Tuesday 30 June 2015

Only performance can change perceptions (Sunday Guardian)

M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.

The increase in the previous 12 months in jobs and investments has been small.
ome months ago, the commentariat exploded into a frenzy of denunciation against what were termed "Hindutva elements" within the Modi government. Individuals, who had never been the focus of national media attention through decades of political activity, suddenly found themselves adorning the prime time shows of major television channels. Their repertoire of clichés was dissected, with the conclusion being that if there was a fall in esteem for both Mr Modi and his team, it was this segment of it which was the cause. They were held responsible not for riots, for there have been very few riots since 26 May 2014, much to the chagrin of those who had predicted a holocaust once Modi took over, but for "creating a mood conducive to violence in the future", and excoriated to their face(s) in television studios or in their absence.
The question is: why has there been such a focus on what is just ambient noise? Is the reason that the nation is yet to realise the promised "feel good" factor? Taxes, regulations and interest rates were high under the UPA and remain so. Transparency was constricted then as now. And only a dribble of cash of the $1 trillion-plus of deposits held abroad illegally has returned to the country. The SIT has been busying itself recommending North Korea-style measures that will do next to nothing to prevent the generation of black money, but serve to gift our corrupt governance structure yet more instruments to extract bribes from a hapless populace. Since 1947, law upon law has been enacted, each reinforcing the colonial-era practice of placing huge dollops of discretion in the hands of low-paid officials who nonetheless send their families to London and New York on vacations, who educate their children in institutions such as Harvard where even the annual income of Papa or Mamma would not suffice to pay a month's tuition, or who build mansions which would put a Raj Nivas to shame.
What is needed for the Modi government is to form a hybrid Task Force, comprising elements of the civil services as well as civil society, to examine the lifestyles of the top thousand officials in its service, while state governments should do the same with those they supervise. The greater the powers of an official (including those at the political level), the higher the level of punishment which should get meted out for ignoring ethics and law. Till now, while those at lower levels (admittedly too few of even these) go to jail for long periods, those at the higher levels guilty of amassing wealth in hundreds of crores of rupees usually land up in high office instead. The Ranjit Sinhas are not the exception, but the norm in matters of recruitment to sensitive offices in a culture where the Civil Service does not as yet face the scrutiny of bodies formed for the purpose from Civil Society. Small wonder that the policy emphasis is ever on (a) control and (b) the collection of "rent", both legal and illegal. That is how the colonial mind of the governance mechanism works, a mindset that has only grown in viciousness over the decades of "freedom". With his call for "Minimum Government, Maximum Governance", Modi promised freedom from the constricting, corrupt superstructure of governance and its replacement with a system integrating elements of civil society and ensuring a high degree of transparency and accountability. Thus far, achievements have been exceedingly modest when compared to potential. Thus, to the Department of Telecom, a signature "achievement" is the provision of internet access in the precincts of the Taj Mahal. How many additional tourists are going to visit the Taj because of the free WiFi that has become available onsite? But what about raising broadband speeds and lowering their cost, what about rolling out 5G when even 4G has been delayed? What about giving the hundreds of millions of the poor access to the worldwideweb? On such matters, the Department of Telecom is understandably reticent.
"Smart" cities are not simply steel and concrete. They need as well an atmosphere of intellectual freedom and a liberal culture. They need 5G, they need a billion Indian citizens rather than merely 180 million having regular access to the internet. They need lower taxes and interest rates than now and much lower regulation. In less than a hundred days, the minority government of Narasimha Rao slashed away at regulations in industry, even as Manmohan Singh lowered duties and restrictions on foreign companies and funds, while refusing to show a similar benevolence towards Indian taxpayers and companies. The police officer mindset of the revenue authorities has had little effect on slowing down the generation of black money, but it has succeeded in driving much of this cash away to St Kitts or in the Bahamas rather than get spent in India.
While the economy needs consumption to grow, the measures adopted during the year have acted to dampen consumption, with the result that the increase during the previous twelve months in jobs is small, as is the case with investment, both foreign and domestic. Sectors such as coal, telecom and energy remain in the ICU, even as the banking system is on track to cross Rs 500, 000 crore in NPAs before the UP Assembly elections fall due in 2017. Even during the end of its tenure, the UPA could only lower the growth rate to 6.4%. The people of India expected at least 9% from this government at the end of their first year of governance, not just 7.3%. For Narendra Modi was not voted in to tweak the existing system, but to change it, and unless he does so, double digit growth will be a dream. Those who say that the travails of the NDA are only a matter of perception, are wrong. It is a matter of performance, and to improve on this, Modi will need to implement a "Modi India" model the way he crafted the Modi Gujarat model within a couple of years of becoming CM. But for this, Modi will need to go beyond Lutyens' Delhi and draw his team and his policies from the real India and its people.

Monday 29 June 2015

We need Modivians, not Nehruvians (Sunday Guardian)

M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.

PM Modi needs to examine the record of his ‘Lutyens Delhi’ year and wrest control of policy from the Nehruvians to empower the Modivians.
he world of politics is composed of three groups, (i) idealists (ii) those who mimic idealism to mask the pursuit of self-interest and (iii) realists, who frame policies which reflect the factual situation prevailing at the time, rather than go by textbook representations of reality picked up in Chicago University or at Harvard. The Supreme Court of India has yet to rule that India's first PM should join Mahatma Gandhi in the list of those the court has in its wisdom decreed should be exempt from any comment couched in less than adulatory terms. Hence, it can be legally said, even in India, that Nehru was conspicuously unsuccessful in transforming the country into a nation of saints modelled on the Mahatma. Even Nehru found such a metamorphosis difficult to achieve, which is probably why he chose to reside in the most opulent government-owned residence in Delhi (save the Viceregal Palace) once sworn in as Prime Minister, evicting the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian armed forces from his York Road eyrie in the process. Since then, however, every PM save perhaps Chandra Shekhar and Narasimha Rao have framed policy on the assumption that officialdom — if not the entire population of the country — could comfortably fit into the procrustean bed of virtue regarded as natural for them by leaders swearing by Gandhi's vision of a perfect society, one marked by a voluntary vow of poverty and the rejection of such acts of barbarism as sex and the consumption of alcohol. Although surveys of such subjects seem a trifle scarce, anecdotal evidence indicates that neither of these evils has been banished from the land, even in Gujarat, where successive governments have sought to make saints of the local population by the Iran or Saudi Arabia method of using law to ban human behaviour seen as unsaintly.
While successive Chief Ministers in Gujarat may have uncritically followed the Morarji Desai model of seeking to cut and chop human behaviour to fit the procrustean bed of their liking, in most other cases of an excess of idealism, the actual motivation is greed. Policies dressed up in idealistic verbiage usually have the effect of sharply increasing the volume of graft in the country, as the numerous laws against the generation of black money show, including the latest effort. Apart from North Block, no individual (who is sane and with an IQ beyond that of a moron) can believe that another sane and non-moron individual would voluntarily declare moneys stashed abroad if he or she faces the certainty of losing 60% of it through taxes and penalties and the risk (if an Income-Tax officer decides) of paying out much more than the whole of the hoard, should the 90% super penalty be levied. The only way a reasonable sum of moneys (which in the estimate of this columnist is a minimum of $150 billion) could have been secured would have been through a scheme which levied a moderate penalty of 20% on the amount repatriated, with prosecution only in cases of irrefutable evidence before an independent tribunal of the moneys having originated from terror or narcotics. Even this low rate of penalty would have allowed the exchequer to gain $30 billion, or a sum sufficient to launch a countrywide programme of bringing infrastructure to 21st century standards from its present status of being anchored in quality in the 19th century. However, this would have been anathema to the "idealists" in North Block, whose desire to punish and control trumps by a substantial margin what little instinct they have to fashion policies, which actually deliver results rather than languish as avenues for the enrichment of politicians and officials.
In a country where fewer than 5% of the population pay any discernible level of direct tax, and more than 90% are outside the tax net, what is the logic in making criminal the purchase of (heavily taxed) goods and services? Given the hell that tax administration is for the taxpayer, with the P. Chidambaram doctrine of zero taxpayer rights still in force, to expect that about 25% of the population will move into the direct tax net is to be "idealistic" i.e. hypocritical.
Only low rates and humane enforcement will result in higher and higher drafts of people getting into the direct tax system, as took place in periods where sane policies were followed, as by Chidambaram in the Deve Gowda ministry or Jaswant Singh in A.B. Vajpayee's. And what are we to make of RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, who wants to force hundreds of millions to become customers of US-based credit card companies the same way as his guru Milton Friedman sought to impose an "idealistic" (i.e. ruinous) economic policy on much of South America, thereby preventing that continent from competing with North America and the US for at least a generation? Rajan talks of non-performing assets without mentioning that his interest rate policies are responsible for much of the slowdown in industry witnessed during the past few years. Now North Block wants to spend billions of dollars in "recapitalising" state-owned banks rather than selling equity in them to investors who ought to be given a major say in management, if not outright control.
PM Modi needs to examine the record of his 'Lutyens Delhi' year and transition to a period of low taxes, low regulation, low interest rates and a high degree of freedom for educational institutions as well as the people at large. Another year of Lutyens Delhi-style policies and whichever party claws to power in 2019, it will not be the BJP. Modi is a realist, not a mock-idealist in the V.P. Singh mode, and he needs to wrest control of policy from the Nehruvians to empower the Modivians.

Saturday 27 June 2015

Will Modi Get Free of Lutyens Delhi (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat

Friday, June 26, 2015 - Although his words gave a promise of comprehensive change, once sworn in to office on May 26,2014 Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi apparently decided to continue with the personalities and policies of the past. The Union Cabinet chosen by him - and it must be said that he had complete freedom to select whoms over he wished, and did - could have been chosen by his bete noire within the BJP, Lal Krishna Advani. Indeed, much of Team Modi is actually a repeat of Team Advani, with the members of the latter leader seamlessly moving to the side of the former in stages after events in 2012 showed the inevitability of the

then Gujarat Chief Minister emerging as the Prime Ministerial candidate of his party, elbowing out Advani and his chosen substitute Sushma Swaraj ( now Minister of External Affairs). How and why Modi expected that those steeped in the tradition of Lutyens Delhi would alter their ways of functioning is a mystery. Suffice it to say that they have not, and that several components of the Modi government act and react in the same manner as its predecessors have. Indeed, this columnist has more than once characterised the Modi-led government as being a compound mixed with 40% Vajpayee,40% Manmohan Singh and only 20% Modi. Overall, rather than cut away at the many regulations and laws that have constrained progress of India over the past two centuries, thus far new government has instead sought to increase hold of state over citizen. 

Although a Digital India has been promised, there seems no visible effort by the Department of Telecom (headed by a Permanent Resident of Lutyens Delhi who is also a lawyer, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the brother-in-law of former Congress Party minister Rajiv Shukla) to increase internet surfing speeds, which in India are lower than in almost every other country in Asia with the exception perhaps of Afghanistan and North Korea. At a time when the world is moving into 5G, in this country even 4G has yet to be implemented except within very narrow bands. The other country with a billion-plus people has no fewer than 800 million people online, while in India the figure is below 200 million. While China has its own versions of Facebook, Twitter and other internet applications, in India, foreign companies have a monopoly. 

In India, the primary purpose of much of the laws and regulations enacted in a flood since 1947 are not to improve the lives of the population but to ensure more and more avenues for the collection of bribes. Doing anything worthwhile in India is to run an obstacle race with the authorities, with officials placing roadblocks in profusion so as to force the hapless victim to pay a bribe. In many segments of the economy, the shifting to online systems has become a farce. Take the situation in the Passport Department, where it is a miracle if an individual can get his or her passport online. Each time, some excuse or the other appears onscreen, necessitating a visit to the Passport Office, the very chore that online systems were designed to obviate. In the Passport Office, those (mostly from travel agencies) who keep the staff happy in ways unnecessary to define get served quickly. The staff pay very little attention to documentation in such cases, although in the case of those who do not pay up, they call for document upon document to be produced, wasting several hours of the applicant’s time in the process.

The hell continues to the present day, to the dismay of those who expected the coming into office of Narendra Modi would bring about change. Government offices are still lethargic and still cash-hungry. Indeed, some departments such as the tax authorities are these days raking in even more money than in the past, for the simple reason that Modi has blocked political interference in their functioning. This was done to reduce corruption but the effect has been to free officials of the worry that they will be held to account by politicians and hence have become bolder in their demands on taxpayers. Lutyens Delhi regards itself as the colonial master of the rest of the country, and in the manner of such an agency, focusses on making as much money as possible from the people. The focus of activity in Lutyens Delhi is the enrichment of friends and family, often to the level of billions of dollars. 

A similar mindset prevails among significant sections of the business community. For example, a businessperson imports a $40m equipment for $ 100m, sharing the loot of $ 60m with officials and politicians but keeping enough to offset the investment he has made in the company. Cleared of this, and relying on borrowed funds to run his enterprise, businessman has zero reason to prevent company from going sick, as he has already recovered his investment through over-invoicing of imports. A common scam is to purchase in bulk items from One Dollar Stores through a dummy company and for this company to resell goods to another at much higher prices, thereby squandering foreign exchange through the importing of goods at prices way above those actually paid. Money gets made equally through under-invoicing of exports, where goods are sold at low prices to a dummy entity that immediately resells them at a huge mark up to genuine buyer, balance going into an offshore account.

It would be a simple matter for the authorities to examine suspicious imports and exports and to make an example of those cheating the exchequer, but of course, this is not done except in cosmetic cases. Instead, more and more laws get passed, and regulation upon regulation gets added on to mix, making it a hell on earth to not just do business but to go about ordinary business of life. Every say there is risk of some corrupt official using a law or a rule to create complications for a citizen. With his promise of ‘Minimum Govt’, it was expected that Modi would change such an ugly reality. However ,this far, Lutyens Delhi appears to still be in driver’s seat. Taxes remain high as do regulations and interest rates, while sector after sector remains choked and clogged by worst bureaucracy in Asia. PM Modi has very little time before people of India lose faith in his promises, to free himself of Lutyens Delhi and instead govern on behalf of the entire country. Each day, his government is losing public support, as each day, citizens await the day when PM Modi will run at least a 40% Modi government rather than the current 20% version .

Sunday 21 June 2015

Rahul focuses on strategy for a No NaMo 2019 (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 20th Jun 2015
Sources involved in planning the political strategy of soon-to-be Congress president Rahul Gandhi say that the 45-year-old Congress heir's objective is "to ensure that Narendra Modi become a single-term Prime Minister", rather than Rahul himself becoming the fourth member of his family since 1947 to become Prime Minister. A key adviser said, "Rahul has age on his side, he can wait till 2024 before taking over the government." His strategists say that "the willingness to hand over the baton (of Prime Ministership) to another leader from a different party will give an advantage to the Congress in the post-poll negotiations likely to follow the 2019 verdict". What has changed for Rahul Gandhi is that "The CP (Congress president, i.e. Sonia Gandhi) has finally woken up to the fact that the veterans advising her are out of tune with the times". These sources claim that "during 2013 and in the run-up to the 2014 elections especially", Rahul Gandhi was "deeply frustrated by the adherence of his mother to the counsel of the traditional politicians surrounding her". Things began to change after the May 2014 defeat, "the scale of which convinced Sonia Gandhi that it was time to divest the traditional politicians in the party of their power" and trust Rahul Gandhi. "The rise of Modi showed that the culture of politics in India has changed, yet throughout the rise of the Modi phenomenon (during 2011-2014), the Congress functioned as though it were back in the 1970s". The party organisation therefore "failed to connect with the aspirational middle class voter, while the Manmohan Singh government was in their perception disconnected from the poor", thereby losing out on both voting blocs.
Rahul Gandhi's strategists believed that the party's pre-election focus on Modi was a "mistake", and that it was done to "consolidate the minority vote", which instead went in several states to other parties. However, they feel that a concentrated focus on the Prime Minister will now pay dividends. "The goodwill for the BJP is concentrated on Narendra Modi, and if this goodwill disappears, so will that for the party", said a key strategist, who pointed to the Delhi Assembly election results as indicating that "confidence of the electorate in the BJP is falling". The effort will now be to show that "Modi's words do not match his deeds, and that once in office, this has become obvious". They will constantly remind the electorate of promises made and not kept.
Strategists for the Congress heir (many of whom are non-political) speak of the "boomerang effect" of using the Prime Minister's own campaign rhetoric against him, especially on the issue of black money and crony capitalism. They claim that a steady stream of scandals will surface in the coming months about the workings of the Central and state governments, warning that "people's patience is over".
A network of friendly officials is believed to be silently at work collecting material from inside the government to try and prove that corruption and favouritism are still rampant. They say that the data collected will be released in stages. Honesty and efficiency are the two factors which attracted voters to the BJP, and the effort of Rahul's aides will be to show that neither is present in the BJP-led government, which took charge on 26 May 2014. It is in such a context that "Rahul vetoed the suggestion by four senior advisers of Sonia Gandhi to work out a compromise (during the last session of Parliament) that would allow important bills to get passed with Congress-drafted modifications". The three top aides of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kamal Nath and Ahmed Patel have each excellent connections with the BJP, including at the highest level. However, "since the 2014 debacle, Sonia Gandhi has decided to go with Rahul rather than reject his views as was done often in the past". From the start, "Rahul has been in favour of a confrontational stance inside and outside Parliament, so that bills get stalled and the government is shown to be ineffective". These sources say that the "decisive moment came just before the last session of Parliament, when Sonia Gandhi rejected advice from key advisers to seek cooperation with the BJP and instead backed Rahul Gandhi's aggressive approach towards the BJP", in particular the Prime Minister.
These sources say that Rahul Gandhi "has a deep personal conviction that the country cannot afford a second term in office of Prime Minister Modi, and has therefore made his removal (rather than Rahul's own assumption of the job) the priority". Hence the accommodating posture towards anti-BJP regional parties in Bihar, which Rahul strategists anticipate will be followed by an alliance in UP with either the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party, "forged in a spirit of compromise according to the MGR formula", where the Congress makes concessions on Assembly seats and gets rewarded by the allocation of a higher number of Lok Sabha seats in any alliance of which it is a party. Rahul strategists believe that a "defeat in Bihar will affect the BJP in the 2016 polls as well as help ensure a bad performance in UP" the next year. "Once both Bihar and UP are lost, the Modi government will become a lame duck entity", these sources say, adding that, "even before, the effort will be to show that there is no performance and only hype in its functioning". A key strategist was scornful of the Swachh Bharat and yoga initiatives of Prime Minister Modi, saying that "not yoga postures, but jobs matter to the voter, and in this, Modi and his government will fail".
Rahul's strategists say that their sampling has shown a marked decline in confidence within the electorate that the promises made by the BJP in the 2014 campaign will be honoured, and that the Congress "will build on this distrust". They repeat that the objective in the 2019 polls is "not to ensure a Congress government or even a Congress-led government, but to keep the BJP out". The objective is to "reduce the BJP tally to a maximum of 150 Lok Sabha seats and to raise the Congress score to at least 175 Lok Sabha seats so that the party will have a dominant influence in the next government". A source pointed to the 1970s' Kerala experiment, where "the Chief Ministership was conceded by the Congress to the CPI, even though the former party had more seats". He added that "Rahul is not in awe of the Prime Ministership and has shown this during 2012-13, when it was his for the asking". He rubbished reports of a disconnect between Priyanka Vadra and Rahul Gandhi, saying that "the entire family is close to each other" and that any talk of differences is "motivated". He was, however, evasive about Priyanka's political plans, saying simply that "a decision on this has yet to be taken". However, he indicated that it was "very likely" that Priyanka would contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, presumably from Rae Bareli.
Congress sources say that after the lapse of a year, "action on corruption charges against our people will lack credibility", referring to the ongoing CBI investigations into Virbhadra Singh in Himachal Pradesh and Shankersinh Vaghela in Gujarat. A top strategist pointed out that "the window of opportunity (to prosecute UPA influentials) was during the first six months (May-October 2014) in the glow of public adulation for Modi and discontent with the UPA. Now that window has closed and action will invite public doubt rather than support".
A source claimed that "We have been kept informed by honest CBI officers that a top BJP functionary is in constant contact with the organisation to influence investigations", and added that "proof of such interference will be made public at an appropriate time". No proof was offered to substantiate such a charge of interference. "A year has gone by without any charges being made by the Modi government (against UPA leaders), so to do so now when the Congress led by Rahul Gandhi is boldly opposing the BJP, will be shown to be vindictive and we are not afraid", the key strategist warned, adding that "dirt will be met with dirt" and that "those living in houses with stained glass windows had better be cautious while throwing stones".
Clearly, Rahul Gandhi has ensured that the Congress is in a fightback mode, just a year after its worst-ever defeat in a Lok Sabha election in what his strategists say is a repeat of 1977, when in less than two years, the Congress won back the public support it had forfeited in that election. However, Narendra Modi is not Morarji Desai, although both are from the same state, and can be expected to respond to the challenge posed by a Rahul-rejuvenated Congress soon.

Friday 19 June 2015

Pan-democrats hinder HK's democratic progress (China Daily)

By M.D. Nalapat(
Updated: 2015-06-18 14:50:32
An electronic display shows the results of a vote of a government-backed reform package during a session in the main chamber of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China, 18 June 2015. [Photo/IC]
Hong Kong's Legislative Council rejected an electoral reform plan with 28 of 37 lawmakers present voting against it after a lengthy debate ended Thursday. This is a setback to the orderly progress of Hong Kong democracy.

What the ultra-democrats are doing could undermine the economic interests of Hong Kong by affecting prosperity, which is increasingly Mainland-generated.
Until 1997 the administrative authority of a territory that has become a world leader in finance and logistics rested with London rather than Beijing.

Although the Western media and business leaders invariably credit their own institutions for the success of Hong Kong, the reality is that Hong Kong (as well as Singapore, another former British colony with ethnic Chinese majority), entered a period of rapid development only after former British prime minister Harold Wilson began his country's "withdrawal" from "East of Suez" in the late 1960s.

Since then the steady decline of British influence and authority in the East has been matched in the reverse direction by the development of Hong Kong as a global trading hub.
Because of the immense monetary resources the Chinese mainland has and the internationalization of the yuan in the near future, Hong Kong could overshadow London as the premier financial center after New York in the next decade. This is not something the United Kingdom is expected to take kindly to.
China, Russia, Brazil and India are united in their desire to end the supremacy of the Bretton Woods institutions in the world of finance and economic development, because these organizations are engineered to further diminish the powers of countries that had been world leaders before being colonized by European powers.
This is something Hong Kong residents should realize, along with the fact that their city is in Asia, not Europe. The veto reflected the influence of the ultra-democrats on public opinion in Hong Kong,and such a hold may cause a shadow to fall over the full utilisation of business and economic synergy between the mainland and the HKSAR. 
The Hong Kong residents should understand the need to seek solutions to their problems that are unique to their culture and geography, instead of borrowing them from foreign countries that have vested interests, including the desperation to safeguard the privileges they have been enjoying for more than two centuries because of their military might and political guile.

This is not an argument for ignoring or neglecting everything Western, because Asia has much to learn from the West. In the case of Hong Kong, the strong English language skills of its residents as compared with those of the Chinese mainland is a powerful means of economic and social betterment, a theory that also applies to Singapore and to the "IT revolution" in India.
But if the roots of culture and tradition are pulled out, the remaining structure of Hong Kong will be devoid of its resilience, vitality and versatility, which it so dearly needs to overtake London as an international financial hub. The SAR can achieve this goal only if develops better synergy with the Chinese mainland, not by pulling away from it. In this sense, those who propagate a "one-size-fits-all" version of democracy are being dictatorial, not democratic.
The geographical location of Hong Kong, and its people's culture and traditions, and the opportunities available to them are very different from the models being suggested by countries that have more than a passing interest in maintaining their global dominance in the 21st century.
As technology continues to empower people, the range of choice available to individuals will expand. A knowledge-based society guarantees wide bands of freedom in terms of thought and expression, and certainly the Chinese central government understands this fact. But such freedoms have to be in conformity with the reality of Hong Kong.
Across the globe, attempts to replace or displace existing structures by constructs developed for totally different climes and peoples have resulted in misery and chaos, as the aftermath of the “Arab Spring” shows. Hong Kong is an Asian city, and should remain an integral part of China and a jewel in its crown.

Sunday 14 June 2015

To ensure peace, open up the Northeast (Sunday Guardian)

M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.

In a living organism, either there is change or there is necrosis, a steady destruction of tissue. In the 1950s, Jawaharlal Nehru took the advice of Verrier Elwin to freeze social development in the Northeast, "so as to preserve local culture". Since then, that part of India has suffered appalling neglect, with physical infrastructure — especially roads — scanty and inward investment, and even tourism, discouraged. The people of the northeastern states are among the finest in India, curious about the world and eager to embrace the change that has been denied to them, initially in the name of preserving culture and later in the name of that catchall excuse, "national security". Six decades back, the regions outside our borders and around the northeastern states were even more backward than India at the time, with China, for instance, having a GDP which was less than half that of this country. Since then, the adoption of Soviet-style planning by Nehru and the takeover of vast stretches of industry by him and later by Indira Gandhi (with banking and coal being just two examples) ensured that India is now far below both China as well as its ASEAN neighbours in per capita income. City after city, town after town, village after village, is a dismal collection of dwellings surrounded by filth and the overpowering atmosphere of neglect and haphazardness, which is the distinguishing characteristic of so much of governance in a country where the administrative system works in a manner designed to smother rather than liberate the creative energies of the population.
How else to explain the fact that even the highest in the land have to use desktop computers from foreign manufacturers? Indeed, across the spectrum of need, the dominance of foreign brands is almost total. Even the head of state and the head of government have to use vehicles made outside the country even in their movement within a city. To use the example of another country, that Russia is no longer a major force in technological innovation became clear from the visuals of the re-assumption of the Presidency by Vladimir Putin, when his entourage travelled from destination to destination across city streets in cars manufactured in Germany, exactly the way his counterpart in India does. And like in India, Vladimir Putin must be relying on foreign-made desktops in his office.
The people of the Northeast are among the finest in India, eager to embrace the change that has been denied to them.
When even the top leadership of a country has to look outside its borders for surface transportation needs and for office equipment, to call that country a great power would be a stretch. If experts are correct, even the mapping of biometric data relating to the population of our country is done by agencies which rely overwhelmingly on foreign expertise. This is an era when Silicon Valley hums on the strength of the brainpower sourced from India. The motif of a colonial administration is control. Indeed, progress in self-reliance is regarded as undesirable, as a contingency to be reversed in the rare instances where it takes place. Which is why our procurement agencies avoid the technologies developed by young Indian brainpower in Hyderabad or Pune in favour of external substitutes that are several times more expensive. Unlike in the US or Israel, where start-ups are encouraged and talent identified and nurtured, in India local talent faces an obstacle race each day, which finally wears them down, with a few escaping to shores where innovation and enterprise are prized rather than discouraged. During the Sonia-Manmohan decade in particular, a flood of foreign technologies proliferated across the country, with even toilet equipment having to be imported from outside. In order to fund such purchases, taxes were raised and raised and raised, thereby slowing down the economy. While officials gloat over the rate of growth of the economy, they neglect to mention that almost all such progress is taking place despite them, and that growth would be much faster, should the maxim of "Minimum Government and Maximum Governance" get operationalised.
Returning to the northeastern — indeed, eastern, for Bengal and Assam form part of the mix — parts of India, these shut two of the most dynamic geographical locations on the planet, China and ASEAN. Prime Minister Narendra Modi stared down the naysayers in opening the gates to tourism from China, a country which sends a hundred million citizens each year, who are welcomed by countries as alert to their national interest as we are, such as France, the UK and the US. Indeed, the very countries whose security agencies warn us to bar the doors to such visitors, a view that was uncritically accepted, without questioning why those making it themselves spread the welcome mat for tourists from China. Whether it is tour groups from the world's second biggest economy or what is called "Islamic finance", we in India block that which other countries chase after, thereby losing out on the opportunities available.
Economic strength is the surest guarantor of security, and the task before the Modi government is to ensure a growth rate of 15% for at least five of the next ten years, and an average rate of growth in double digits for a generation beginning in 2014. Making commercial and tourist hubs of the northeastern states through linking them with the opportunities surrounding them through a quantum expansion of road, rail and air links would be a good way to start.