Monday, May 31, 2004


Times of India, May 30, 2004

Dear Prime Minister,

I remember the day you made me tea. I was privileged to visit you at 9 Safdarjang Lane soon after you relinquished office in 1996, and nobody, it seems, was at home, your wife was away visiting friends and the servant had gone on some chore. I was deeply moved by the quiet simplicity of your life, and when I told this to my wife, she said, Are you surprised? He is the only dignitary we know who answers his own telephone.

You opened our economy to the world in 1991, and this unlocked India ’s astonishing brain power to a degree that even you could not have imagined. Your reforms brought us the best years in our economic history. And all the governments after yours miraculously continued the reforms, albeit slowly. The lesson is that if you consistently reform in one direction, it does add up, and this has made India one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Growth, you said that day, is the best anti-poverty programme, I hope you will repeat this to your colleagues when they try to pressure you into populist programmes that our deficit burdened treasury cannot afford. The best way to distribute the fruits of growth, as we both know, is through better schools and better primary health centres. This is the only way to give reforms a human face (and not leaky poverty programmes). However, the reform of education and health is not just about spending more money. It is about making teachers and nurses accountable, so that they will, at least, show up.

Like it or not, India ’s general elections have become municipal elections. What matters to the rickshawala is that the cops not take away a sixth of his daily earnings. The farmer wants a clear title to his land without having to bribe the patwari. The sick villager wants the doctor to be there when she visits the primary health centre. The housewife doesn’t want the water tap to go dry while she is washing. This is how government touches ordinary people’s lives, and in successful societies people take these things for granted. You might say that these are local subjects, but to ordinary citizens you are the face of the government and they expect this from you.

Where does the illness of governance lie? Why don’t employees of the central, state, and local governments do their jobs? In the Far East , for example, citizens get far better service. Is it because we protect labour excessively in India , to the point that they no longer feel accountable? This was my experience in the private sector, at least — our labour laws have taken away accountability and diminished our companies competitiveness. Thus, you may have to tackle labour laws despite your partners.

If you buy my argument about governance then your focus will shift from policy to implementation. Hold your finance minister accountable for the behaviour of income tax officers. Judge your home minister, for example, for eliminating harassment of honest NGOs who get foreign donations. Reward your economic ministers for eliminating red tape — foreign investors repeatedly tell us that they prefer China over India because of our red tape.

In the end, even if you make a small but perceivable difference, you will break the anti-incumbency factor, which is a code word for poor governance. If you do not, then you will be asking for the return of the BJP in 2009.

1 comment:

Health Blog said...

Thus, you may have to tackle labour laws despite your partners.