India 2020: Rethinking The Roadmap

The story of India isn't over yet. Indeed, one can spot a waning of optimism, given that the current Indian government has singularly failed to take the country forward. The indecision, confused policy-making, and fudge, may have cost India the momentum it gained in the aftermath of the last parliamentary elections. Except for a few bright spots at the individual state levels, the country seemed to have lost its way under crushing inflation and unending corruption scandals: Coming in a very difficult global economic climate, India's story looked as fragile as ever.

However, it is not yet time to write off India and move on: The reason is its great domestic demand. When the rest of world is suffering from consumer apathy, and everyone is afraid of a Dubai style real estate meltdown in Mumbai, the consumers still keep turning up in India: It is the country's half billion people moving from $1 a day to $1.20 a day, which is enough to spawn a demand tsunami and keep the factories going. Also, the expectations in India, after at least 40 years of bad governance, is so low that the current government's ineffectiveness does not look so bad in context. Everyone seems to accept that India has to grow instead of its government.

At this time, though, stakes are high. As millions of Indians reach their school leaving age and look to meaningful work, traditional Indian asceticism and low expectations are not enough to allow the country move forward. Governance - a culture of political accountability, transparency, good leadership - plays an important role in channelling the energy and efforts in an emerging, impatient country like India, and simply saying that it does not matter does not really help.

It is possibly fair to say that the India's governance problems somewhat stem from its constitutional structure. The makers of the Indian constitution, encouraged by their own background of English education and the imperatives at the time of an impending partition, imposed a Westminster-style unitary government on a country which resembles European Union more than the British isle. This has created a distant government, lacking accountability and transparency, which is sustained by a professional bureaucracy but not democratic involvement.

It may be blasphemous in India to question the efficacy of its constitutional structure, but this should be regarded less onerous than the rather dangerous demands made by the Lokpal mob: Irrespective of their good intentions, the anti-corruption movement in India seeks a technocratic solution and seems to indicate a lack of faith in democratic polity. Its momentum suggests that thinking about a constitutional convention is not out of order.

The base argument in favour of such a convention will be that the inefficiency of the current government is not about the people that runs it, it is something deeper: Replacing this government with another may not solve the problems India is facing right now. The contrast between a well-run state like Gujrat or Bihar and the Federal government in Delhi isn't just about leadership, but the structure of accountability and responsibility and the lack of it. To be ready for 2020, India needs to bring governance closer to its people: Only a rethinking of how India is governed can achieve the same.

Is this far too Utopian to think about? It is no more Utopian than the original imagination of India as a democratic country allowing universal suffrage was: To build a prosperous nation, one needs imagination that goes beyond the obvious. Would this make India weak and divided? This was indeed what the constitution-makers feared. But the world's strongest country is also its most devolved, and bringing governance closer to the people helps, not hinders, a country's sustainability. The poverty, chaos, corruption, which results in helplessness of the ordinary people, do not help to keep the country together, and certainly does not make it any stronger.

Some Indian opinion-makers believe that any talk of devolution will bring civil war to India: However, if an orderly devolution isn't carried out, India may soon be at an USSR moment. One has to wake up to the fact that a paternalistic government can not keep delivering prosperity over a long period of time. India has carried on the colonial state for far too long: It needs a cultural revolution of sorts to arrive at the next stage of nation-building.


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