2010 was a strange year. The economy
picked up from second half of calendar 2009 and
continued doing well thereafter. We may see GDP
growth exceed 8.5 per cent in 2010-11, which is a
testament to the entrepreneurial skills and
determination throughout the land. Thanks to
excellent monsoons, agriculture has done very well,
and we are now all set for a bumper ravi crop.
Amidst this, there has been the overhang of
relatively high inflation which, somehow, people
have got used to — except when sugar, dal and edible
oil prices shot through the roof, as these did
earlier, or the fabled onion, as it is doing now.
Overall, conventional economic indices suggest that
India has done well in 2010, and on track to regain
the 9 per cent GDP growth target by the next fiscal.
Yet, there have been some terrible news. Public
revelations about the extent and sheer size of
corruption has shocked the nation’s intelligentsia.
It is as if the cesspool has an inexorable capacity
to simultaneously widen and deepen at remarkable
speed. The tapes of a woman playing out her bag of
tricks to secure outcomes that were questionable in
theory and cost the exchequer oodles of money have
offended many. The worst news has been the
non-performance of the Parliament.
The winter session of 2010 is probably the least
productive in Indian parliamentary history.
Parliament worked only on the inaugural day, after
which the proceedings were stalled every day,
forcing adjournments. According to PRS Legislative
Research, a Delhi-based research organisation, the
Lok Sabha used just 5.3 per cent of the time
available for debate and discussion in the winter
session. The Rajya Sabha used 2.1 per cent. The time
worked by our representatives: 7 hours and 37
minutes in the Lok Sabha, and 2 hours and 44 minutes
in the Rajya Sabha.
When a year ends so poorly, why then is the title,
‘The Case for Hope’? Because less than a week ago,
my wife Radhika and I saw scores of schoolgirls,
well fed, scrubbed, cheerful and uniformed, walking
up and down the steep bridle path between Sitla and
Mukteshwar in mountains of Kumaon, in threes and
fours, gabbing away, to and from high school — just
as girls would in any metropolitan city. I drive
often enough in the rural parts of north India, and
am convinced that there are many more girls being
educated — and not being forced to drop out of
schools — than they were in the 1990s or even early
2000. That gives me hope.
It is not just in Kumaon that I see a greater
emphasis on educating girls. The route from Delhi to
Sitla takes us through various Muslim dominated
areas. In the 2001 Census, Muslim girl children were
much poorer educated compared to others. The
differential may still exist in the 2011 Census, but
pure eyeball evidence suggests that the gap will
have substantially closed. I’m willing to bet that
in the last decade, more Muslim parents in
up-country India are tuned in to educating their
girls than ever before. That gives me greater hope,
because the 2001 Census had clearly showed how
Muslim children, especially girls, were falling
behind in education.
Then there was the Bihar elections. Nitish Kumar is
as droll and serious as Lalu Prasad is exaggerated
and foolish. By the Janata Dal (United) winning 115
seats out of 243 and its ally, the BJP, winning
another 91, Nitish has demonstrated that good
governance and development matter way more than
caste, creed and divisive hectoring. I don’t know if
Bihar is a turning point in Indian elections. But
the fact that a quiet and efficient political
administrator won in Bihar for the second time in a
row gives me hope.
The communication revolution gives me hope for
economics, for grass root politics and for
democracy. A major reason for the success of the
English Revolution leading to the beheading of
Charles I and the ascendancy of the Parliament was
pamphleteering — of various anti-royalist,
pro-democratic groups printing pamphlets that were
read and debated in taverns throughout England.
Today’s pamphlet is the mobile phone and the SMS.
With more than 55 per cent of Indians having phones,
people are communicating like never before. Only to
increase over time. That will not only create more
business and employment, but also become a
fundamental tool for the politics of inclusiveness.
I reckon that in the next five years, much of
electioneering and creating mass movements will
occur via mobiles. That is another cause of hope —
democracy encompassing new tools of the trade.
I could write more. But as I look to the start of
the second decade of this millennium, I am convinced
that our time has come. More than it ever did in the
history of this land.
Published: Business World, January 2011