Challenge before PM Modi

Challenge before PM Modi

By THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN | 15 August, 2015

Seven decades since the Union Jack got replaced with the Tricolour in government offices throughout the country, the trajectory of governance in India has placed into doubt whether the pledge given by Jawaharlal Nehru on 15 August 1947 has been redeemed "very substantially" well. The quality of public health, education and housing remain abysmal. Half the world's desperately poor are citizens of India, which is also a country of lower than average life expectancy, income and literacy. Filth is the norm in towns, villages and cities and continues to remain so, despite a year having gone by since the appointment of numerous individuals as "Swachh Bharat ambassadors". Clearly, these estimable ladies and gentlemen have had very limited success in the mission of ensuring that the surroundings within which our people live are sanitary, despite the mandate given by the Prime Minister of India, whose idea and initiative it was to convert India into a country of clean streets and neighbourhoods. In the years ahead, hopefully India will be a country where administrative and court decisions get taken in months rather than, as at present, in decades. Hopefully, it will be a land where civil society has primacy rather than officialdom in the manner more suited to the colonial era than to the age of democracy. Politicians in the past have been adept at finding excuses for their inattention and incompetence, but in the 69th year of Independence, there is no more reason to accept any explanation for failure to deliver on governance. Certainly, the British left behind a wounded country, but enough time has gone by for those wounds to have been healed. We do not need nor should we ask for the derisory level of reparations suggested by a distinguished Member of Parliament to a British debating society some weeks ago in India, thereby proving yet again that this remains a country where a payment of less than half a billion US dollars is deemed fair recompense for the deaths at Bhopal of several thousand individuals and the incapacitation of several times that number. However, the people of India are no longer in a mood to accept excuses, and are discovering in the ballot box not simply a means of placing their co-religionists or those of the same caste into positions of authority and lucre, but an actual mechanism through which they finally get a government that works for them rather than for those running it. But for such a transformation in mood, it would not have been possible for Narendra Damodardas Modi to have captured the imagination of the voters in the manner he did, thereby silencing his detractors within the BJP, almost all of whom were rewarded with high positions by a forgiving Prime Minister, who followed the example of Abraham Lincoln in accommodating his rivals within his team. His admirers now expect that Prime Minister Modi go further in following the example set by Lincoln, who did not flinch from unpopular decisions in order to protect the interests of the United States. This means ensuring the passage of laws which promote economic growth as well as expanding liberty by retiring the numerous colonial-era laws that form a stain on the democratic fabric of the country and hold up its progress, which to be substantial must be led by the people rather than merely through state agencies. At a time when websites are proliferating which promote the ideology of hatred, fuelling recruitment to groups such as ISIS, it is ridiculous to expend so much state time and effort on moral policing through seeking to ensure the same restrictive standards of internet access in India as are available to citizens and residents of Saudi Arabia or Iran. India looks forward to a period where the processes and procedures of governance fit the needs and the genius of the 21st century. This is the challenge facing the Prime Minister, and we wish him well in meeting it.

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