Earlier, popular Indian blogger Sidin Sunny Murakami Vadukut broke his self imposed blogging-as-a-metaphor-for-eating strike. In doing so he unleashed a post so well thought out, funny and influential that for a while I mistook the much retweeted link to be a Ramesh Srivats tweet.
The post is an excellent read for any one remotely interested in India, democracy or politics. It clearly outlines a list of problems, a list that is very hard to quibble with. Sidin’s proposed solutions range from the primal (“guillotine” of corrupt public servants) to the functional (benchmark number of hours in office for parliamentarians and question hours ala Britain). They range from the utopian (reform of the mini nations that are the police and judicial bureaucracies) to the common-sensical (treat the North Eastern part of the country in a more fair and inclusive manner). Above everything else, it is the kind of post that had me re-reading and re-reading and thinking out my own wish list for the country and political system.
Here’s my list –
Planning and implementing a fundamentally different transportation network
Cities, towns and villages in India face the difficult math of supporting the cohabitation of a continually increasing population on land and resources meant for far fewer people. Land is scarce, money is scarce and the difficulties and logistics of getting from Place A to Place B are likely to choke and take away from the beneficial effects of several macro policy changes. The ‘chalta hai‘ attitude that has enabled the last two generations of lower and middle class Indians to put up with bad trains,buses and roads will eventually bubble over into seething anger or hopelessness.
A progressive government that seeks to make lives better will come up with the blueprint for a private-public partnership that will allow for significantly improved means of transportation for people in all parts of the country. In my view, improving day-to-day mobility will help in overall social mobility. A government that sees this as a challenge and works towards solving it like it were a food or housing crisis will have my vote. A government that allows people greater freedom in mobility will be a government I trust is working for the people.
Restricting the number of no-confidence motions in the Lok Sabha
My next wish/dream is for a fundamental procedural change in the way the central government works. India’s unique diversity in terms of languages, religions and cultures creates tensions and polarization that is rarely experienced in most world societies and nations. It is really hard for a political party to have a presence in the majority of the country. This is not a temporary phenomenon or a fixable symptom. It is what it is. A visionary government will review the recent past, analyze the demographics and conclude that there is an inevitability to coalitions of several disparate political forces being in control at the federal level. Coalition politics will constantly lead to tyranny by the minority where the weakest links in a coalition will hold disproportionate force in policy making. Veteran observers of Indian politics will be very familiar with this.
My wish is for the next government to put a cap on the effect that this coalition way of politics has, by capping the number of No-Confidence motions possible in a calendar year/term. This policy can be in the form of a discrete number or a grace period. Both the ruling coalition and the opposition can agree on an arbitrary future date when such a cap would go into effect thus lending it flexibility and avoiding charges of instant bias. This would ensure that people get what they vote for. The weakness of a coalition will not be the reason why a majority government cannot implement the policies it desires. Fear of No-confidence motions and fear of the minority will not thwart the implementation of desired majority policies. This also make the apportioning of the blame a much easier task. When political party A advances agenda X, the average media member and citizen will be able to clearly state the reason behind the failure or success of A. This to me is far healthier to advancing the democratic process and the voice of the people for the people than what passes now for the same. A party that boldly pursues this procedural change is a party I will trust.
Support extensive research of social mobility and use relevant information to drive public policy
For far too long, Indian politicians have assumed that the path to upward mobility and access to a decent life is through government regimented quotas. There’s few aspects of Indian life where the reservation quota system has not played a role. Iconic images like this one below have conveyed the public outcry over the same. But too many vote banks and too many metaphorical applecarts need to be upset for the quota system to be reformed completely. Also the quota system while being openly discriminatory and hence unfair, is one of reasonable efficacy. There are more Dalit bankers and lawyers today than there were in 1987. That is progress.
However, my related wish is for the next government to invest wisely and immensely in data and research on all possible factors that affect social mobility. A constant collection and processing of data related to what works from amongst a myriad of factors such as local industrial environment, availability of arable land, quality of public education etc. would enable policy makers to make policies that are data based. The quota system could exist in parallel with a policy that encourages public schools to teach .NET or government hospitals to use SMS. There are several events and metrics that go into making the people in the most complex and diverse nation be happy or angry. Maybe the Gujarat success story is not reproducible nation wide. Maybe the Kerala literacy rate is cultural and hard to capture. But a government that invests in human capital to collect data, research it and use it to drive policy making will serve India better than one of any ideology.
Use cellphone penetration to drive information and policy
Serendipitously India has emerged as the world’s most significant cellphone market. Moore’s law has some how overcome illiteracy, class structure, widespread bureaucracy and language disparities to place a communication device in virtually every Indian home.
The next Indian government will use this device to advance the causes of happiness and progress. The cellphone’s two most unique features in India are the text message and the missed call. A government that can leverage this existing boon to fight corruption, pay bills, track individuals and provide services will be one that will advance the cause of the most Indians.
Rein in the BCCI
This last wish of mine is part trivial, part serious. Cricket is beyond a religion in India today. I am fairly certain that the effect and impact it has socially and psychologically on few hundred million Indians is unfair and untenable. But the truth is that we’re at a point where it defines the country and the people almost more than any thing else. With this context in mind, a new government that accounts for this and enforces a fairly transparent carrot-and-stick approach with the Board for Control of Cricket in India would win several brownie points from me. I am selfishly tired of wasting way too much of my life following my country in a sport where the large percentage of decisions are taken by an unaccountable bureaucratic authority. A government that cares for cricket is a government I will vote for!
Please forward these thoughts to your friends and family. Please respond with any feedback or comments you have.