Looking Ahead: Setting the Nation's agenda
To begin with, I must admit that writing about the nation’s agenda at this point of time in our democratic life is a very interesting challenge; for the fact that we are fortunate to live in such a remarkable era. Personally, I am willing to compare it with the years immediately after independence, when though the country was encumbered with woes of partition, millions of homeless migrants and illegal infiltration of Pakistani tribals in Kashmir, it was yet pregnant with hope of a glorious tomorrow and ready to grasp alluring opportunities nether out of reach. Today, as we feel burdened by challenges posed by Naxals, corruption, terror, withering value systems and more, at no time in the last half a century were our prospects more cheerful; our hope to make a tryst with our destiny of becoming a weighty economic power more real.
While it is easy to write about what is wrong with us, most of which is staring us in the face, a search for viable solutions is more challenging. I will therefore borrow liberally from successful models from across the globe, and also dip into our own history for valuable lessons. Most importantly, I will rely on some home truths which the visionary Gandhi realized before we understood their indispensability.
In this series called ‘Looking Ahead’, I will touch upon rural India, problem of population, education, national security, economy, politics, idea of citizenship, corruption, fundamentalism, work ethic, environment and a lot more. So here goes: Rural Reforms: Making our villages a land of opportunity
The more India changes, the more it remains the same. If Gandhi had espoused a model to build a vibrant rural India, it was after deep contemplation. Because what he said at the turn of the 20th century remains as relevant at the curve of the 21st. Especially at a time when the Red Corridor is no longer confined to being a bloody lane in India, but spreading its imprint of violent ideology to much broader swathes.
The demands of the populace remain the same and mostly unfulfilled – food, water, shelter, education and employment opportunities. Political slogans can range from ‘Garibi Hatao’ to ‘Aaam Admi’ – it is easy to refashion an idiom, but it is the lot of the underprivileged and poor that remains at the centre of India’s failure.
Till the time the belly of rural poor is fed, they will continue to pick up the gun. Much like the French revolution, where the offer of cakes by Marie Antoinette was a mockery of the lack of bread.
While rural incomes are rising, our farmers are still committing suicides; there are insufficient employment opportunities leading to large scale migration to urban towns and cities, creating a fresh problem of strain on infrastructure and unplanned city growth.
India resides in its villages and there can be no hope for wholesome progress of its people and prosperity till the villages are not made the centres of plenty. As per the Gandhian model, we need to reform rural hinterland – build infrastructure, provide village children good education, libraries, create small hubs of technology, set up small-scale and cottage industries to keep the people engaged within their self contained and self sufficient areas.
The government has made a start with NREGA and Bharat Nirman, but as both Rajiv Gandhi and now Rahul admitted our delivery mechanism is faulty. That needs to be made transparent, effective and accountable. Only ten paisa of a rupee reaching the intended beneficiary defeats the very purpose of uplift. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has taken the bold initiative of providing direct food and fertilizer subsidy to the rural poor. How he will facilitate the same remains a question. On his part, the FM is confident that Nandan Nilekani’s UID scheme will do the trick.
In terms of making our villages vibrant and prosperous, we could probably also borrow a leaf from the methodology adopted by Chalukyas (540-753 AD) in the Deccan where existed a good system of development and administration, very much akin to the Panchayati Raj, just more successful by leaps. Here the villages were controlled by Headmen (Gramakutas) along with an Executive body (Adhikarins) which comprised many leading households (Mahattaras) of the village. They discussed their own needs, usage of allocated funds, most pressing requirements and projects, and also oversaw the administration and ensured that government officials were delivering what they required.
This simple model was and would be democratic and effective – rural India should be, in its truest meaning, of the people, by the people, and for the people. (This piece on Rural Reforms is the first in Looking Ahead series.)