Sunday 11 March 2012

We need a Jobs, not more Lalus (Sunday Guardian)

Manmohan Singh
By Madhav Nalapat
Now that successive US administrations from Ronald Reagan down have placed the interests of the financial industry over that of the rest of the population, the US has turned into a country where talent may never find an opportunity, unless fused with millions of dollars. Since the 1980s, policy within the US has shifted in favour of the few, a trend accelerated by the decision of the US Supreme Court to legalise "Super PACs", interest groups that funnel hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions to those candidates who promote their business interests. Given that this is (almost) the same court that won the election for George W. Bush by blocking an accurate recount in Florida, such concern for the rights of billionaires is not surprising. To the honourable judges of the US Supreme Court, those who have the money to buy politicians ought not to be denied that right, simply because a few are squeamish over the effect that such uncontrolled licence to special interests would have over public policy.
Surprisingly, once he got elected as President of the US nearly four years ago, Barack Hussein Obama turned towards the very financial interests that he had warned against during the campaign. Timothy Geithner, who is almost as responsible as former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson for the 2008 debacle, was put in charge of the clean-up. Instead of going by sound market principles and allowing those who had bet wrongly — often for reasons of hypersonic greed — to lose their money, Geithner oversaw an unprincipled transfer of funds from tens of millions of taxpayers to a handful of financial enterprises, all of whom enjoy privileged status in UPA-ruled India. Indeed, now that there are no savings left to plunder in the US or in much of the EU, these vultures (and their effective PR outfits) are flocking to India, to pick the pockets of investors here with their come-hither calls. Coincidentally, several of the children of local influentials, both political and official, have managed to find jobs in such predatory ventures. Such recruits may not be of much value in the office, but would be critical in whispering into Daddy or Mummy's ear at the breakfast table as to just why what is good for Goldman Sachs is just brilliant for India. They would, of course, be speaking to the converted. India is teeming with those holding the same view, especially those business journalists who share the view that while foreign enterprises ought to be facilitated to make profits in India, local companies ought to continue to suffer high interest rates, insane regulatory webs and Burundi-level infrastructure.
Now that he has smudged his copybook, Manmohan Singh needs to be renamed “Master of Lost Opportunities” in place of “Father of Reforms”.
Now that he has smudged his copybook — seemingly beyond repair, although those who respect the man are still hoping for a miracle — Manmohan Singh needs to be renamed "Master of Lost Opportunities" in place of the "Father of Reform" tag that Montek Ahluwalia's innumerable PR lunches with journalists ensured for him. Whether it is by assisting international cotton speculators by irrationally blocking exports by domestic producers or by veering towards succumbing to the pressure from international drug companies to hobble generic competition from India, the UPA has given ample evidence that to its core policymakers, India and the people of this country come last. One of the worst performances has been in the sphere of the internet, a field in which India ought to have excelled. Rather than expand connectivity, the government is going slow on expanding coverage. Even more unforgivably, it has placed the need to snuff out negative comments about itself ahead of the opportunity of making India a country where a new Bill Gates or Steve Jobs can arise. Had Kapil Sibal defended rather than trampled upon internet freedom, had this country put in place a system of procedures that welcomed internet creativity rather than followed Chidambaram's "PC" (Police Constable) path of blocking innovation and expression, India would have been the ideal alternative location in a world where the US is busy trying to destroy its own future by seeking to get passed legislation that will destroy America as a knowledge hub, even while (temporarily) ensuring profits for a handful of music and entertainment companies. This is the time for India to give Julian Assange a new home, him and others across the world who exemplify the boldness and the freedom that the internet promises. This is the time to develop desi versions of Facebook, Twitter and Google, that can migrate to far continents. Instead, we have Kapil Sibal — to the shock of his one-time admirers, including this columnist — seeking to make India not the (freedom-friendly) America of the past, but the China or the Saudi Arabia of the present.
This has been the greatest failure of Rahul Gandhi. A man who has travelled across the globe, lived in locations that during the time he was there were vibrant with promise, has converted himself into a Luddite behind the walls of his residence. Rather than ferret out the caste of Sam Pitroda, the only son of Rajiv Gandhi needs to introspect as to why he has not bothered to push his somnolent government into increasing bandwidth, or into spreading the benefits of internet connectivity to the extent seen in telecom. Rather than join his mother in weeping uncontrollably about the Batla House encounter, Rahul Gandhi needs to remind Kapil Sibal that he is unlikely to ever return to the Rajya Sabha, and therefore ought to focus on ensuring a policy matrix that protects rather than restricts internet freedom. He needs to ask why so many projects are being held up across the country because of actions (or inaction) of the very ministers and officials that he meets with each week. Specifically, just who is behind the effort to sabotage the Kudankulam plant in the way that uranium mining and the nuclear three-stage programme have been slowed to a crawl. The country wants solutions, not whining. It needs freedom, not colonial attitudes, and should Rahul Gandhi provide this rather than excuses, he could actually do some good for his party.
What if. What if the country had a leadership that had the confidence and the intelligence to understand that the people of India have the energy and the talent to achieve the best, only provided they are given the freedom to do so. So long as the opposite view is held — and thrust down the throats of the public through regulation after regulation — all that the UPA will generate will be not a Steve Jobs but another Lalu Yadav.

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