Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 must be year of change for India

We have seen so much anger and anguish, indeed a cry of desperation and helplessness, in India over the last couple of years. Hopefully 2013 will usher in the kind of change all of us are seeking anxiously. 

Change must start at the top, for that is where the gaze of everyone is fixed. It must begin with the politicians, their cronies, the political parties, their leaders and workers, the political class in its entirety. People want to see debate in Parliament, not mayhem, vigilance and dissent, not boycott. It is the example politicians set in Parliament that filters down, and their negative actions only lead to cynicism and hopelessness.

The funding of elections and political parties needs to be addressed urgently. It matters little whether the spending is frugal or exorbitant; what is important is that raising of funds and expenditure should be transparent and legal. The hypocrisy of a limit on expenditure on elections, with all manner of clandestine spending in cash, must end. Dishonesty begins from right there.

Beyond that, the lust for wealth and property has to be resisted. Politicians and their cronies must learn from the simplicity of men like Ratan Tata, Narayana Murthy and Aziz Premji, and businessmen and tycoons need to understand the philanthropic ways of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. There is a limit to all the material possessions that a person should hanker for. Beyond a point these are useless numbers. Wealth should serve a purpose, one’s own and others’. Blatant hoarding is good for no one, not even for the avaricious collectors of mindless riches. There is a good case for a campaign and awareness about the right places to invest that would help the investors, their families, fellow countrymen and the nation. Collection of a vast inventory of real estate, gems and precious metal is not really in the interest of anyone. There must be a self-imposed limit on them.

One must also make a fervent request to all political parties to ask all their leaders, big and small, to immediately relinquish posts they have held for years and decades in sports bodies. We need medals at the Olympics and international sports meets, not the sight of the same self-serving officials over and over again. It will be good for our self-esteem if we are able to achieve this.  

While much anger has been spewed on politicians, not much has been said about the ways of the bureaucracy, higher and the petty. It is a mistake to generalize, but certainly some bureaucrats see themselves not as public servants but masters in the quintessential imperial way. Drunk with power, complacent in the idea of job security, and unshackled by accountability, their role is often obstructionist and bereft of vision, if not arrogant, and many of them are the window to corruption that citizens are faced with on a day-to-day basis. This arm has to looked at closely if India is to move ahead rapidly.

The role of the judiciary is crucial. The wheels of justice are painfully slow and get so expensive as one moves up the hierarchy that they spiral out of reach of the average citizen. Those who thrive under the system are the rich and the powerful. Criminals are smug in the belief that they can work around the system, whatever their misdemeanours. Often judgements are not clear, leading to further litigation. It has been observed that a very high percentage of pending cases involve governments and their agencies. The bureaucracy often passes orders that leave citizens unsatisfied, if not with a feeling of having been cheated, and it is cause for more litigation. If government orders are challenged there should be a mechanism within the government itself to see whether actual injustice has been done to the citizen, and to take remedial measures before prolonged legal battles take place. The bureaucracy has to be held accountable if its actions are seen as being unjust towards the citizen.

Much focus has been on the police in recent times. This is an overworked force not rewarded adequately, used and abused by the political class, and caught in the crossfire between the rulers and the ruled. It is not a day too soon to carry out police reforms. The police must be given its due place, well remunerated with drastic improvement in their working conditions. The practice of politicians using the police as conduits for collecting bribes must be stopped immediately. The police force must get back its pride and dignity, it must be a friend of law-abiding citizens and the nemesis of criminals. The harassment of the honest citizen has to stop and the criminal must be instilled with fear of the law.

Finally, we come to the media. It has played a very crucial role in drawing focus on serious issues but it needs to have a sense of perspective, exercise moderation where it is due, relentlessly follow up matters of national importance instead of merely being obsessed by TRP and indulging in sensationalism only for purposes of circulation. We need more of positive stories, less of negative news, fruitful debate and interaction, viewpoints of the experts, education, clean family entertainment, focus on achievements, instead of just doom, gloom, crime, corruption, violence, failure all the time. It’s a sense of perspective and proportion, remember, and the media must play a positive lead role when most of the other institutions have failed us badly.

Let us look forward to a new, bold, confident, positive, just India in 2013. A Very Happy New Year to all from a proud Indian.