Every January, it is customary to send new year greetings. This year, I will send greetings for a new decade. We all have been waiting for 2020 since the 90’s when books were written about India in 2020. Though we are nowhere close to what we envisioned for ‘this year-2020’, but for sure, India and the world itself has undergone many changes.
Demographic dividend, our biggest opportunity, will last another 25 years, and so, we cannot afford to lose any opportunity. A youth-dominated country is both - aspirational and impatient. The next decade is a decade for a clear plan and action. We must plan for what we wish to accomplish in this decade. Firstly, we need to define India we wish to see in 2030, and then, come to the point of how to achieve this aim? Though the last few years have added to the stature of India but they have also shown that we are vulnerable to economic slowdowns, and to some extent, we are at the mercy of USA and China. This has to change.
First, we need to decide our priorities. Till India is economically self-sufficient and strong, nothing else will help. So, we will have to develop the economic model which makes us strong and insulates us from global downturns – and this is doable. We need to prioritise MSMEs and agriculture over FDI and large corporates. Unless we do this, we will have jobless growth, which will lead to economic inequity and social unrest. The right economic model also ensures social harmony which makes a strong foundation for a nation as diverse as ours.
Second, focus on quality and innovation - in all we do. India has to invest in R&D to make India an Innovation leader in every sector, and it is doable. We cannot be competitive if we don’t address this issue. We will have to invest at least 3.00 % of our annual expenditure on R&D, Innovation and Quality Upgradation. This calls for a major shakeup in our education system. Without this step, we will never be able to achieve leadership in any sector, and we will keep losing the best brains to the west.
Third: Transform judiciary, police and bureaucracy. Why the government has to face flak on some issues is because we are wanting to change the system, but keeping the same processes and people who decayed it! India’s biggest challenge has been a tenured bureaucracy and this needs to go. Also, judicial and police reforms are equally important. A chief justice could exonerate himself from a case of sexual harassment in 15 days, but can an ordinary Indian expect the same speed for justice? Judiciary has been irresponsible, the bureaucracy arrogant and the police unaccountable for its failure! Time to go back to the drawing board and start afresh in reforming the bureaucracy, judiciary and police. Till we don’t address these, we can keep chanting slogans for development, but nothing changes on the ground. Else, governance terrorism will add to governance deficit. We need to keep government interference out of people’s lives as much as we can. The current system fails to realise that goal.
Fourth: Our development model has to become decentralised in a real sense, and also, we need some reorganisation in our decision making. We need to empower districts to develop them holistically.
Fifth: India is a data-hungry (for internet data) and a data shallow (for facts and figures) nation. So, we behave emotionally and not logically. We need to address the integrity, integration and intelligence of data and present it to the general populace so that they can understand and take decisions based on quality data. Else, we will keep drifting direction-less; economically and socially.
Sixth: A growing and a developing nation will have to look at energy security, environment and efficiency. Our energy needs should not compromise with the environment. Nuclear energy, solar and renewable energy is our best bet.
Infrastructure – not just good roads, but clean water, 24 X 7 electricity, high-speed data, availability of capital, friendly and efficient offices which deliver time-bound decisions and services, constitute an enabling infrastructure.
Seventh: Health of people is supreme and we have to still go a long way. We need to address this with a focus on fitness and wellness. Fit India campaign is an excellent start and we need to support it with more infrastructure and incentives.
We should stop planning for every four years to win the elections after five years. Time has come to think of a 25-year roadmap when India’s demographic dividend will be over. Post that, we will have less choice as an ageing nation with 1.5 billion population and still, if we remain a developing nation with jobless youth, it would be disaster attributed to a failed leadership that kept sloganeering, and we cannot afford that.
Each and every citizen has a big responsibility. It is not just a new year, it’s the start of a new decade, which will decide the future of India. India should leave behind the tag of being a lower-middle-income country by 2030.
Wish you a great decade ahead!
(Prof. Rajendra Pratap Gupta is a leading public policy expert and author of the book ‘Your Vote is Not Enough’. He tweets @rajendragupta. Views expressed are personal)