Putting Our Shoulders to India?s Wheel

India today demands from each of us a new role as it marches to a new future. Our responsibility is more than ever now as India globalizes and moves into a new league. In fact, we should be glad and willing contributors as catalysts of change. We have to be flexible, we have to constantly adapt and we have to keep thinking out of the box.

In the last few years India has been desperately trying to project itself as a country heading to be a global power. There is enough hype being generated on this. Search Google and you will see what it means. The danger is that it may blind us into not seeing the blunt reality and fundamental weaknesses that are bound to cause hurdles in the years to come. As leaders we have to recognize the ills of corruption, lack of discipline and commitment to our nation, communalism, poor education and a host of other problems that can all be ironed out. But for that we must first acknowledge that it exists and will gnaw into our democracy.

Clearly, we must have the courage to accept that there is a crisis of character, which is reflected in our lack of collective purpose, weak social conscience and the steady decline of values and norms in our civic and political life. We need a new kind of leadership that will inspire, guide and lead. Leadership should be fit to lead. We have 120 MP's in the Lok Sabha who have criminal cases tagged to them though the law says that anyone sentenced to two years or more in jail is disqualified from contesting elections. Think about it. It is a disturbing thought. Voters now need to vote for change.

To undo the damage in the last six decades, we must set up institutional mechanisms to identify those who misuse power and public money. The guilty must be punished. Today, just six per cent of corruption related cases lead to conviction! Last year, according to a report, India's poor coughed up Rs. 883 crore to access 11 public services which is their right.

There is a great deal of churning as the country modernizes and learns to live with new challenges it throws up everyday. But to find solutions to those problems, we need to provide a new kind of leadership that has vision and compassion. A new nation can be built only with a fresh work ethic, which combines discipline with creativity, passion with respect.

We have to work towards ensuring that every Indian benefits from the fruits of progress and living a decent life should be everyone's right.

India has been blessed with numerous resources, fertile land, biodiversity, cattle, diary products, minerals and industrial resources like coal. It just needs the right kind of leadership to tap the vast pool of talent and unlock their potential. Jharkhand, for example, is one of the richest states in India as far as natural resources are concerned. But, ever since it became a separate state, it has been saddled with poor leadership and so continues at the bottom of the pile. The country has sentenced the poor tribals of Jharkhand to a bleak future.

In the past, the political economy was isolated due to fear of multinationals. Talent flew out of the country and the world benefited. It is now time to reverse the trend and make it attractive for them to return. We must get them to contribute to India's turnaround. They must be welcomed to invest and seize this great opportunity.

India today needs an entrepreneurship revolution right from the grassroots level not only to create wealth but also to empower all sections of society. This will happen only if the nation respects entrepreneurship and sees good entrepreneurs as heroes.

India should encourage public private partnership in areas of education, health and infrastructure. The government alone cannot find the funds to do it alone and that is why it makes sense to get the private sector to participate and become agents of change. Look at the cell phone revolution. It could not have happened without private participation.

The health of a nation's population is vital for its economic development, prosperity and internal stability. In India, investments to build the country's healthcare and education are very critical as India is projected to become the world's most populous country by 2035. India today has 20 per cent of the world's population who are less than 24 years. What a fantastic quirk of fate. These youngsters could emerge as India's greatest asset provided they are healthy.

We must take up the leadership to provide basic necessities as education, healthcare, employment and clean living conditions. Delivering high quality cost effective healthcare will require a constant emphasis on preventive care and a holistic approach to wellness and to provide healthcare for India's growing population and of the segments of our society. India's health conditions are lagging when compared with others like China, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Preventing diseases before they can take hold or identifying illnesses in their early stages are successful health outcomes. Therefore, a convergence of public and private interests is a must to combat the inevitable onslaught of lifestyle diseases.

India needs to recognize that the future of India lies in good education. We need to heavily invest in education, to wipe out illiteracy, to attract the best talent to teach. We can never emerge as a global power with so much of illiteracy and poor standard of education. We have graduates coming out by the millions, but how many of them are employable? They cannot be made victims of a poor education system.

Education is another area the leadership should focus on if it wants to be globally competitive. We need a new kind of school, a new college and a new university with a different syllabus keeping in mind how the world has changed and will change. With Internet and digitization of information happening, we cannot cling to the past. Education is not just about homework and exams. Teachers have to become mentors rather than providers of content. And content today can be created by the best of brains on the Internet and can be delivered like never before. Our teachers have to be retrained. They have to create a new genre of students who think differently and deeply. There has to be a nationwide movement to improve knowledge infrastructure in the country. Only then can a new India emerge.

India's overall growth and progress since independence is noteworthy. But, it is not sufficient. If India is to rise to the level of other global societies, it must inspire its private sector, civil society, government and others to work together to build its infrastructure.

What India today needs is discipline. With it will come commitment to perform, the urge to become accountable and the search for excellence. It cannot be imposed; it has to come from within each of us.

We must learn from the mistakes of the world and for that we need humility. Business leaders, religious gurus, politicians and bureaucrats must think of what consequences their actions would have on shaping or ruining India's image in the world.

India has to lead the way showing how to combat global warming. In fact, it can become an example for the rest of the world. The opportunity for using solar and wind energy on a large scale is immense. Right from solar water heating to power generation using solar thermal technologies, India can within a period of ten years emerge as a leader in a range of technologies and equipment to exploit the abundance of energy from the sun. India can show the world a way out of global warming. Given the rapid rate at which the industrial sector is growing, there is also a need to not only set up new capacity that is energy efficient, but also retrofit existing processes and equipment with energy efficient devices and technologies. It is an opportunity, which we can ill afford to lose.

Another challenge is urbanization. As many as 379 million people will be added to India's urban spaces in the next 40 years. According to a conservative estimate, India will be 45 per cent urbanized by 2050. Nobel laureate Sir Arthur Lewis once observed that what is expensive in economic development is not industrialization but urbanization. Enormous investments are going to be made in urban infrastructure over the next 30 years. It is imperative to introduce urban reforms now, so that the infrastructure that is laid down reflects a competitive, sustainable spatial pattern rather than the ugly sprawl that is seen everywhere in urban India today.

Despite its complexities, India is one of the few countries in the world today that holds out hope. It has the potential to be a big player in the global economy. But India is a leader driven society. If there is a good leader, you will see so much of change around. India has scores of examples. Look at E. Sreedharan of Delhi Metro and you will get the drift of what I mean. Such leaders have to rise and be heard. They must stand up and be counted for India has to make the grade in the world as a shining example of how the impossible was actually possible.     


More by :  Ramesh Menon

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