Solving Marathi-Bihari discord, the Nilekani way

Nandan Nilekani, in his latest book, provides some imaginative ideas that could well help to broker truce in the Marathi-Bihari discord.

Akrita Reyar Reading extracts from the upcoming book of the Infosys co-chairman Nandan Nilekani ‘Imagining India – Ideas for the New Century’, I am struck by the dichotomy of Indian opinion. One India is that which we have so distressfully witnessed in the past few months in Maharashtra. Divided, parochial and purely driven by self interest. In contrast is the Other India, an India that was always meant to be. United, open and driven by ideas. It is this India that Nandan Nilekani wishes to bring to us or rather hopes we will all move towards. Raj Thackeray represented MNS and North Indians, Biharis in particular, are engaged in a fierce brawl claiming their right to a slice of development. Nilekani, though not writing about the current problem, does suggest that “addressing inequalities in class and region means opening the doors wider and empowering more people to enter the market and benefit from it”. He then goes on to recommend an overall increase in growth across the board, so that there is a bigger pie for us to divide amongst ourselves. But he also advices to make haste as “a fast growing economy such as India’s has a very short window for implementing reforms that broaden access for a large group of people – countries grow fastest in these early years and newly opened markets are sources of enormous opportunity.” Nilekani points out that while the White, Green and IT revolutions swept across the country, they missed Middle India, essentially the BIMARU states. One cannot but agree that these provinces must take a substantial share of the blame. Nilekani adduces retarded politics of caste, vindictiveness and an illiterate populace to prove his case. The efficacy of his statement cannot be felt ever more than now. Lack of reform, unchecked population growth and the failure of the people to throw out useless governments are the indeed the main reasons why this region missed the boat. For while one witnessed in UP successive governments witch hunting either of the Ambani brothers, the richest siblings in India, in what can be termed as nothing but politics of vengeance, Gujarat rolled out the red carpet for Tata’s Nano project; sweets and firecrackers very much in place. This shows exactly why Gujarat is Gujarat especially when it comes to economic prosperity. Lack of central assistance cannot also be blamed. The RJD government had a notorious record of lack of proper utilization of the sanctioned funds, it also did little to contain population or improve its long held status of being the least literate state of the country. Meanwhile, Mayawati has either kept busy fighting court cases of corruption against her, amassing more wealth on her birthdays or erecting her immortality in parks. Carrying the Nilekani argument to states, high growth rates in states can prove to be a panacea for most problems. In Imagining India he says, “Over the past few years, however, it has become clear that the economy has created millions of jobs, accommodating the many job seekers coming into the city from smaller towns and villages. Job creation has in fact reached the point that it allows economists such as Dr C Rangarajan to postulate that ‘we’ll reach full employment by the end of the decade’.” Going by these standards Bihar has something to cheer. The good news is that the Nitish government has achieved a fantastic growth rate of 16% in the last fiscal. What gives Bihar even more hope is that, Nilekani further writes, “Montek Singh Ahluwalia has pointed out that India moved from a time ‘when growth was at 3.5% every year, while population grew at 2%, which meant per capita doubled every 45 years”. But now, he notes, ‘a growth rate of 8 to 9% and population growth at less than 1.5% means that our per capita incomes are doubling every nine years’.” At this rate Bihar could double its per capita income in less than half a decade. The bad news is that its population growth is still galloping, and is more than double the national average. This can be attributed to the fact that while the population rate has been declining in the rest of the country, it continues to edge upwards in Bihar. The Nitish government must realize that this would inevitably add years to take progress to the people, as more and more hands will stretch out to claim the fruits of development. This is simple economics. If the population growth is controlled in equal earnest, there can be much hope for the BIMARU states especially in terms of creating opportunities for their own people. The same logic also helps us empathize with the Marathis to the extent that one understands their concerns for the local labour as well as the severe strain on infrastructure. But one cannot by any standard accept the tactic of downright hooliganism. Had Raj Thackeray chosen to open a public debate instead of his men battering hapless Bhaiyas, I am sure his point of view would have had more takers. But that would not have served his political constituency and therein lies the point of regressive politics, of putting one’s own interest ahead of that of the state or the nation. One cannot also agree with the MNS’ sole claim on Mumbai. World over all citizens have a right to their respective financial capitals, be it London, Paris, Tokyo or New York. Every community has contributed a boulder to create Mumbai’s impressive skyline. While the city is a part of Maharashtra, it cannot be claimed as its domain alone. If it were not so, then the Government of India would not have set up a special corpus fund in an attempt to turn the City of Dreams into an Indian Shanghai. It would have left the task to Maharashtra alone. But what comes out the most in Nilekani’s book of ideas is his broad accommodative approach. It is from this India that solutions must be found. Not with the states that have lagged behind trudging a lonely path, but with generous doses of help from all compatriots, if by no other way then by the way of ideas. “We only have a dim comprehension of what this pace of change means in terms of how we will cope with challenges in our environment, energy, health and infrastructure sectors. This is why I believe that the only way to push changes through and safeguard our economic future is to create a safety net of ideas,” Nilekani suggests. My point is that while Biharis must accept responsibility for their poor condition, and work towards the reconstruction of their own state infrastructure, other regions including Maharashtra must be more obliging. By widening the window of opportunity, as proposed by the talented Infosys boss, the demands of both Biharis and Maharahtrians can be met. It is this second India that therefore opens the doors for reconciliation. It is finally with this out of the box thinking and carrying-everyone-along approach that bridges can be built in the India that is bitterly divided.

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