Manmohan Singh's 100-day war
There is no question, in many ways, the Indian politician is coming ever closer to the archetype American one. The fact that Manmohan Singh had to write to his entire council of ministers telling them how to behave and what to do is a sign of the times to come. The fact is that this time round, most of them will have to listen since the mandate Singh has received is overwhelming. But then what should this Government's priorities be and how should it go about them?
I have always maintained that we as a nation are woefully inadequate as far as addressing the three Ps are concerned. We do not take primary health, primary education and population seriously and this will be our enduring fault-line. India's track record on all of the above three Ps is abysmal and the good news is for the first time, in many years, we have a sensible man heading the RD Ministry. I have many hopes from Kapil Sibal but then he will have to demolish before he can build. Demolish those archaic mindsets, which have hampered the advance of primary education or for that matter, higher education too. We have dinosaur bodies such as the University Grants Commission, which does no work at all, hogging so much of the money and the attention. I believe the UGC swallows more grants for itself than gives to needy universities or educational institutions. As far as the spread of decent and meaningful education is concerned, we must have a policy, which encourages public private partnership because the Government just cannot do it alone. And in this partnership, the Government must be willing to let go of control. There is no point in having some silly bureaucrat on the board when they add no value. While the world applauds our institutes of higher learning, the tragedy is the bottom of the pyramid has been neglected for too long and this needs some immediate correction. We also, simultaneously need to set out an agenda for a National Skills Development program because in more cases than one, education in India does not mean employment: it just means a worthless degree on paper. This needs to change if you really wish to harness that demographic dividend of a young population.
Health has been perhaps the biggest disaster in India's post-Independence history. We have had callous egomaniacs heading the health ministries, the last one, Anbumani Ramadoss, having taken the cake! We cannot crow about being an economic powerhouse when 4 children die every 20 minutes in India only because we have no health-care delivery system. There is no point in being proud of one All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi when there is a mess in states and districts therein. It is indeed ironic that while 30 per cent of the doctors in the United States are Indians, we have such an abysmal state of health-care in our very own country. There are many states that have had to suffer because of this neglect. Kala Azar remains a portent threat in Bihar while malaria remains a scourge in India. Even our reactions to the Swine Flu have been couched in tokenism than some real medical offering. And the saga continues. We need greater private partnership here because brands such as Apollo and Max have established global supremacy here in India and yet we have a Government, which refuses to learn. A country, which cannot afford to look after its own, has no business in the global firmament tom-tomming its economic prowess and I sincerely believe the new minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, has his task cut out. But this is where we need demonstrable action.
Sanjay Gandhi destroyed whatever hope there was for population planning when he forced sterilisation in the 1970s. No politician wants to talk about our burgeoning population any longer and therein lies the tragedy. We are never going to have enough water, enough food and enough infrastructure for a population that continues to spiral out of control. And once again, the answer is not in population control but in education. We have empirical data to suggest wherever literacy is higher, family sizes are better configured and both education and health are inextricably linked to population management.
So while much has been written and said about this 100-day program, we need some milestones that must be reached in these first 100 days. There is no point declaring a war when no one is willing to stick his neck out and fight and this time round, this Government can hardly hide behind the obstructionist policies of the Left parties. The time for that letter to convert itself into some developmental ammunition has arrived and the sooner, the better.
More about Suhel Seth
Managing partner, Counselage