The silver lining of the prolonged lockdown of industry, business and normative life in over a dozen of India’s 29 states to prevent the spread and transmission of the deadly Coronavirus pandemic rampaging across the country, is that it has provided all good men (man embraces woman) and true, with time to deeply reflect upon why post-independence India’s high-potential national development project, is a comprehensive failure.
The evidence that it has gone bust is overwhelming. Over 300 million adult citizens are illiterate; the daily income of 68 percent of contemporary India’s 260 million households is less than $2 per day which means that over 880 million citizens are severely deprived of food, clothing and shelter.
Pervasive deprivation of the basics of civilised existence is compounded by rock-bottom learning outcomes in the country’s 1.20 million public schools and — as highlighted by the heavy toll of the pandemic — a hopelessly inadequate public health system.
Honest reflection makes it abundantly clear that adoption of the State dominated socialist economic development model was a grievous error from which a complete U-turn is overdue and necessary. The whole cargo of industry regulation and controls needs to be jettisoned for the economy to record double digit GDP annual growth rates during the next decade. There’s urgent necessity to revive the ancient tradition of government restricting itself to governance and administration. Wealth generation, necessary for national development, is best left to industry leaders and businessmen who by definition are best qualified to optimally mobilise and convert factors of production (land, labour capital) into successful, self-sustaining and employment generating business enterprises.
Admittedly, industry needs to be regulated to preclude monopolies and cartelisation. But this is best done by independent, sufficiently empowered regulatory agencies such as the Competition Commission, telecom and insurance regulatory authorities.
Moreover it’s critically important that the judicial system is also thoroughly overhauled and empowered to ensure timely enforceability of contracts, a prerequisite of economic growth. Over 275 Law Commission reports to reform the justice system and especially some that recommend that written pleadings should be the rule rather than exception, need urgent implementation.
India’s ancient texts on the art of governance including the Arthashastra recommended that kings should govern, businessmen should prosper, pay taxes and enrich the treasury to enable kings to invest in public welfare — education, health and infrastructure. Post-independence India’s failure to respect this development prescription written and practised in an era when the subcontinent was a global power has been vividly exposed by the current Covid pandemic. Admittedly this ancient, organic prescription is simple. But for orderly governance and modest prosperity for India’s billion-plus cruelly betrayed citizens, simplicity and transparency are necessary virtues.