Skip to main content

An India That Works ?

I have this image of Bombay grinding to a dead halt, as its vital arteries slowly get clogged with people and traffic. Its happening already, in smaller doses. And no one particularly cares. A proposal to get a sea-water transport project off the ground has entered its 30th year of discussion - I could be off by a few years. A proposal to build a sea-link with the mainland is now, possibly, in its 40th year of debate.

At this rate, we should be looking at projects that were initiated in the time of or last reviewed by Lord Louis Mountbatten (1900-1979), Viceroy and Governor General of India in 1947 and see where we stand. I suspect not too badly off. The bulk of the infrastructure you and I use today, including railway lines, roads, airports, ports and water pipelines, were built before Independence. There are less active airports in India than there were in 1947. I would love to be corrected on this one.

Amartya Sen was bang on about argumentative Indians. Except that he did not put a time line on how long Indians can argue and debate on a subject. At least I don't think so. A head of a foreign bank in India recently told me how he was amazed that elections in India were not the end of the process but the beginning of it. A person elected to power is only elected, not empowered. So, by extension, he or she is not elected to power. What is this person elected to ? I wonder.

Beginning Or End ?

A decision to modernise an airport is the beginning of the process, not, as you might think, the end of a debate on whether to modernise or not. Modernisation, I might add, can be best described here as the renovation of a large hall, putting some extra lights, brightening things a little and adding a few counters here and there. This issue continues to be debated, while, as this writer has argued before, we should be building at least three new airports (in as many cities) as of yesterday.

A Bollywood film (Aamir Khan's Rang De Basanti if you were dying to know) is debated upon. The defence minister of the country and the three chiefs of the Indian defence forces have the time and inclination to sit through a film and decide whether you and I should be shown how obsolete Russian MIG 21s take-off and land in India. Hint, its usually outside the airport and preferably headlong into some open field. I wonder if warlords in Somalia (of which there are many and tasks few) have the time to administer films in their regimes.

Not all Indians are in this mode. Not Infosys Technologies, not Tata Steel. India Inc is on a furious, never say never die growth mode. Its CEOs, some of who run corporations larger than many government departments, are running faster than their tread mills allow them to. They are desperately seeking opportunities to expand and grow. Before the inexorable hand of time and globalisation grabs them.

India Inc Is Awake At Night

India Inc is battling sleepless nights and focussing on execution and competitiveness. And the Government of India as manifested here in the defence minister is putting his stamp of approval on a Bollywood film. The gap in priorities between the two Indias, of enterprise and government is frightening. Its a contradiction in democracy that one is unable to quite fathom.

Over the last four months, I have been part of two major round table debates on whether the Government of India is failing India Inc, or is it the other way around ? One was at XLRI in Jamshedpur, the other at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. More on them later but suffice to say there is an increasing disconnect between the educated, urgency driven youth and our ageing, perpetually debating politicians. The disconnect is perhaps accentutated by the fact that the young attempt to understand. Only to be dissapointed.

This is truly worrying. If I work hard and pay my taxes, I expect some returns. As do entrepreneurs and their firms. Note that one is not asking for a China-like pace. Though I could argue that India's private sector can match the Chinese entrepreneurial sector. Its got a way to go but not much. But in China, the state is clearing hurdles at breakneck speed. In India, in a sickening combination of ineptitude and inaction, it is introducing them at the same pace.

India Inc is getting around the roadblocks by scouring for opportunities outside. Despite the fact that the second largest market in the world is theoretically right here. You can hold back everything but not ingenuity and enterprise. India's largest company, Reliance Industries, it is said, wants to build brand new cities. American construction major Bechtel (whose services Reliance ocassionaly uses) is famed for its ability to do precisely that. Now, is there a way to get governments that work as well.

Comments

Melody said…
Hey Govind, there's a "Mumbai Blogger Meet up" - On Tuesday, 31st of January at 6 p.m. at the Carter Road - Cafe Coffee Day (Bandra West).

More details on my blog!
aparna said…
“The gap in priorities between the two Indias, of enterprise and government is frightening.”

I like the brevity of that statement. But literary praise aside, your post as always is thought-provoking. The government really does not have any business dabbling in our railways, airports and ports. Even if one of these three were handed to the private sector, I would think it would set off a chain of reforms and business activity.

And about our less-than-dynamic government, we either need a visionary leader like Deng or a party which has a clear majority and is able to go ahead with its financial reforms without being hampered by its own alliances. I am hoping that the next cycle of political leaders who are say, presently in their 30s or 40s and have been exposed to more capitalistic ideas may be able to change this cycle.
Indian Bachelor said…
hey! govind !

you to using google adsense! cool! he he ha ha ha!

besides, do we get paid or what? I have done it on my (terrible)blog as a POC (proof of concept) but still no money! :(
Thinks Heyz said…
"There are less active airports in India than there were in 1947. I would love to be corrected on this one."
You have got to be kidding!
Though Provoking piece. I was almost taken up on the wave created by manjeet kirpalani (writing for Business week) but you brought it crashing down. :(

The JLO analogy was good. People may enjoy India's song and dance routine but nobody will invest in the country on the strength of that.

"besides, do we get paid or what? I have done it on my (terrible)blog as a POC (proof of concept) but still no money! :("

This was so funny. Hahaha.
Anonymous said…
Brilliant piece boss!
maya said…
It is good article about city bombay,it is also known as get way of india and also economy hub and it is a pride of india

Popular posts from this blog

Why Did Aamir Khan Swing For Narmada ?

He is not the first celebrity to do so. But he’s turned out to be the most radical, activist Bollywood filmstar by far, all in day's time..at least as far as my memory serves me.

The reasons why he would back the Narmada Bachao Aandolan
could be several. Ranging from the fact that a cousin associated with the movement influenced him to the fact that he was in and out of the Kutch for six months whilst the shooting of Lagaan.

Lets assume all that contributed significantly. Still, why join the protestors in the manner he did ? Why become a face for the movement ? Knowing well there could be consequences that may not be the most desirable.

Dammed If You Do..

To his credit, he did not buckle to the mob frenzy that followed his signing up a few days ago. Instead, he calmly called the attention of all and sundry and asked if these were really the politicians and political parties they wanted to be led by ? He even accused the political parties of trying to bully him.

There are those who de…

Jan Lokpal Bill Movement: Lessons For India's Middle & Ruling Classes

`Supercop' Kiran Bedi learnt the hard way (or so we hope) how not to hold fort when she resorted to somewhat unusual theatrics to drive home a point about elected representatives. She was on stage as Gandhian Anna Hazare fasted to get the Indian Government to agree to pass the Jan LokPal Bill, a strong anti-corruption bill. His fast ended on 28 August 2011, 12 days after it started.

The fast (and the strategy thereof) has attracted kudos and criticism alike. The critics call the fast and the accompanying protests blackmail. The supporters say politicians are not known to respond to the usual greet, meet and review process. As they have not in the past. Moreover, the country has lived with unprecedented levels of corruption for decades and across all walks of life. And cannot tolerate it any longer. Extreme conditions call for extreme responses. Both sides however agree that the issue of corruption in public life must be addressed, with some urgency.

I see it a little differently.…

The Zone

I was watching Indian captain MS Dhoni's eyes when he hit the sixer that catapulted India to victory at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 on Saturday night. Only someone with numbing focus and meditative concentration, oblivious to the utter mayhem and cacophony all around, can play a shot like that. It was the definitive, you-guys-can-take-this stroke from a cricketer wanting to leave a permanent stamp on the game.

To be fair, many such definitive shots have been played, match winning and otherwise. But it was one of the few I would categorize as belonging to The Zone. Spiritual expert Jaya Row who once defined the Zone to me. "Its your ability to disconnect totally from the world outside and be in total control of your mind and body for that moment," she had told me.

I have always wondered about the role of spirituality (secular) in our lives. Ms Row, a Vedanta expert, defined ita appropriately. "Think of Sachin Tendulkar when he is facing a bowler. Look at his face…