Two years have gone by since the last general elections. It was assumed that once a new government led by a younger PM was installed, on the basis of its electoral campaign pledges it would address various anomalies in the governance of the country. That was after all the major, though not the only reason it got elected in the first place. Every government no doubt tends to spin and manage perceptions to its advantage, but with the daily sycophancy of the state broadcaster and those of a couple of glossies, the management of public perceptions has been taken to new levels. However, there is clearly a big difference between the perception that is sought to be projected and the hard reality.
The hard reality comes in the shape of continuing pressures on the population in its lookout for a clear and sustainable future. Economic analysts beyond the government spheres and, more quietly in the conglomerate private sector, are not confident in the official figures and optimistic forecasts being put out to allay disquiet that most sectors are in tight straits. While the continued slide of the Rupee may have brought short-term windfall gains in exporting and forex-dependent sectors, it is the population that has incurred the brunt of the costs. Ballooning public debt, contrived by some artifices to remain decent, is not only a heavy legacy but has been of little use to expand or promote new pillars of growth. There is only so much that a high dependence on financial, IT and real estate sectors can bring.
The need of the moment is to remain focused on the hard reality facing the economy and avoid getting trapped into trivial considerations of all sorts. But the state of the economy is not the only area where the population may feel the country stewardship has to reach for new horizons, a new roadmap. We need to address real issues that have consequences for a better future on the broader horizon – notably in education, health, communications, skills formation, international networking and an appointments philosophy that reflects a modicum of needed competencies across the board. We need to know that transparency, robustness and reliability are in-built features of our democratic electoral and parliamentary functions, that our judiciary and policing functions can have their independence fortified, that our fabled investigative agencies are not paper dragons to hunt opponents, or those perceived as such, that our press, social platforms and media, with better regulation, are not operating under threatening Damoclean swords. And we could add some more.
However, it is not enough to set the stage. It is important to go into the details to derive the components of a new and viable deal for the population. Everybody needs to know the destination we want to reach. This will establish a collective vision about the goal. We don’t have it. At least, as of now, people do not know what we are precisely heading for. If we know the overall goal targeted, we may or may not agree with it. But we can at least thrash it out and reach some sort of a consensus on how to deal with the various economic inefficiencies that need to be overcome. Decisions will be required in that context which have nothing to do with the sort of nominations we have been seeing. Those decisions are an altogether different kettle of fish. They involve, among others, the identification of the required competencies on which true nominations will have to be made, based on the individuals’ ability to deliver on the solutions that have been identified.
Failure to target now the overall framework fairly quickly will make us lose our way, paying more attention to certain details than they deserve. People will start focusing on irrelevancies when more pressing matters are calling for our attention, especially if the idea is to set a more open and equitable stage for broad economic development involving a larger number of economic agents than the conventional ones and hope to deliver on the expectations of the population for their day-to-day requirements.
The global economy is not currently in a mood to distribute gifts freely. It is beckoning nations to come and play a tough competitive game in which there will be gainers and losers. Gainers will be those who have a very clear idea of where they want to be and how they intend to achieve their objective. They need to have a macro-view of how to position themselves on this difficult stage. It is the ability of the individual producers/exporters to vie against international competition that can make the difference. This has nothing to do with selection by caste, creed, religion or gender.
At the global level, no one is interested in the trivialities, character assassination campaigns, personal attacks and other differences that are paraded here to be able to secure votes. This approach can only be self-defeating in the end. What is worse, it will not only fail the political leaders, it will fail the nation as a whole. We should take bets on a more open society based on merits and intrinsic abilities capable to stand up in the international race.
* Published in print edition on 4 March 2022
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