come key moments in a democracy's history that require-nay, demand-clarity
of the highest order. Clarity of both principle and pragmatism.
The Lok Sabha elections having concluded, and that too with so much
blood on the street to think about, this is precisely such a moment
The previous government began with a bang-a
nuclear test, taken by many as a signal that India had guts, and
meant business. The new government has its own First 100 Days Test,
and it had better face it with courage-and clarity. For, a failure
would amount to a betrayal of the electorate's mandate.
The people of India are crying out for reforms.
They want choice. They want freedom. They want the liberty to gain
and pursue livelihoods-without being bullied by so-called authorities,
official or self-appointed. They do not want any arbitrary arm-twisting
or even interference by the state. On economic evidence, an efficient
way to meet these needs is to empower market forces, so that resources
are allocated by the collective minds of millions rather than an
arbitrary power elite of 'planners', while ensuring that these forces
operate under the secular framework of the rule of law.
Growth and justice can, and do, go hand-in-hand.
Reducing state interference in life's outcomes
also means privatising state-owned businesses. Privatisation requires
the surrendering of state control, which is different from mere
'disinvestment' to help fill the state's coffers. Governments must
not run businesses, and that's that. So this aspect of reforms must
continue-on principle-even if done under conditions of higher transparency
and wider public endorsement.
Beyond that, agricultural reforms must be made
an utmost priority. Rural India is restless for change, for dynamism,
and for the bounty that reforms have delivered to parts of urban
India. Ignoring this will doom any government to come. Remember,
the first signs of frustration with India's decrepit central planning
system came from the rebellious farmers of Punjab. The rest of rural
India has proved far more patient--or so we think. Ask farmers.
The hope lies in technology and economics coming together to revolutionise
education and farming.
For the restlessness to translate into genuine
growth--and job expansion-India needs enormous investment. And it's
no use pretending that the country can generate its own funds at
a rate sufficient to meet expectations of the people at large. Foreign
direct investment (FDI) is sorely needed-and in an order of magnitude
as big as China's annual intake. Anything less than a target of
$50 billion per annum should be considered unambitious.
The overall idea is to make a double-digit
growth rate sustainably possible. After the heady pace of the early-to-mid
1990s, India has experienced a slight dip in average growth-enough
to make 'feel good' sound like a cruel joke to many.
Cruelty, of course, is often different things
to different people. This adds to the complexities of risk management
in India, and no government-or opposition-ought need a reminder
of its broader responsibilities. In the nuclear era, though, the
peace agenda must be a global one, even as the geopolitical matrix
gets more complex by the day. Just within South Asia, India faces
a challenge that calls for its finest minds: if the talks with India's
nuclear-armed neighbour fail to even get to the gate, let alone
get past, all the other economic efforts could come to nought in
It goes without saying that rejecting the good
efforts of the recent past would not give the new government any
credit. Furthermore, the message must go out loud and clear that,
yes, India means business-interpreted as a nationwide quest for
prosperity. And, critically, India knows how. Independently.
It is, to a large extent, a mind game. And
India is uniquely placed to deploy-with credible coherence-the world's
most diverse set of intellectual resources to realise its millennial
tryst with destiny.