Microsoft ought to improve the lives of the poor. He meant that those who receive dividends from Microsoft’s after-tax profits ought to engage in philanthropy and help the poor. In other words, philanthropy is an individual social responsibility (ISR), not corporate social responsibility (CSR). Friedman was also right: a company should focus on profit; while making a profit, it serves the interests of all its stakeholders and does enormous good for society. Philanthropy is a wonderful thing but it is an individual’s responsibility. Hence, ISR not CSR should be our mantra.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Contra Hindutva, Kashmiriyat: How consent works in a world of invented nations and fictional nationalisms

 The Times of India | August 2019

The recent change in the political status of Kashmir has deeply wounded the Kashmiris. There is anger, fear, alienation and loss of self-respect. Many have addressed the hurt to Kashmiriyat from a legal or historical perspective. But what is needed is a deeper appreciation of the fact that national and regional identities are imagined creations. Both Hindutva and Kashmiriyat are invented. The only real ‘consent of the people’ is the desire of a person to live in a country. This means that India must become a desirable place to live, not only for Kashmiris, but for all Indians.

India is a union of many identities and some have asked if the injury to Kashmiri identity is different from the pain, say, of the proud people of Andhra who lost half their state a few years ago? Others have argued that Kashmir is a border state with a history that makes it unique. But there are other border provinces, such as Punjab, where people lost their homes and lives during Partition. Their pain was even more poignant and heart-breaking. Later, Punjab was further divided into Haryana and Himachal. Were the people of Punjab or Andhra asked about these changes?

Some liberals believe that a plebiscite is the only real form of consent and Kashmiris should be given a choice to secede on the principle of self-determination. If this is true, are we not morally bound to have a referendum in Andhra Pradesh? Thinking back to 1947, should we not have applied this principle to the citizens of 565 princely states who occupied 40% of India’s territory when the British left? Kashmir was only one of these. BR Ambedkar felt that India was a nation of 3,000 jatis. Should there have been 3,000 referendums? Moreover, shouldn’t Indians under the Raj have also been given a choice – to be ruled by the British or by Indians? If enough Indians had wanted the British to stay on, there might never have been a free India. A referendum can become a path to befuddlement as Britain has discovered after Brexit.

The idea of a nation-state based on common descent, language, and shared culture is a recent invention. Although born in the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), the idea did not spread until the 19th century. At the fall of Napoleon in 1815, Europe still consisted mostly of empires and kingdoms. After that, Europeans deliberately went about crafting nation-states. Since natural unity was usually absent, their leaders ‘manufactured’ it and sold it to the people through mythologised versions of history in school textbooks. Hindu nationalists are trying to do the same today.

Repelled by the horror of World War I caused by ugly nationalisms, the world was drawn in the 1920s to the moral idea of national self-determination. Leaders of the freedom movement in India also realised that their claim to self-rule would depend on proving that their country was a nation. It was important because many colonial rulers of the British Raj believed that India was merely a ‘geographic expression’ (in the words of Winston Churchill). Mahatma Gandhi, thus, became our chief mythmaker.

Today, Kashmir’s integration into India invites the same question: What is a nation-state? Inventors of the idea would say, it is a sentiment, a fellow feeling that unites Indians, giving a sense of oneness. The problem is that this positive feeling often turns negative – an antipathy towards those who are different. Kashmiri Muslims might protest they don’t have a fellow feeling for Hindus, and this was the argument for creating Pakistan. The answer is that most nations contain many religions; even Muslims live as a minority in many countries. Religion is thus not a sound basis for nationhood. This logic can also be extended to race and language in a multicultural world.

Another source of fellow feeling might be the possession of common memories of celebrations and sufferings. The problem with historic memories is that they can also divide. Memories of invasions, of temples destroyed are a source of anguish for one person and heroism for another. Mahmud of Ghazni, who sacked Somnath, is a villain in Hindu eyes and hero among Muslims. So, this criterion also fails and forgetting history is often better for nation building.

Since all criteria of identity fail for a nation-state, we must face the inconvenient truth that a nation is an ‘imagined community’ as Benedict Anderson has taught us. Identity has nothing to do with it. All modern states and regional identities are artificial constructs where most citizens are strangers who will never meet. There is no natural glue that unites the people of India or of any nation, or of Kashmir, Bengal or Andhra. Hindu nationalists and Kashmiri separatists need to understand this. Both Hindutva and Kashmiriyat are fictions. India was invented on January 26, 1950, on the premise that everyone who resides in its territory will have maximum equal freedom and there will be no second class citizens.

After the dust settles, the unhappy manner of integrating Kashmir into the Indian Union will matter less. A successful, non-resentful assimilation of Kashmiris will eventually depend on how desirable India is in the eyes of the ordinary Kashmiri. The job of the Indian state is crucial to this end: to create predictability through good governance, ensure everyone is equal before the law, give people choice to change their rulers, provide opportunity for education and health, and craft conditions for prosperity. This is the main reason why anyone will choose to live in India. It is the only real ‘consent’ in a world where nations are invented and nationalism is fictional.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

गरीबी हटाओ की नहीं, अमीरी लाओ की जरूरत

दैनिक भास्कर | 25 जुलाई 2019

कुछ दिनों पहले रविवार की रात एक टीवी शो
में एंकर ने प्रधानमंत्री नरेन्द्र मोदी के 5
लाख करोड़ डॉलर के जीडीपी के लक्ष्य का तिरस्कारपूर्व
बार-बार उल्लेख किया। यह शो हमारे शहरों के दयनीय
पर्यावरण पर था और एंकर का आशय आर्थिक प्रगति
को बुरा बताने का नहीं था, लेकिन ऐसा ही सुनाई दे रहा
था। जब इस ओर एंकर का ध्यान आकर्षित किया गया
तो बचाव में उन्होंने कहा कि भारत की आर्थिक वृद्धि तो
होनी चाहिए पर पर्यावरण की जिम्मेदारी के साथ। इससे
कोई असहमत नहीं हो सकता पर दर्शकों में आर्थिक
वृद्धि के फायदों को लेकर अनिश्चतता पैदा हो गई होगी।

कई लोगों ने बजट में पेश नीतियों व आंकड़ों को
देखते हुए इस साहसी लक्ष्य पर संदेह व्यक्त किया है।
मोदी ने अपने आलोचकों को 'पेशेवर निराशावादी'
बताया है। किसी लक्ष्य की आकांक्षा रखने को मैं राष्ट्र
के लिए बहुत ही अच्छी बात मानता हूं। जाहिर है कि
मोदी 2.0 सरकार नई मानसिकता से चल रही है। यह
खैरात बांटने की 'गरीबी हटाओ' मानसिकता से हटकर
खुशनुमा बदलाव है। राहुल गांधी ने जब मोदी 1.0 पर
सूट-बूट की सरकार होने का तंज कसा था तो वह 'गरीबी
हटाओ' से ग्रस्त हो गई थी और इसके कारण हाल के
आम चुनाव में इस मामले में नीचे गिरने की होड़ ही मच
गई थी। इस लक्ष्य ने आर्थिक वृद्धि की मानसिकता को
बहाल किया है, इसीलिए मोदी 2014 में चुने गए थे।
चीन में देंग शियाओ पिंग की मिसाल रखते हुए मैं तो
मोदी 2.0 के लिए 'न सिर्फ गरीबी हटाओ बल्कि अमीरी
लाओ' के नारे का सुझाव दूंगा। 'सूट-बूट' के प्रति
सुधारवादी प्रधानमंत्री का सही उत्तर यह होना चाहिए,
'हां, मैं हर भारतीय से चाहता हूं कि वह मध्यवर्गीय
सूट बूट की जीवनशैली की आकांक्षा रखे'। जीडीपी
का मतलब है ग्रॉस डेवलपमेंट प्रोडक्ट (सकल घरेलू
उत्पाद)। यह मोटेतौर पर किसी अर्थव्यवस्था की कुल
संपदा दर्शाता है। इसे औद्योगिक युग में अर्थशास्त्रियों ने
ईजाद किया था और इसकी अपनी सीमाएं हैं। आज कई
लोग पर्यावरण हानि के लिए आर्थिक वृद्धि को दोष देते
हैं। वे चाहते हैं कि सरकार धन का पीछा छोड़ लोगों
की परवाह करना शुरू करे। लेकिन, यथार्थ तो यही है
कि जीडीपी नीति-निर्माताओं के लिए श्रेष्ठतम गाइड है।
हाल के वर्षों में आर्थिक वृद्धि ने दुनियाभर में एक अरब
से ज्यादा लोगों को घोर गरीबी से उबारा है।

केवल आर्थिक वृद्धि से ही किसी समाज में जॉब
पैदा होते हैं। सरकार को टैक्स मिलता है ताकि वह शिक्षा
(जो अवसर व समानता लाती है) और हेल्थकेयर
(जिससे पोषण सुधरता है, बाल मृत्युदर घटती है और
लोग दीर्घायु होते हैं) पर खर्च कर सके। मसलन, भारत
में आर्थिक वृद्धि ने ग्रामीण घरों में सब्सिडी वाली रसोई
गैस पहुंचाई ताकि वे घर में कंडे व लकड़ी जलाने से
होने वाले प्रदूषण से बच सकें। 1990 में प्रदूषण का
यह भीषण रूप दुनियाभर में 8 फीसदी मौतों के लिए
जिम्मेदार था। वृद्धि और समृद्धि आने से यह आंकड़ा
करीब आधा हो गया है। जब गरीब राष्ट्र विकसित होने
लगते हैं तो बाहर का प्रदूषण तेजी से बढ़ता है पर
समृद्धि आने के साथ प्रदूषण घटने लगता है और उसके
पास इसे काबू में रखने के संसाधन भी होते हैं। अचरज
नहीं कि प्रतिव्यक्ति ऊंची जीडीपी वाले राष्ट्र मानव
विकास व प्रसन्नता के सूचकांकों पर ऊंचाई पर होते हैं।

वित्तमंत्री ने अपने बजट भाषण में आर्थिक वृद्धि को
जॉब से अधिक निकटता से जोड़ने का मौका गंवा दिया।
मसलन, उन्हें एक मोटा अनुमान रखना था कि अगले
पांच वर्षों में बुनियादी ढांचे पर 105 लाख करोड़ रुपए
खर्च करने से कितने जॉब निर्मित होंगे। चूंकि आवास
अर्थव्यवस्था में सबसे अधिक श्रम आधारित है तो उन्हें
बताना चाहिए था कि '2022 तक सबको आवास' के
लक्ष्य के तहत कितने जॉब पैदा होंगे। 5 लाख करोड़
डॉलर का लक्ष्य हासिल करने में सफलता साहसी सुधार
लागू करने के साथ मानसिकता में बदलाव पर निर्भर
होगी। 1950 के दशक से विरासत में मिला निर्यात को
लेकर निराशावाद अब भी मौजूद है और वैश्विक निर्यात
में भारत का हिस्सा मामूली 1.7 फीसदी बना हुआ है।
निर्यात के बिना कोई देश मध्यवर्गीय नहीं बन सकता। हमें
दुर्भाग्यजनक संरक्षणवाद को खत्म करना चाहिए, जिससे
देश 2014 से ग्रसित है। हमें अपना नारा बदलकर 'मेक
इन इंडिया फॉर द वर्ल्ड' कर लेना चाहिए। केवल निर्यात
के माध्यम से ही हमारे महत्वाकांक्षी युवाओं के लिए ऊंची
नौकरियां व अच्छेदिन आएंगे। दूसरी बात, वृद्धि और
जॉब निजी निवेश के जरिये ही आएंगे। बड़े निवेशकों को
भारत का माहौल प्रतिकूल लगता है। बजट ने इसे और
बढ़ाया है और शेयर बाजार के धराशायी होने का एक
कारण यह भी हो सकता है। तीसरी बात, हालांकि भारत
कृषि उपज का प्रमुख निर्यातक बन गया है पर यह अब भी
अपने किसानों से गरीब देहातियों की तरह व्यवहार करता
है। किसानों को वितरण (एपीएमसी, अत्यावश्यक वस्तु
अधिनियम आदि को खत्म करें), उत्पादन (अनुबंध पर
आधारित खेती को प्रोत्साहन दें), कोल्ड चेन्स (मल्टी
ब्रैंड रिटेल को अनुमति दें) की आज़ादी और एक स्थिर
निर्यात नीति चाहिए। सुधार पर अमल ही काफी नहीं है,
मोदी को उन्हें लोगों के गले भी उतारना होगा। शुरुआत
अपनी पार्टी, आरएसएस और संबंधित भगवा संगठनों
से करें और उसके बाद शेष देश। मार्गरेट थैचर का यह
वक्तव्य प्रसिद्ध है कि वे अपना 20 फीसदी वक्त सुधार
लागू करने में लगाती हैं और 80 फीसदी वक्त उन्हें
स्वीकार्य बनाने में लगाती हैं। नरसिंह राव, वाजपेयी और
मनमोहन सिंह जैसे पूर्ववर्ती सुधारक इसमें नाकाम रहें।
जबर्दस्त जनादेश प्राप्त मोदी को अपनी कुछ राजनीतिक
पूंजी इस पर खर्च करनी चाहिए। अब वक्त आ गया है
कि भारत चुपके से सुधार लाना बंद करे। लोकतंत्र में
जीतने वाले का हनीमून आमतौर पर 100 दिन चलता
है। इकोनॉमी के लक्ष्य के आलोचकों को सर्वोत्तम जवाब
यही होगा कि उक्त अवधि में कुछ नतीजे दिखा दिए
जाएं। मसलन, पहले कार्यकाल से भू व श्रम सुधार बिल
बाहर निकाले, उनमें सुधार लाएं और उन्हें इस लक्ष्य से
स्वीकार्य बनाएं कि इस बार वह राज्यसभा से पारित हो
जाएं। वित्तमंत्री को सार्वजनिक उपक्रमों (एयर इंडिया के
अलावा) की बिक्री की समयबद्ध योजना सामने रखकर
अपने साहसी विनिवेश लक्ष्य पर तेजी से अमल करना
चाहिए। इस तरह के कदमों से जीडीपी लक्ष्य के प्रति
लोगों का भरोसा पैदा होगा। हर तिमाही में राष्ट्र के सामने
प्रगति की रिपोर्ट प्रस्तुत करने से मोदी 2.0 के विज़न में
लोगों का भरोसा और मजबूत होगा।

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Bold vision of Modi 2.0: Moving from ‘garibi hatao’ to ‘amiri lao’ depends on embedding audacious new mindsets

Times of India | July 16, 2019

On Sunday night the anchor of a TV show sneeringly and repeatedly referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's $5 trillion GDP target. The show was on the poor state of our cities and the well-meaning anchor didn't mean to demonise economic growth even though it came out sounding that way. When this was pointed out to her, she replied in her defence that India should grow but with responsibility to the environment. No one could disagree with that but the viewer was left unsure about the virtues of growth.

Ever since the $5 trillion goal was announced last week, it has set off a healthy debate with Modi calling his critics "professional pessimists". It is a good thing for a nation to aspire to a target. It also suggests that Modi 2.0 has a new mindset – a happy change from the "garibi hatao" mindset of giveaways that afflicted Modi 1.0 after Rahul Gandhi's jibe about a "suit-boot sarkar", which led to an unhappy race to the bottom during the recent general election. The ambitious target restores the growth mindset that got Modi elected in the first place in 2014.

The pursuit of higher GDP is easy to malign – it was invented during the industrial age and has its limitations. Many blame growth for harming the environment. They want governments to stop chasing money and start caring about the people. But it is also understandable why GDP remains the best guide for policy makers. In recent years growth has lifted more than a billion people around the world out of crushing poverty.

Only through growth does a society create jobs. Only growth provides taxes to the government to spend on education (that brings opportunity and equity) and healthcare (that improves nutrition, decreases child mortality and allows people to live longer.) In India, growth provided the means to bring subsidised gas to rural households to counter indoor air pollution from burning dung and wood for cooking. In 1990, this insidious form of pollution caused more than 8% of all deaths in the world; with growth and prosperity, this figure is down to nearly half today. Even outdoor pollution rises sharply when a poor nation begins to develop but declines as the nation prospers and has the resources to control it. It's not surprising that nations with high per capita GDP enjoy the highest ranks on the indices of human development and happiness.

It was not appropriate in her Budget speech to extoll the virtues of GDP growth, but the finance minister could have explained how achieving her bold target was crucial to creating jobs for the millions who voted for BJP. I would go further and make a new slogan for Modi 2.0, following Deng's example in China – "Not only garibi hatao, but amiri lao." This would capture the hopes and aspirations of the young. Instead of turning defensive about suit-boot, the right answer from a reformist prime minister should be, "Yes, I want every Indian to aspire to the comforts of a suit-boot lifestyle."

Success in achieving the $5 trillion target depends on implementing bold reforms and a change in other mindsets as well. Export pessimism, inherited from the 1950s, still persists and India's share in global exports remains a measly 1.7%. No country became middle class without exports. We must reverse the unfortunate protectionism that has afflicted the nation since 2014 and change our slogan to "Make in India for the World". Only through exports will come the high productivity jobs and acche din for our aspiring youth.

Second, growth and jobs will only come through private investment. Investor sentiment is weak and the biggest investors find India's environment turning hostile. The Budget has exacerbated this and it may be one reason for the stock market crash. Third, although it has become a major exporter of farm produce, India continues to treat its farmers like poor peasants. Farmers need freedom of distribution (scrap APMCs, Essential Commodities Act, etc), production (encourage contract farming), cold chains (liberalise multi-brand retail), and a stable policy on exports. Bleeding subsidies for fertilisers and PDS must be replaced by direct benefit transfers.

It is not enough to implement reforms, Modi needs to sell them. To begin with, sell them to his party, to RSS and allied saffron units. And then to the rest of the country. Margaret Thatcher used to say famously that she spent 20% of her time doing reforms and 80% selling them. The previous reformers – Narasimha Rao, Vajpayee, and Manmohan Singh – failed in this task. With his overwhelming mandate Modi should expend some of his political capital in this task. It is high time India stopped reforming by stealth.

In democracies the winner's honeymoon usually lasts a hundred days. The best answer to critics who are sceptical about the $5 trillion goal is to show tangible results during this period. For example, pull out the land and labour reform bills from the Modi 1.0 closet; improve them, and begin to "sell" these reforms in anticipation of getting them through the Rajya Sabha this time around. The FM on her part should quickly follow up on her bold disinvestment target by announcing a time bound plan for the strategic sale of other public sector companies (apart from Air India). Actions such as these will gain the peoples' trust in the ambitious $5 trillion number. And follow up with quarterly progress reports to the nation to reinforce confidence in Modi 2.0's bold vision.