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Half-baked solutions for nation building

Published: 28th November 2012 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 27th November 2012 11:37 PM   |  A+A-

As a young man, I found the phrase ‘scotch tape and rubber band solutions’ very fascinating. It was one of the thumb rules that I learnt for resolving irritants like shattering car doors and falling table lamp shades, etc. Well, in most cases it did work, albeit for a short time...permanent solutions were eventually needed.

In this context, if we begin to look at nation building — the democratic way — things may look both hilarious and tragic. Unfortunately, the political class believes in this solution fully well knowing that eventually a permanent solution will have to be found to address an issue.

Statisticians told us in the ’70s that the population was growing at geometric progression. Still in the ’80s and ’90s we continued to dig even deeper for coal to produce electricity and ignored new renewable energy sources that were shaping the energy needs of the western industrialised nations. Why...because mining is a lucrative business. Renewable energy solutions need a lot of doing, thinking and planning, without as much lucre at the end of the tunnel. So, here we are, sitting and counting the number of days when fossil fuel will eventually run out.

Another ‘brilliant’ solution to resolve the overcrowding of the roads in cities is tragic, and not hilarious. Someone sold the idea to our politicians to provide space for the common man on the ever shrinking roads of the national capital...a perfect example of a rubber band solution. Thus Delhi got the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit System). Thousands of idling cars at traffic signals consume thousands of litres of imported and expensive fuel bought in hard currency for hours, every day. Thousands of man-hours are wasted and tired men reach offices in a bad frame of mind. Of course, millions of rupees were distributed to contractors to build bus-stands in the middle of the road for the elderly and children to dart across roads between cars to get to the pavements mostly occupied by racing motorcycles.

As children, we were narrated the story of the cat and the pigeon. When confronted with the cat...the pigeon is said to close its eyes assuming that the cat does not exist... and finally become a victim of the hungry cat. For 65 years, the government has behaved exactly like the proverbial pigeon. It was shocking to hear one of our prime ministers, in one of his famous speeches, where he conceded that just about 15 per cent money spent reaches the beneficiaries of government schemes. The statement sent a wave of depression across the country not because just 15 per cent of funds were reaching the target but because a PM knew the fact and he sounded so helpless.

The colonial mindset of “we are the rulers and you are the ruled”, is perhaps at the root of the problem. To begin with, we need to redefine democracy for politicians and bureaucrats; lay down new ground rules for governance, include accountability and reprimand those who do not adhere to the principle of a welfare state. Before that, the politician and the bureaucrat will have to cast away the arrogance of power. The question is...is that possible? If not, then what?

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