Tens of thousands of Indians leave our shores each year in search of opportunities in distant lands like the USA, UK and Australia: far from friends and family. We need to ask, why do they leave? Why don’t they stay with their loved ones in a society where they have respect and roots?
An unpleasant truth stares back at us: the absence of freedom and opportunity in India, our injustice, lack of security, and high levels of crime and corruption. When life itself is not secure and it is virtually impossible to run a business without constantly bribing someone or the other, when India is by all international benchmarks almost a banana republic, what else should our best people do? Particularly if India constantly refuses to understand the basic principles of good governance, despite repeated efforts.
RELENTLESS DESTRUCTION OF INDIA’S POTENTIAL
Upon becoming independent, India started with a reasonably good Constitution based on liberty, equality and justice. But the promise of a free India was short-lived.
For thousands of years, Indian science, agriculture and craftsmanship were unparalleled – relative to the standards of the day. We supplied most needs and luxuries for the Roman Empire and Europe. In return, India was the final destination for most of the world’s gold. No wonder, India has long been known as Sone Ki Chidiya (Golden Bird). India was humanity’s guiding light, with many world religions and philosophies arising here.
Unfortunately, this proud tradition did not continue for long. Today, more than 73 years after the British left, we are less a republic, more a tyranny. A severe crisis of confidence in the government and justice system has depleted initiative and innovation, and given way to cynicism. We can’t blame the British for our sorry state of affairs any longer: seven decades after we achieved self-rule.
Most gains since independence such as increased food self-sufficiency, improved life expectancy and better communications have been achieved in spite of the government, not because of it. Instead, the government has hindered us, even betrayed us, at almost every step.
India, which had 25 per cent share of world trade not so long ago, now engages in a tiny 1.67 of global merchandise trade. Tiny countries like Singapore and Hong Kong, mid-sized countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, and large countries like China have made rapid progress, but we continue to languish at the bottom.
Because of its socialist policies, government became incompetent and corrupt, destroyed enterprise and significantly curbed freedom of thought, expression and action. India now ranks poorly on international comparisons of prosperity, human rights, education and healthcare. With some economic liberalization in the 1990s, spectacular improvements in many aspects of life were experienced. However, once the crisis was over, the government continued with its destructive socialist practices, ownership of companies such as Air India, Ashoka Hotel and Scooters India, and patronizing crony capitalism. Our democracy has seriously decayed, with the corrupt and criminal fast-tracked into Parliament, even as good people are mostly forced to stay away.
A CLARION CALL FOR TOTAL TRANSFORMATION
The country is searching for reasons to be proud. Even tiny ‘achievements’ (relative to global standards) are exaggerated and glorified in a nation largely starved of reasons to feel proud. Worse, we have started to delve into – often questionable – achievements of the distant past, seeking to piggy-back on what our ancestors may have done thousands of years ago.
This must change. It is time to stop looking back for self-respect, and to build a great India for the future. It is within our capacity to build the world’s biggest economy in a span of 30 years. We can again be the seat of culture, education and great learning. We can build a land of freedom and opportunity greater than the West has ever seen. We can create an India to which the best people from all over the world will make a beeline to live and work, and our best people will find it worthwhile to stay back and raise their families. Because then, India will once again be the great beacon light of hope for the humanity.
This vision may sound implausible today but India has a track record of outstanding achievement in the past. Our transformation will come about by a complete overhaul of our Governance Frameworks. Most system changes can be implemented within three to ten years but some could take upto fifteen years. All that is needed is a people and a country ready for change; And a mindset open to possibilities! Let’s wake up and take charge of our country.
WE GIVE A CLARION CALL TO OUR PEOPLE to join us in rebuilding a new India which they can be truly proud of. We urge you to dream of a Prosperous nation! Shun your cynicism; don’t compare us with any of the earlier failed promises, for Nyayabhoomi is born with an entirely new ideology, a new set of ethos and belief system, and a new participatory governance model. Nyayabhoomi is the result of decades of preparation, of a dream many of its founders have nurtured since childhood; and of troubled minds that worked long hours on inventing a model that balances a free world with the humanity’s need to care for the weak, for the less fortunate and for those whose existence has no price tag.
OVERHAUL OF POLITICS
Who are our politicians? What are their backgrounds, their education, their vision for the nation, and their competence to make and deliver on promises? What is their record on running governments?
The answer, unfortunately, is quite obvious. These politicians come to power through populist election planks and gimmicks, in the name of caste and religion, offers of heavily subsidised rice, water or electricity, promises of government jobs, and direct bribes for voters in the form of cash, liquor and sarees – a sure way to further shackle India’s potential.
After multiple failed experiments and dashed hopes, the job of overhauling the politics falls to us, the people, through Nyayabhoomi! You will see it in the institutionalised way leaders rise through the ranks in the NGO, in the consultative and democratic process, in the vision and views articulated by leaders, and in the way we lead a people through treacherous path rather than resorting to the tried and tested populist measures. We will never be led by a ‘cult figure’ who is omnipresent on posters, banners, flags and advertisements. Decisions at the NGO are made through institutionalised processes, not on the whims and fancies of a coterie. Long term objectives are not sacrificed for short term gains by promising freebies.
Besides complete integrity, conviction and commitment, people in the leadership positions also need to possess skills, competence, and a strategic mind. Nyayabhoomi is laying down rules and creating a culture and working environment that motivates such people to step into the world for greater good rather than watching their destiny being written from afar by the mediocre and the petty minded.
There will be many actions and milestones on this journey to success. All of them will be identified, planned, and monitored.
Equal opportunity and freedom
Every person is born free and has equal rights over nature’s produce and public goods, that is, everything other than what has been earned and accumulated by his ancestors. There are some basic necessities, however, such as food and shelter that must be fulfilled irrespective of one’s financial capacity to pay. Then there are some more for survival and growth such as education and healthcare which are necessary to overcome inherited limitations. Beyond these inheritances and social security cover, the government must ensure equal treatment for all in all respects. Everybody must have the opportunity and freedom to pursue one’s advancement so long as one doesn’t harm others.
Role of government
Government is needed because a society needs to defend itself against aggressors, it needs peace and security within its borders, and it needs a machinery to deliver justice. Government is also needed to protect an individual’s freedom of expression which is unique to humans, and to protect a citizen’s property from being usurped by another. For all these purposes, a society collectively appoints a government as its servant and pays taxes for the performance of these common functions.
In a socialist, corrupt and nepotistic India, this is not so. And that is the bane of our nation.
The government should know where the legitimacy of its role ends. It must not interfere in a citizen’s life. It must not be intrusive. It must not run businesses like Air India, MMTC and Ashoka Hotel. Doordarshan must be freed, media must be freed, sports and culture must be freed from the government’s clutches. Government must not be a construction company, an aircraft manufacturer, and a textile retailer. A government must be much much less, the citizen far far more powerful and free! The government must be leashed and the people must be unleashed.
What will the government do then?
The government must leave no stone unturned to transform police from a repressive and regressive power into a modern, citizen-friendly force that makes citizens feel safe. It must burn midnight oil to turn our courts into temples of justice that soothe the innocent but make the wrongdoers tremble with fear. Our defense forces must be world-class, bureaucracy must be corruption-free and high-calibre, and social security coverage must be universal and of respectable standard. With the greatly reduced role for the government, the legislature can focus on making good laws with built-in foolproof mechanisms.
Role of citizens and businesses
Citizens are no less patriotic. In fact, they are usually at the receiving end of corruption while ‘babu log’ mostly indulge in bribes and extortion. If you see bad roads built by thekedars, blood sucking private schools, out of reach Fortis and Max hospitals, and mafia in the garb of builders, then blame the systems and crony capitalism. Compare that to the days of BSNL and MTNL, government schools and hospitals, houses and roads built by municipalities, and the condition of state transport buses! Compare also to government liquor shops, rest houses, Khadi Gramodyog shops, and government offices!
Government must focus on private enterprise led world-class production of public goods, provisioning of services and building of infrastructure under foolproof regulatory and monitoring mechanisms. What government officers with job security can do, citizens whose survival depends on performance will do better. There will be no place for underhand dealings, doling out of favours, crony capitalism, and quid pro quos.
Let the government focus on its core functions, and on catalyzing employment generation.
Reduce and reorganise government
The government is too big. Many ministries, departments and corporations exist only to reward and appease politicians or to enrich them.
The party in power must reorganise the entire government. Several ministries and departments must be consolidated into far fewer bodies, many should be shut down or abolished, and some should be made fully autonomous with no government control whatsoever. All public sector businesses should be privatized. Private participation on a humongous scale should be sought in education, healthcare, utilities, and infrastructure.
All such actions will free up huge amounts of money, real estate and human resources. While real estate should be monetized, human resources should be retrained and redeployed. Employment generation should be the single biggest objective of the government.
Overhaul governance systems
Current system of governance is tailor-made for corruption, indifference, avoidance of accountability and obstruction of entrepreneurship.
The government should set up a new performance driven governance system that will make the government responsive, nimble and sensitive. Modern management tools and methods should be embedded in the running of the government. Alongside, civil services at all levels (peon upwards) should be completely overhauled and hierarchical structures should be flattened. Public servants should be paid well but should be held to very high accountability norms. Jobs must be no longer secure for non-performers. Skilling and training of civil servants on ongoing basis should be undertaken on a massive scale with a view to bringing their mindsets in line with citizens’ aspirations.
E-governance must become the default mode. A citizen’s life will be made easy. For example, a passport can be issued in three days. Every single communication of every citizen should be mandatorily responded to. RTI should be strengthened. All actions must become time and cost bound, and the citizens should be fully compensated for every failure of the government.
Set up and institutionalize policy frameworks
World-best policy and regulatory frameworks must be set up including impact statements, cost-benefit analyses, policies to maximize competition and ensuring competitive neutrality. In at least 90% of the cases, the government should restrict itself to a supervisory and regulatory role. It can create mechanisms for monitoring performance involving multiple layers of checks, and focus on delivery of high quality governance and services.
The entrepreneurs must be given absolute freedom without unnecessary restrictions, thus leaving them to focus on their businesses and to create a vast number of jobs. Indians should be able to set up businesses and trade globally without hindrance. Tax regime should be completed restructured, including abolition of TDS. India should be made into a single economic market without unnecessary obstacles to inter-State and intra-State trade. The government should coordinate closely and consult with the trade bodies for policy interventions. Every arm and department of the government must have an open door policy for individual businesses if they face difficulties.
Engagement with foreign countries, especially neighbours including Pakistan, must be deepened.
Taxes must be low but tax base must be widened; government debt should be paid off.
New cities and real estate, engine of growth
Majority of India’s people live in unsafe, cramped and inhabitable houses. Commercial establishments are no better. Through tax incentives and sovereign guarantees, the government should encourage construction on a massive scale across the country, leading to colossal economic activity and value creation. Direct private construction expense alone will be equal to twice India’s GDP.
Our cities are too unplanned and congested to support even one tenth of this construction boom. Using this disadvantage as an opportunity, the government should promote the setting up of hundreds of modern, smart and environmentally friendly cities of varying sizes to accommodate 50 to 70 crore residents.
The real estate system, the source and destination of most of black money, should be restructured, simplified, made super transparent and accountable, and turned into an engine of growth.
The government should facilitate businesses (not ‘thekedar’ types) to build and manage roads, transport, power, ports and railways, utilities, telecom and other critically needed infrastructure. The government should play a regulatory and multi-layer supervisory role. Its focus should be on ensuring world-class 21st century infrastructure to facilitate commerce, reduce congestion and increase productivity.
Farmers should enjoy untrammeled freedom of access to markets (no APMCs), pre-guaranteed bank credit, crop insurance, options and futures (derivatives), 24 hour electricity, and unrestricted growth opportunities (no land ceiling). Simultaneously and incrementally, they should be freed from the façade of minimum support price and subsidies that are counter-productive in the long run. It should aim to drastically reduce the share of agriculture in employment.
Incentive-based systems of sustainability should be built into all developmental activities. Ministry of environment should be transformed into a regulator with teeth. Discharge of pollutants into the rivers should be blocked at source, ambitious air pollution targets should be set and aggressively met, food safety standards should be the highest in the world, and clean environment must be targeted as a right of citizens.
Corruption is a disease but what causes it? It is almost always a consequence of bad systems and absence of structure of incentives and disincentives.
Laws which give officials a handle to bully people and extort money must be amended or revoked. Requirements for papers should ill be drastically reduced in all government activities. Procedures should be simplified. Approvals should be automatic. Self-certification should replace apply-and-wait. Action on any allegation or evidence should be immediate and without the need to seek consent from the government.
Corruption in public dealings and at policy levels can thus be eliminated within five years.
Crony capitalism is a graver threat to a free society than petty corruption. This is where the policies are influenced, terms of tenders are subtly altered, contracts are bagged and hundreds of crores change hands. Crony capitalism works in unimaginable ways to deprive us of good politicians, rights over natural resources and the use of quality infrastructure. It is a nexus between corrupt politicians and shady businesses who bring bad name to capitalists and entrepreneurs. It is they who make profit a dirty word.
To eliminate crony capitalism, governments must frame policies and terms of tenders after extensive open consultations. All papers related to purchases made or contracts given must be made public immediately. The government should not forcibly acquire your land to hand over to big business. In short, the government should act in general public interest rather than particular vested interests.
Government must reduce taxation, broaden the tax base and significantly increase tax compliance to end black money. Real estate reforms can suck the money out of the sector, rendering it a very unattractive destination for money. Let the property prices fall. Holding or creation of black money should be treated as a serious crime. Cases of black money should be concluded and the guilty should be punished very swiftly. When the government starts giving account of every tax rupee to its citizens at a local level on a quarterly basis, tax evaders will begin to feel the social stigma. On the other hand, tax payers will be respected by the society and the government alike.
Eliminating poverty & institution social security
Government plans should deliver freedom and, therefore, jobs and much higher real wages for all Indians. Extreme poverty can be eliminated in 3 to 5 years through targeted negative income tax.
From among the poorest of the poor, government should have just one target for the able: create employment. And one target for the less fortunate: provide decent level of support through social security.
There will be just one programme to eliminate poverty. All other schemes and subsidies created in the name of the poor should be abolished.
Education and health
Even the children of the poor must attend high quality schools and the entire population must have access to high quality healthcare. Government should provide health insurance for every resident which will cover all healthcare services and may be availed from any private hospital or medical centre. All government hospitals should be privatized.
Government should give education vouchers to the children of the poor which will be as good as cash, thus ensuring that everybody has access to high quality school education. A call should be taken on privatizing school education after extensive public consultation. A regulatory mechanism should keep a watchful eye on the performance of schools that claim public money in any form.
India’s record on disaster and emergency management is abysmal. Any bright sparks are due to sheer in-the-moment courage of individuals and improvisation which can be no substitute for preparedness.
Government should frame policies and plans for disaster and emergency management, and create/improve institutions. There should be a plan for every type of emergency of every severity-level for every area/city/state/region. Standards and guidelines should be framed for all public assets (roads, drains, bridges, flyovers, buildings, rivers, beaches) which will be strictly adhered to. A one-time audit of all existing assets, public or private, should be mandated.
Separation of religion and state
The government should be indifferent to and maintain a neutral stand towards religion. It should never participate in any religious activity. State and religion must be kept entirely separate. No ceremonies involving religious rituals should be part of public functions.
Changes should be well-planned, not disruptive. This might mean that some inefficiencies will continue for a while till all changes are carefully embedded. Some changes will take less than three years to implement; others will take a little longer. By the tenth year, almost all reforms can be successfully rooted.
TWO MEASURES OF SUCCESS
We ask the country to focus only on two ultimate indicators of success:
- The reversal of India’s brain drain. When thousands of our best and brightest halt their exodus from India, and when the world’s best graduates become desperate to migrate to India, then we will know we have succeeded. Not one day earlier.
- Very low rate of unemployment. When every youth of the country is gainfully employed and when every household has an earning member, then the country would have the reasons to be proud of its heritage and assured of its future.
That day, India will become well-entrenched as the beacon of liberty to the world, the greatest land of opportunity the world has ever seen.
Soon thereafter, India’s per capita income will rise to exceed the world’s highest, a foregone eventuality.