With two successive years of Covid, India has hit a hard-reset button, implying that it needs a new ‘setup.’ It will be wrong to say that the government did its best. Still, it will more wrong to assume that it could have done more, given that Covid is an unprecedented crisis in documented history, and India is still an LMIC. Never before had the world came to a standstill, fighting an invisible enemy, and we are still not out of the woods. India is passing through a crisis, akin to what we passed through during 1947. Now, it is like rebuilding India post-Covid.
Only a shakeup is not enough; it calls for a total transformation. In 2014, I wrote an article, ‘For BJP, The Reforms Within’ (https://bit.ly/3vkrwuA ). Now it is time for Modi to reform the government and have a ‘Rescue India Plan’ as we start coming out from the peak of the second wave and the new world order emerges. It was shocking that Covid made India reach a stage where even some small countries offered $ 10 million in humanitarian aid, besides other supplies of a much smaller monetary value. Still, each shipment was critical, considering we had limited supplies of oxygen and medicines, which we needed to save precious lives. So, the first Covid crisis gave us the goal of self-reliant India, and the second Covid wave furthers us on this goal and challenges us to move much beyond. In a way, it has given us a reason to go back on the drawing board to relook at our goal of a 5 trillion-dollar economy.
We have to accept that Prime Minister, though well-intentioned, was let down by his team. Be it the bureaucracy, ministers, or the PMO officials. So, what next?
Incremental changes and managing perceptions are not going to work, and we need transformational change in government that can change the reality on the ground. Team Modi needs to adopt what Kerala did recently, and a new team is brought in for the PM! Let us accept, ministers have had a free run with ignorance and arrogance riding on the popularity of PM Modi, and they cannot even retain their seats if they fought an election without his name. So, they should make way for a new team under PM Modi. That’s the first start. Then we need a blueprint of transformative ideas to rebuild India from scratch. We have a massive task at hand beyond ‘jabs and jobs.’
Recently, India announced that it would provide 800 million free rations till Diwali. Effectively, we are feeding more than 10 percent of the total global population (7.9 bn). This 800 million population brings to the fore the size of India’s earning and spending ‘class’ population challenge. So, India’s position as a global investment destination is seriously hit, and we need to find ways to address this issue on a war footing. India’s image has been battered!
India, in pre-1947 time, had one goal - to free India from colonial rule! Now, we need to have a goal: to make India a developed country in a record time, and not a 5 trillion-dollar economy, so we can deal with any exigencies in the future and take care of our people on our own. PM Modi can address this issue by having an overarching goal of ensuring ‘Poor stand on their feet and the Old walk on their feet.
We need a transformative approach for systems of governance and administration and all sectors, with an overarching goal of lifting people from lower incomes to middle incomes and making India walk again.
The ‘Mask Generation’ is facing severe psychological and developmental issues. For a young country like India, this means we need a massive multi-sectoral program to ensure that this generation unlocks its full potential. Though radical, the new education policy needs an ‘implementation review’ in light of what is needed post-COVID. Upskilling needs a new definition and direction. Healthcare needs to move beyond ‘beds’ to ‘functional beds’ and needs an ‘end-to-end integration of technology. Agriculture needs a multi-sectoral approach and needs to move beyond doubling profits (https://bit.ly/3pLNAgP). Investment in science, technology, and skilling needs exponential growth with massive investments.
Fixing accountability for performance is the key, without it, nothing can move forward. We need to move beyond a lateral entry in bureaucracy and add ‘lateral exits’ for those who don’t deliver. Time up for non-performers, and the same applies to ministers!
We need to understand the basic rule that – ‘Perceptions don’t change Reality,’ but the changes, in reality, change the perception! Can India come out of such a massive crisis? We are a country of 139 crore people, and if we come together, we can come out of any crisis and emerge stronger! It’s time for India to unite under Modi and make India a developed country in record time. COVID is a warning and a call to action for everyone across party lines.
(Prof. Rajendra Pratap Gupta is a leading public policy expert and played an important role in drafting BJPs Election Manifesto in 2009 & 2014. He tweets @rajendragupta. Views are personal)