Sunday 26 July 2015

Lead India towards genuine independence (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 25th Jul 2015
College students dressed in the colours of the national flag rehearse for the Republic Day parade in Ahmedabad. REUTERS | amit dave
t was not a casual afterthought which made the founders of The Sunday Guardian choose the name of this newspaper. Although it reaches the reader every Sunday, its contents are valid for an entire week, suitable for dipping into during even the midweek, in case there was not enough time during the close of the week to peruse all its pages. And why "Guardian"? Because that is what it is, seeking to — in its own manner — protect and expand the rights of the citizen in the face of the onslaught of British colonial law on the prerogatives of the individual. The Sunday Guardian will not prescribe a dress or diet code, nor will it accept the views of those favouring a continuation of colonial law, that the citizen does not have the right to offend, only to pander and to flatter.
This newspaper has spoken out against not merely Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, but has pointed out that it was after passage of this legislation 15 years ago that India's Information Technology industry (till then a world leader) began to falter in the face of competition, especially after an even more regressive version of the Act was passed nine years ago by the Chidambaram-Sibal duo. This publication seeks the decriminalisation of comment, because of the stifling effect the very threat of enmeshing the critic in a criminal case can do to the freedom of speech necessary in order for India to emerge as a knowledge superpower. It is small comfort to know that after a decade and more, usually much more, of court appearances and the constant threat of incarceration, a commentator can finally emerge from the shadows, most likely too intimidated to again participate in what ought to be a rumbustious celebration of free speech in a country which advertises itself as "the world's largest democracy", despite the colonial constructs its Founding Fathers clung on to after freedom, not excluding the country's first Governor-General, Lord Louis Mountbatten, who stayed on long enough to ensure that a third of the princely state of Kashmir remained in Pakistan's hands, despite the fact that this could have been liberated by the Indian Army if given two months more prior to the ceasefire agreed upon in an unfinished war. That decision, as also other decisions involving Gwadar port (which was initially offered to India by the Sultan of Oman but declined by Nehru), the UN Security Council permanent membership (again on offer but turned down), the Indus Waters Treaty, which gave an unprecedented 80% share to Pakistan, or more than the total share given to lower riparian states by all other international river water treaties combined. The Sunday Guardian does not believe in the "protected species" concept, whereby certain individuals are immune from critical comment. Such a ban violates the independence of thought that is central to an effectively-functioning democracy. India is evolving towards genuine democracy, but not because of the outsize bureaucracy that has been spawned over successive generations. Progress is being made because the people of this country are no longer willing to accept the status of helots that colonial law and practice relegate them to. They showed this feisty impulse towards genuine freedom when they opposed the move to dilute net neutrality or when 66A was opposed, including in court by a courageous young citizen . Choice is central to democracy, whether these be in lifestyles or in dress or diet. There are countries which impose often severe restrictions on dress, lifestyle and diet. India should not be in such a list, no matter what the cacophony of those who seek to continue the colonial practice of using the bludgeon of law to enforce obedience to their own narrow and deformed view of life. Laws should promote freedom rather than restrict it, and the converse should be the exception rather than the norm, as is the case today in India, which is the easiest democracy to get an individual thrown into prison. The Official Secrets Act has become a facilitator for corruption, as also the limitations of the Right to Information Act, which was in effect whittled down while Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister, and whose full development has yet to take place.
Narendra Damodardas Modi was elected on the promise not of continuity but change. He was given votes in the tens of millions not to tweak the existing colonial system of governance but to replace it with a 21st century construct that promotes rather than hinders individual expression and enterprise. The Sunday Guardian expects that now that his year of On The Job training (for developing an all-India operating system in place of the state-specific operating system Modi evolved in Gujarat) is over, it is expected that the vow of ensuring Minimum Government and Maximum Governance will be fulfilled, and that to, "wholly and in full measure" rather than merely "substantially". Our cousins do so much better in locations such as the US, the UK or Hong Kong because the systems there have long discarded the colonial model, sometimes (as in the case of the UK) by half a millennium and in the case of the US, by two centuries. India needs to follow a path that will give its people the same ecosystem for excellence as they get elsewhere, and Swachh Bharat is a start, but only a start.
Lower taxes lead to higher collections, yet North Block clings to its impulse of taking away as high a proportion of the honest taxpayer's income as it can get away with. Hopefully, the country will be third time lucky, and the next budget will lower taxes and thereby incentivise a much higher proportion of individuals to get within the tax net than is the case at present. In 1992, within a hundred days of coming to office without even a majority in the Lok Sabha, P.V. Narasimha Rao did away with much of the Licence Raj, but this at first crept and subsequently galloped back during the decade when Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister. He showed why reform in India is easy, for in this country, beneficial change does not require the substitution of existing constructs with replacements so much as it calls for the scaling down and a dilution in the invasive nature of existing constructs. The superstructure of regulations favour the crony capitalists, while a chopping away of such toxic measures would empower those with zero political connections to effectively compete with those who spend vast sums of cash in ensuring political patronage, often to the detriment of the overall public interest. Rather than inflict whiplash upon whiplash upon the honest taxpayer through impost upon impost, other means need to be found to finance the machinery of government. An example would be the recapitalisation of public sector banks, which should come about not by throwing taxpayer rupees at them, but through diluting the stake of government in them.
Spectrum and airspace need to be taken away from its current state users and transferred to public use. The justification for the defence forces hoarding both assets is their need in times of war. Should such a situation occur, they could easily get commandeered, rather than deny the economy the benefit of such resources for an indefinite length of time. A double digit growth rate provides the best security for the people of India, and such is the stated goal of Team Modi.
Hopefully, before a year is past, such expansion in national income will go from a promise to a reality.
Whether it be the taking of decisions by various agencies of government or the resolution of cases in the court system, procedures need to be evolved, which would ensure swifter decisions in both the administrative as well as the judicial spheres. Overall, an atmosphere of empowerment of civil society should replace the present monopoly of powers in the hands of the civil service. The people of India expect no less and deserve no less. It is up to Prime Minister Modi to fulfil these expectations so that his term of office as Prime Minister would be as long as his Chief Ministership has been. Lead the people of India towards genuine independence, Mr Prime Minister.

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