2012 will remembered as a year of mass protests.
From the anti-corruption rallies of Anna Hazare to the spontaneous protests over the Delhi gangrape, angry citizens seem increasingly willing and able to take to the streets to demand their rights.
Of course, it was also a year of scams, scandals and brazen shamelessness.
Sadly, most of these protests were either deviously defanged by the government, as in the case of Anna Hazare, or deflated with a few pious promises, like after the Delhi gangrape.
Everyone -- except perhaps for some of our self-serving politicians -- wants a better, stronger, richer nation.
Yet strangely, there is no clear, objective, transparent national agenda on how to achieve this.
Where do we want India to be 10 years from now? How do we get there? What are the three biggest long and short term threats facing the nation, and what steps are we taking to minimize them?
How do we deal with corruption, poverty, caste and ethnic issues, terrorism and shamelessly divisive politicians? With murderous Maoists, juvenile rapists, and our increasingly belligerent and bellicose neighbours?
What can we do to kickstart a new, resurgent India?
There are probably a billion answers to that last question.
To those, for what it is worth, let me add 10 of mine, in no particular order.
# 1. Set a retirement age for politicians
We are a young nation, led by corrupt, decrepit old fogies, who are clueless about the hopes and aspirations of young India. Let us put them out to pasture and replace them with people below 60, preferably below 40. That is the only way we can reap the benefits of the so-called demographic dividend. If required, the elder statesmen could be part of an advisory council, sans any executive or financial powers.
# 2. Abolish Caste based quotas
Caste based reservations perpetuate the abominable system. Let us not be a nation of people hustling to be called backward. Let us instead use clear economic criteria to subsidize education for those who can’t afford it, regardless of their caste. And let’s keep reservations only up to University, never for jobs.
# 3. Revamp our armed forces
Today’s strategic scenario requires a lean, mean, agile military machine, well versed in asymmetrical warfare and the Revolution in Military Affairs. Let’s split our existing Army into two: One section trained and equipped to handle external threats, the other to deal with domestic security and disasters. Let us also consider allowing more than 50 per cent FDI in defence production, with some checks and balances.
# 4. Explore a Presidential, or other form of government
We need a system where the chief executive cannot be held hostage to vote banks, a system which prevents the formation of absurd short-lived coalition governments. A tweaked, desi version of the US Presidential system might also bring about some accountability. (Might, because any political system can be subverted by those who believe in and benefit from dynastic rule.) Regardless, the current Parliamentary system, where our politicians believe they are rulers, not leaders, needs urgent review.
# 5. Match rural infrastructure with manufacturing growth
According to a Credit Suisse report, from 1999 to 2009, 75 per cent of all new factories came up in rural India, and 70 per cent of all manufacturing jobs were created there. As a result, 55 per cent of India’s GDP from manufacturing comes from rural India. Rural infrastructure, however, (in terms of schools, colleges, hospitals, roads and power) has not kept pace with this, and this gap needs to addressed urgently.
# 6. Harness the power of the NRI
The economic uncertainty across the world makes it a good time to promote the comparatively higher growth pattern at home to Indians abroad. We could certainly do with an infusion of fresh capital, as well as talent and skills. Then, the Indian American lobby punches way above its weight in the US, and is usually willing to use its considerable influence in Indian interests when needed. The Diaspora is also a good platform to promote India’s soft power worldwide. The annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is a step in the right direction, but a lot more can be done.
# 7 Understand -- and be willing to use -- power
This is an old bug-bear of mine. I have never been able to figure out why a country which aspires to be global power is so reluctant to exercise it, despite the gravest of provocations. Why are we not willing to treat the beheading of an Indian soldier on Indian soil by a Pakistani military unit as an act of war? Why are we so comfortable with the image of a ‘soft’ state, always willing to forgive and forget, forever extending the olive branch to upstart nations which repeatedly attack us? What’s the point of having power if everyone believes you are too scared to use it?
# 8. Implement a Uniform Civil Code
Apart from all the obvious benefits of the law being the same for everyone, a uniform civil code dilutes the ‘us and them’ syndrome, which the politicians ruthlessly exploit in their game of vote banks.
# 9. Scrap Article 370
If we are indeed sure that Kashmir is an integral part of India, then it is time to walk the talk, and scrap this Act which gives the state a special status. Why should an Indian state have a separate set of laws, including those related to citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights? Since the assent of the state legislature is required for abrogating this obsolete act, some strong-arm tactic like withholding financial support to the state might be necessary to influence this. And finally,
# 10. Clearly define -- and defend -- our Core Interests
Apart from territorial and sovereign issues, these could include economic, environmental and social interests which we believe are non-negotiable. But unless we are willing to send out a clear message that any violation of these interests will be seen as an act of war, it would be a total waste of time and energy.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that this is a highly subjective list. I’ve deliberately left out the obvious ones, like poverty alleviation and social reform, assuming that they would be on the top of all other lists anyway.
Regardless of whether you agree with or vehemently oppose some of these notions, what is clear is that the status quo is increasingly unacceptable.
But mere protests are not enough. We must learn to change, to adapt, or perish.
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Ramananda Sengupta is a senior editor and strategic analyst