When I look back at India’s political journey over the past six decades, I feel deeply saddened by the heap of unrealised aspirations and unfulfilled dreams of 1947. My moment of greatest agony, each year, is when I see two reports: Transparency International’s annual report which ranks countries on the basis of corruption index, in which India is always ranked high; and the United Nations’ annual report on the Human Development Index (HDI), which ranks India low amongst the most unsatisfactory performers. In spite of all the visible successes of our economy, our HDI position remains below that of over a hundred countries in the world, placing us, in respect of some developmental parameters, in the category of sub-Saharan countries in Africa.
We have been unable to provide clean drinking water to hundreds of millions of our citizens; more than half of our population, both in urban as well as rural areas, is deprived of something as basic as a clean toilet; hunger still stalks the bodies of many of our brethren in rural and remote areas; and, as a consequence of all these deprivations, we have condemned our poor, most of whom also do not have good housing, to become vulnerable to eminently avoidable, but often fatal, diseases. What can be more shaming than to read that many infants in our tribal areas die of malnutrition? Or that nearly twenty million people in our country are either physically or mentally challenged? And what can be more shocking than the fact that several thousand of our distressed farmers have committed suicide in recent years? Social injustice and atrocities committed on women agitate my mind. The lost childhood of millions of our children, who are forced to toil when they ought to be playing and studying, saddens my heart. The squalor of our urban slums and the desolate look of many of our villages convince me, as they are sure to convince any thinking person, that something has gone seriously wrong with our development process.
True, our economy, in respect of some macro parameters, is booming like never before. Today’s high GDP growth rates are a far cry from the tardy economic progress in the era of the license-permit-quota raj, which had stifled the entrepreneurial spirit of our people. But growth has to be much more than a statistic that conceals more than it reveals. While it is technically true that the growth rate is nine percent, this growth is far from being evenly distributed across geographical and demographic segments. The entire country is not growing at nine percent. While a small section of urban India might be growing at twenty percent or even more; the majority of India is still stuck at low digits, if it is even growing at all. The ‘trickle down’ theory is an iniquitous response to this dilemma, and unsustainable in a democracy, since the ‘have-nots’ who are waiting for the trickle are seeing, plainly, that there is a waterfall among the ‘haves’. This is generating serious levels of conflict across the country. Clearly, the time has come to take a hard re-look at our economic policy. We must, in all honesty, ask ourselves: Why has it not delivered to India’s poor what it has delivered to India’s rich?
We are failing on other fronts as well. The Indian State still remains soft on the menace that terrorism, sponsored by anti-India forces abroad, poses to social peace and internal security. Many of our democratic institutions, including Parliament and the judiciary, are not living up to the expectations of our people. True, we have always had smooth and peaceful transfer of power after periodic elections. However, the electoral system itself has been debilitated by growing money and muscle power. Diversity is indeed our strength, but sometimes it is emphasised so one-sidedly that it harms national unity and social harmony.
I have mentioned these contradictions and concerns because our desire to build a better India can only be fulfilled if we develop the ability to address them.
― From the Prologue of ‘My Country My Life’