The year began with two senior army officers being indicted for the Sukhna land scam, and soon skeletons were tumbling out of the cupboard at an alarming rate.
Focus returned to the shenanigans of army officers, politicians and bureaucrats over the Adarsh housing cooperative building. There was a continuous cacophony accompanying the run-up to the Commonwealth Games, outdone only by the revelations from the Radia tapes, followed later in the year by the CAG report revealing the extent of the 2G scam.
My suggestions for what was doable in the year to follow, 2011, were not particularly utopian and tinged by the corruption scandals that had exploded through the year 2010: The establishment of an autonomous directorate of prosecutions, the abolition of the single-point directive which requiring government sanction to prosecute civil servants, creating the post of a Chief of Defence Staff to modernise and synergise India's higher defence management, deep reform of India's hopeless police system, dropping of a number of known corrupt ministers from the union council of ministers, and reforming agriculture and food logistics to rein in food inflation.
FixesBarring the idea of a separate directorate of prosecutions, nothing has really changed since. However, it is that time of the year when hope triumphs over experience and optimism rules. The recent elections suggest that the volcano of expectations that has built up in the country is ready to explode and sweep aside anything that stands in its way.
So here goes with my eight things to fix in the coming year:
- A foreign policy for the country which is anchored on national security. As a country with disputed borders and aggressive adversaries, it matters little if India can get a seat on the high table, but get pushed around in its own backyard like a banana republic. This is not just about military strength, but ways and means to enhance India's shrinking footprint in our neighbourhood and beyond.
- Overhaul our internal and external security system from bottom up. Which means getting down to the thana level policing on one hand, and restructuring higher management of national security on the other. This includes the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff to synergise India's defence capabilities across the three Services, and unleashing private sector investment and energies to remove the public sector deadwood clogging our defence R&D and industry.
- Communal violence is a virus that has been allowed to persist for too long. It diminishes us as a nation and it is time we got serious about tackling it. Whether we need a legislation to do this, of course, is another matter.
- Reining in food inflation: Pass the Goods & Service Tax, repeal the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Acts and check runaway support prices for wheat and rice. The three measures will help bring huge revenues to the government even while driving down food prices.
- Initiate a new energy policy. Most of our power is generated from coal and despite huge reserves we face shortages. Remove Coal India's monopoly, reform the state electricity boards, and come up with a plan to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels. Recall that China, the largest fossil fuel consumer of today has been hard at work to put in place an alternative energy programme since 2001.
- Begin right sizing the government. The Fifth Pay Commission had called for a 30 per cent cut in the size of the central government. Our governments are much too big and consume a huge amount of our national resources. Ironically, if large parts of the government are bloated, there are other vital parts, like the Indian Foreign Services, the Intelligence Bureau and the Research & Analysis Wing which do not have adequate manpower.
- To merely say that we need desperately to reform our education system is stating the obvious. But there is need to make a beginning and now before we slip further down in global rankings. Across the country we are spending a great deal of money in universities which provide third rate education to hapless young people who are unaware that this education is unlikely to equip them to be either good citizens or employable young men and women.
- The last two years have seen the passage of significant legislation based on pressure from below-laws on rape, sexual harassment, land acquisition and, yes, the lokpal. What 2014 needs is a beginning of their effective implementation as well as their refinement, considering that some of the laws were passed in a hurry or in moments of emotion and can become a liability just as the nuclear liability law of 2010 has become.
But for all these changes to take place we need one crucial fix-leadership. This is a commodity of which there is an acute shortage, at least at the central level.
There was a time you could get away by leading from behind. But today's wired world and a much more informed citizenry is demanding discerning and decisive leaders who will lead from the front and deliver.