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Editorial

Bihar students' salutary lesson

B
y boycotting classes and taking to the streets in
protest against the spate of kidnappings of school children, angry students in Patna, capital of the benighted state of Bihar (pop. 82.8 million), have done the nation a signal service. They have reminded the Centre and the nation’s 31 state governments that their most important duty is to maintain law and order and provision of swift justice.

It is an indicator of the extent to which Indian democracy has gone off the rails that such an elementary canon of good governance has to be brought to public notice by school children. Yet the plain truth is that over the past half century under the cover of socialist ideology, the leviathan Indian state has stretched itself to breaking point by actively participating in every sector of the economy. The result is that the primary function of maintaining law and order has become a subsidiary, peripheral duty. Ironically when all others failed, the children of Bihar have scripted the imminent ouster (this edit is being written before the conclusion of the Bihar state legislative assembly elections) of the state’s embarrassingly rough-hewn chief minister and master caste arithmetic manipulator, Laloo Prasad Yadav whose misgovernance of Bihar for 15 long years has transformed it into an area of darkness. This is a good time for the Central and all state governments — and the publics which elect them — to begin to reorient their priorities.

To facilitate this process, it is apposite for the lay public to count the cost — in terms of lost opportunities and levelling down of institutions of governance — of newly independent India having ill-advisedly taken the high road to the wilderness of socialism half a century ago. A 20 million-strong (Centre plus states) bureaucracy which costs the people an estimated Rs.80,000 crore annually dominates every aspect of the commercial life of the nation; a massive collection of public sector enterprises (including heavily in-the-red bread manufacturing and residential hotel corporations) has siphoned away an estimated Rs.500,000 crore (at current prices) of national savings, and the heirs of the Mahatma have imposed the world’s third largest defence establishment upon a nation in which one-third of the population ekes out a miserable existence on less than $1 (Rs.44) per day.

The inevitable outcome of government preoccupation with commerce and the lucrative business of negotiating the purchase of defence equipment and armaments, has been the neglect of its law and order maintenance duties. With the nation affording one judge per 100,000 people (cf.1:10,000 in the US and 1:5,000 in Germany) the justice system lumbered with a backlog of 25 million cases is in a shambles, and 15 million under-paid policemen across the country have metamorphosed into a feared force of extortionists and criminals in uniform serving as bodyguards of politicians rather than custodians of the public peace.

Ironically it has fallen upon school students in benighted Bihar to impact this salutary lesson in administrative priorities upon the nation’s purblind establishment. It’s quite possible — indeed probable — that the spontaneous protest of the children of Bihar against the deteriorating law and order situation in the state has touched a responsive chord in the electorate which is in the process of choosing a new government. If so, it will signal the good riddance of Laloo Prasad Yadav who has presided over Bihar’s swift descent into chaos and ubiquitous criminality.

Opportunity cost of fighter jets

T
he five-day Aero India 2005, the country’s premier aviation show held in Bangalore which concluded on February 12, was by all accounts a great success. It attracted the participation of 232 companies in the aeronautics industries of 30 countries including the US, Russia, Italy, France, Britain, Israel and even Montenegro. The general consensus among the sales representatives of foreign corporates showcasing their deadly fighter jets and giant transport aircraft was that India has emerged as one of the world’s largest markets for the purchase of arms, armaments and the gleaming aircraft which blazed across the airspace over Bangalore to the wonderment of the citizenry.

Feeding frenzy was stimulated among the foreign participants in Aero India ab initio when on the eve of the air show, Air Chief Marshal Tyagi of the Indian Air Force announced to the media that India proposes to purchase 126 state-of-the-art fighter aircraft during the next four-five years. This declaration of intent has particularly enthused the US-based company Lockheed Martin whose advanced F-15 and F-16 fighter jets priced at $25 million (Rs.112 crore) each have rocketed to the top of India’s shopping list.

But even though the citizenry was bedazzled by the amazing pyrotechnics of the magnificent men in their state-of-the-art flying machines, the larger question of cost-benefit needs to be confronted. The IAF already has 1,500 combat aircraft (minus the ones that crash almost every month) — a mix of French Mirage, Russian MIGs and Sukhois and British Jaguar fighter jets — which gives it overwhelming aerial superiority over the Pakistan Air Force. On the other hand if a threat is perceived from China, the acquisition of a few dozen F-16s annually is hardly likely to make a difference since the People’s Republic has a much larger air force.

In the circumstances given the futility of incremental defence expenditure and bearing in mind that considerable investment has been made in developing deterrent nuclear capability, surely it makes sense to opt out of a new arms race and deploy the proposed expenditure into social sector spending while coterminously mounting diplomatic offensives (which is war by other means) to resolve political and territorial disputes with our neighbours. It’s well-known that with the largest population of illiterates in the world, the national education system is in disarray plagued as it is with capacity shortages at all levels, shoddy infrastructure, mass teacher truancy and multiplying admission and textbooks printing rackets. Moreover at 0.9 percent of GDP, contemporary India’s public expenditure on healthcare is perhaps the lowest worldwide.

In the final analysis the pursuit of development economics necessitates making the hard choice between guns and butter, never mind what establishment economists may say. For the purchase price of 126 F-16 fighter jets, the Central government could construct an additional 4,725 thoroughly modern Jawaharlal Navodaya Vidyalaya rural boarding schools with an aggregate student enrollment of 2.36 million. Alternatively it can build 7,000 fully-equipped primary health centres, or a mix of both. For all right-thinking citizens except mendacious arms merchants and commission-grabbing agents, the choice is a no-contest. While reasonable preparedness against external aggression is necessary, care should be taken that unadressed social injustices don’t provoke insurrection against the internal social order.

2006 Views  | Posted on:March 2005 Add Comment  Show Comments (0)