On India’s Century: How Narendra Modi can propel India to move forward as a global power

Thinking Beyond

Anoop Swarup

Anoop Swarup
Anoop Swarup

As we celebrate one year of Narendra Modi government, the May 18th issue of Time carries a portrait of Narendra Modi on its cover and the Editor Nancy Gibbs goes at length to state that though Barack Obama may be the leader of the world’s most powerful democracy, the distinction of leading the largest one belongs to Narendra Modi. Indeed the world is watching us as Obama recently wrote about Modi in a Time 100 issue it is now expedient for India to move into the fore front of nations by force of will and conviction. It is also equally important that India’s future history does not repeat its past tale of missed opportunities? There has been much media hype on the first year of the Modi Government and its achievements and failures but few had really looked forward to propose the next few steps that can propel us to make the next century as India’s century. Let me devote this column to that onerous task and propose a future forward. Also in the same measure let me mention that it is not Modi’s NDA versus Rahul’s UPA or for that matter, the BJP versus the Congress with all the cacophony of the past but a more defining approach to nation building that the Prime Minister should now pursue as the people have now given him the decisive mandate for change after almost 30 years.

In my last week Column I had elaborated on the eve of Modi’s foreign visit that the Elephant and the Dragon, together as the two billion plus economic giants can forge a future for the whole world. I had been passionate that the long march is indeed possible only through a strategic give and take on the border, economic synergy, joining hands on the global war against terror, joint endeavors and better investments on manufacturing and agriculture, climate change and new technologies, water resource planning, manpower skilling to resource the world as an economic powerhouse. I had made a case that the opportunity is here and now for the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chinese President Xi Jinping, so that the Asian Century may take shape.

First, is Governance and that implies real and representative organizational framework at local levels and a committed leadership at the helm supported by an honest and responsive civil service. Governance is therefore a double edged sword and the Prime Minister should take urgent and immediate steps not only to reform the leadership structure at the top but also the existing bureaucracy from an outdated feudal civil service comprising the IAS, IPS, IRS, IFS, and the rest to a modern, progressive and responsive civil service. India should urgently ensure as prevalent in most progressive societies that the higher bureaucracy, at the rank of a Director/Joint Secretary and above in the Union government and the Secretary/Principal Secretary and above in the States be hired as specialists through a transparent process by the Union Public Service Commission on contractual term basis with distinct key performance indicators, identified result areas and performance outcomes. Also in the States now the very dysfunctional and obsolete District Administration should be thoroughly revamped with only specialists running major government departments and functions with strict monitoring, evaluation and targeted time frames. On the law and order and policing front we should bid adieu to the outdated colonial mindset that had the oversight of an ICS District Magistrate over the Superintendent of Police from Indian Police who in most cases was from an army background and there used to be a justification he being ill informed of civilian law and norms. We do now have a professionally trained policing for almost 60 years where the IPS officers are better trained to administer civil policing the earlier logic now appears preposterous. The Police should have absolute control over their domain as in most advanced countries in the interest of better performance and leave magisterial functions to a more committed judiciary to be inducted as Indian Judicial Service officials like the rest of Civil Service. The top echelons in diverse and specialized departments such as Public Works, Health, Irrigation, Revenue and Education can be hired on contractual basis so as to be more responsive for delivery on strict time frames whereas lower functionaries may be retained as is now prevalent through the State Public Services. The organizational change for prompt delivery and responsiveness can only be driven by a more specialized professional specialist with independent functioning than a generalist Indian Administrative Service Officer who at the helm at the District level has a plethora of functions, all under one cap. He not only finds it almost impossible to do justice to anyone but also and more often than not is inclined to maintain the status quo. I may mention that at the Panchayat level and at the Municipal level now the time is indeed ripe in our country to have a more involved and decentralized approach to governance as in vogue in the county and city council structure of the west where the prime focus is on citizen centric participatory development and delivery rather than on mere revenue collection and administration.

Second, is corruption as that only bleeds the individual but also infects the entire society and it starts from the very top. It is indeed high time that our legislators, the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha MPs as also the Vidhan Sabha MLAs are driven by the highest common factor and not the least common denominator. Therefore it is imperative that the legislators who deliberate and frame our policies and who legislate the nation’s priorities and concerns are not only literate enough but are also educated well. These should as leaders of an emerging India join the party on raised bar as graduates with no criminal history, due disclosure of both movable and movable assets and be free of corrupt and criminal history. Any further procrastination or deception on our part on any purported consideration will sure be a disaster in the making for the country at large and a recipe for a societal failure. It would be even more necessary for the selection of our Ministers both at Centre and State levels, where with foresight and better planning it can be ensured that the ruling party has commitments and internal guidelines to follow good practices for representative candidate selection and enrolment. Without any further delay we have to ensure that the selection to the statutory bodies and anti-corruption bodies such as the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Central and State Vigilance Commissions, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the state Lokayukta and Economic Offences Wing, is made on an impartial basis without the say of either the ruling or opposition parties so that they do function and perform with integrity and honesty.

Third is the immediate and outright need to revamp the Indian Judiciary, reform the legal regime and also to throw away to the bins the infamous Collegiums for selection of higher judiciary. There are over three crore cases now pending in our Courts mostly on flimsy grounds. Mr Prime Minister let us give our bright young law graduates an opportunity to serve the nation and on merit alone reach the very top that is the High Courts and the Supreme Court through an Indian Judicial Service that can function professionally right from the district and subordinate Courts. As you once very rightly observed judicial activism. even if five star, should now be opened up to scrutiny. That implies that not only judicial pronouncements and legislative intent should be on a watch but also our existing notions of right or wrong even if it has been tested earlier before a Court of Law. Thus very much like the other three pillars in a democracy, judiciary even if considered divine need not be in ivory towers Mr Prime Minister. In a free democratic society where constitutionally guarantees of freedom of expression and speech are inbuilt we should be open to introspection and scrutiny in the interest of better performance and higher efficiency for the common man. It is equally important to urgently rationalize and simplify our laws and regulations in every sphere that are an unwanted anachronism from our feudal past for a just, transparent and progressive regime that favors initiatives, innovations, facilitation and ease of compliance instead of evasion, avoidance and control of a bygone Inspector Raj that promotes inefficiencies, corruption and delays.

Fourth is India’s Strategic Defense and Foreign Policy preparedness and response. I vividly recall that once in the early 90s during my interaction one fine evening with Late General K Sundar ji while at the Defense Staff College at Wellington that he commented on India’s strategic response to a particular foreign policy intervention that he surmised that it was nothing more than a fuzzy logic of decisive indecisiveness. How true, when in retrospect I do feel that he was not off the mark as our foreign policy reaction as much as our homeland security response to many threats both internal as well as external, have been of implied and supplied indifference. That I believe should now be changing having cognizant of Narendra Modi’s bold pugmarks both on defense inland and foreign policy offshore initiatives.

Fifth and perhaps the most important is the investment in Education Mr. Prime Minister. Once Peter Drucker famously quipped that today knowledge has power, it controls access to opportunity and advancement. The question is, are we doing enough as the youngest nation when we rethink skilling, teaching and learning. I believe that the time is ripe to ensure that our demographic dividend does not turn out to be a demographic disaster. On an urgent basis we should identify the constraints, problems and challenges in school teaching both at secondary and tertiary levels relating to curriculum, infrastructure, administration and better access. One issue that is now a global issue is to explore methods of attracting and retaining talented faculty members. Attempt should be made to suggest measures to develop a research tradition particularly in the Universities where it is important to provide a level playing field to private entrants. Across the globe some innovative approaches have been made to raise standards and promote excellence in higher education in the wider social context. A case in point is the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), the Virtual Class Rooms and Technology Enabled Learning now in vogue that is changing the teaching landscape across the globe and is going to be a great leveler for India. It is also critically important that we explore and suggest ways of incorporating emerging changes in teaching and curricula as John F. Kennedy believed that knowledge is the frontier of tomorrow and the America that we know made it a mantra for its policy makers. Obviously, in India also emerging knowledge has to keep pace with the changing paradigms in the educational environment and will require identification of problems implicit in regulatory structures that constrain the quality and spread of education. The Ministry of Human Resources will have to set its vision for teaching standards in education, evaluate its status today, and build a roadmap and a broad strategy to reach those goals. It is not at all farfetched to treat as vital investment in knowledge, innovation and creativity as it pays the best interest.

To conclude, I may mention that it was amusing enough to find Rahul Gandhi on the floor of the Parliament calling the government a Suit Boot ki Sirkar and quick was the retaliation from Arun Jaitley that it was a Sooj Bhooj ki Sirkar. Indeed let us for the moment believe that this will indeed be a Government that works and that would deliver!

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