Kotak Institutional Equities (KIE) Conference, 2015 had former Minister Arun Shourie speak recently on the topic of “Preparing India for the Future“.
Commenting on the topic of his speech Mr. Shourie in his inimitable style began by saying
“Forecasting is a treacherous exercise specially if it is about the future but for us it is equally difficult to forecast the past.”
He talked of how suddenly the growth rate rose without any of us having any idea about it !
He also said that,
“One thing we should know is that future is going to be determined by the forces which are not in our control and our heckling is not going to stop time.We feel that if we want to stop WTO then WTO will stop but the world goes on.They are not going to slow down they are not going to muffle the effects of their advances on us just because we are not able to sort our problems out.And we must also realise that people are much bolder in facing the future trying new things then governments.Governments are more stuck in the ideas of past.Take the case of GM crops – what is the area under GM cotton in Gujarat today ? Almost completely. And now government is deciding whether there will be trials of GM crops or not.”
The second point that he raised was on why decisions we make now will have life and death consequences to future generations:
These developments will have life and death consequences on us as an individuals, organisations and as a country.So the outcome will depend on how we prepare ourselves to either take advantage of those opportunities or to ward off their effects that are going to come.We are going stay at even modest growth rate of 5 and 6% a middle income country let us say in two three decades.At that time then youths will be demanding jobs which will then meet their aspirations.In Punjab youth don’t want to work in agriculture sector.If the country is not able to provide the right kind of jobs or if the government is not able to provide what other middle income countries provide then you will have social unrest.In Punjab as we can see people are taking to drugs and other things because there is just nothing to do.So relentless, unending accelerating change having life and death consequences in every sphere that is our future.
Mr. Shourie talked about how he has been writing about China and Islamic militancy since last 10 to 15 years but no one was ready to listen. He told his audience that we have vaguely heard about how China has turned its economic might into its military might and the effect that it is having. He added that what we don’t realise is that now every single month to map Indian Ocean China sends a submarine.
He asked how many of us are aware of it and if our media publishes this thing.
He added that as yet it is a common knowledge and each and every intelligence agency knows it. He also told the gathered people that by now 1/3rd of Chinese trade is settled in their own currency and that Chinese currency is well on its way to become international reserve currency.
He elaborated on the consequences of Chinese currency becoming a reserve currency and if we are living up to it or not.
Mr. Shourie on excelling and meritocracy
Larger problem that he said for India is that there will be tremendous opportunities in the world but it will be a heartless world with no place for second rate persons and he added that in India we have made meritocracy elitist.
For us in India intimidation is argument as on TV debates and assault is proof.
He talked of how half the secretaries in the central government will be in service on the basis of birth and not merit. He said at this rate how can we compete with China. He said we should aim at being excellent where all the opportunities are available to all for excel and there is no deviation from that while we are doing complete opposite of it.
He said we learn from the US how to commensurate reward with the efforts. He said instead of providing facilities to lift an individual we are diluting the standard.
On great leaders
A great leader is one who changes the direction. He gave example of P V Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He said that countries can face future only by robust Institutions. No leader who puts in 23 hours at work can change equip the nation to face the future without Institutional support. He said that leaders like Indira Gandhi had used institutions as instruments whether it is police force or CBI or court or universities where relatives were put as Vice Chancellors resulting in the Institutional Atrophy we suffer today.
On judging success of a government programme
A government programme can be considered successful to the extent it reduces role of government in our lives.
Mr. Shourie had his audience laughing out loud when he said that IT industry grew as government was not concentrating on it. He said that in the same way now that e-commerce is growing people should not talk much about it lest it attract government’s attention.
He further advised that it is not a good idea to expect government to do much about the higher education too.
Rather he said one should start a programme for deregulation of colleges and universities and that universities should say that we are affiliated to the government so we will not give any degree like IIMs and IITs do. They should only give a certificate and this will make sure that they are known by the merit and calibre of their students.
On what people can do
He said that till the time we do not change the process by which we chose rulers for billion plus people no major change can be expected.
He said he had written that there will be two classes, middle class professionals and entrepreneurs, in India whose creative energies will be stiflled by inefficient government.
He also was critical of media in not doing its role and paying servitude to the governments. He gave the example that how the media was hailing coal blocks bids while the truth was that 45% was bought by the likes of LIC.
He concluded by saying that to make India strong enough to face the future, the middle class professionals and entrepreneurs should come up with solutions, work solutions out in detail and make them part of the public discourse and make sure that the government follows that path strictly.we should not be too understanding of the difficulties of the government