Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It’s time for a party

It’s time for a party

We are in the beginning of a New Year. The air is charged with election fever. The time is right to think about a new approach to politics and a new agenda for political parties.

All the parties in the field today have become prisoners of their past. Caste, region- or community-based thinking or highfalutin claims of secularism, as a veneer to hide vote bank politics, has become the norm. Thanks to extensive corruption we have had an ever deteriorating record of very bad governance. No wonder, the recent Mumbai terrorist attack resulted in an explosion of anger against the political class. One of the advisors of President Elect Obama has noted that a crisis is an opportunity that should not be wasted. Is our crisis in governance, culminating in 26/11, and an opportunity for creating a space for a new political party or a new basis for political dialogue?

It is never too late to learn. As Rajaji observed the low value charcoal in our kitchen, the costlier graphite in our pencils and the diamond in our rings have the same chemical element carbon. If a lifeless substance like carbon can change so dramatically in value depending on the temperature and pressure conditions under which it was formed, how much greater must be the potential for change for the better in sentient live humans?

There may be still hope for our parties if they think of adopting a new agenda for politics. Totally new parties or NGOs in the process of emerging as regular political parties, as parties like Dr Jayaprakash Narain’s Loksatta, can easily adopt a new agenda in tune with India’s real needs today and take advantage of the national sentiment following the shock of 26/11.

The basic mantra must be to put and end to divisive politics, get out of the ever shrinking identity traps and strongly promote the idea that we are all Indians, one people, sharing a common motherland and a great tradition of culture and civilization.

The simple unifying principle for such an effort would be an imaginative adoption of universal employment as the tara ka mantra. Our vaunted demographic dividend will turn into a nightmare if we don’t provide productive employment to youth. Ensuring productive employment to them should be the goal of the party.

From this will follow a whole set of strategies and policies for a ready nationwide appeal. The first element of this strategy should be productivity and war on waste in all sectors. The second element should be a national effort at skill development. This will call for a drastic change in the access to education, producing world-class educational institutions and not denying access to any Indian to the best education on grounds of caste, community and other shibboleths of social justice. The third element would be autonomy of the institutions of education along with effective regulation to ensure that, while malpractices are not tolerated, new initiatives are encouraged. The fourth element of strategy would be encouraging entrepreneurship with a flexible labor policy. The fifth element would be elimination of corruption from all sectors by simplifying regulations and eliminating red tape.

The sixth element should be a system of built-in-accountability in the implementation of every law and policy. Our greatest failure as a nation is our poor record of implementation, thanks to a built-in culture of lack of accountability. 26/11 was the latest proof of this sad reality.

A nation cannot have poor public health and hope to emerge as an economic power. Public-Private Partnership (PPP) as the root for access to public health must be the seventh element of this strategy. A new party based on these seven elements can bring a refreshing reorientation in the sterile self-destructive political debate of today. After all as the old Gujarati proverb says, “Jaagya, thyar thi savaar” (The day begins when you wake up).

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