Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A national surge, not renewal

A national surge, not renewal
By Prafull Goradia

Lee has narrated the story of his governance over 35 years, from 1965 to 2000 AD in a book he has named, From Third World to First. In his foreword Henry Kissinger complimented Lee on how over a 30-year period Singapore progressed from an annual per capita income of a thousand dollars to 30,000 dollars. The task was by no means easy for a city state of one million people to remain independent, to make a living without the Malaysian hinterland and above all achieving a consensus amongst people of several races and religions.

The three main ones were the Chinese, the Malays and the Tamils who had migrated from India. Integrating the Malays was particularly difficult because elements in Malaysia could manipulate them from a short distance. Indonesia was a large and not a friendly neighbour. The reason for mentioning this is to show that India is not the only country which has to deal with such problems.

Lee’s Singapore first consolidated its sovereignty by building an army from scratch soon after the British pulled out. The sequence of how Lee’s government went about achieving progress is an illustration of governance by management. Having built an adequate army, the next step was to build the economy. Lee decided to link up with America, Europe and

Japan and attract their manufacturers to produce the products cheaply in Singapore and export them to prosperous countries. He did not fall for the widespread belief at the time that MNCs were neo-colonial exploiters. Instead, he gave them facilities, trusted them as well as inspired their trust. The next step was to establish a First World oasis in a Third World region in order to make Singapore comparable for Europeans and Americans to reside. He established their standards in public as well as personal security, health, education, telecommunication, transportation, services et al. He thus made Singapore into a first class base camp for entrepreneurs and professionals of the western world.

The next step was to get an expert American banker called Albert Winsemius to enable Singapore to become one of the world’s financial centres. Full advantage was taken of Singapore’s location in the east roughly between London at one end and San Francisco at the other, two of the world’s principal financial centres. Meanwhile, the government’s endeavour was to persuade trade unions to look after the welfare of workers but not to dabble in politics with union issues. No populist attempt was made to provide social welfare. On the other hand, the government insisted on building a fair society with social justice for everyone.

Lee discovered that half the university graduates in Singapore were women but nearly two-thirds of them remained unmarried. Those educated women who married also produced few children. That meant that all the talent and wisdom of potential mothers would go waste for the future and the way to solve this problem became known as the Great Marriage Debate. What steps were taken by Singapore to correct this imbalance and bring in the most talented of women into the circle of procreation is an interesting story. Another interesting development, relevant to our country, is Lee’s successful policy which is called ‘Many Tongues, One Language’. The anti-corruption steps, taken to ensure that the First World standards already achieved would not fall, have also a great deal to teach us. So is the well implemented policy of greening Singapore.

What our country needs is a national surge rather than a renewal which means re-establishing or resuming the old after a period of interruption. Unless we undergo a metamorphosis in our approach to governance, it is unlikely that tinkering with the present system would bring about the scale of change that we all nationalists yearn for. We need to first accept that we Hindus have not been in touch with the game of governance as should be played in modern times. The Maratha Padpadshahi or imperial rule was really the last Hindu experiment in ruling the country.

For many years, after World War II the economic miracles in Germany and Japan were considered examples to learn from.

In the meantime, what went unnoticed was the revolution in governance that took place in Singapore under Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. He was the first known ruler of a country, however small, who governed by the tenets of management. To this day, in most countries government is associated with administration rather management. Take the USA, commentators still talk about the Bill Clinton administration or the Ronald Reagan administration which implies the maintenance of law and order; neither the improvement of society nor the development of the economy nor the protection of environment. Management, on the other hand, means a comprehensive scheme inclusive of all aspects led by versatile rulers. That does not mean the kind of regimes that were designed by the communists. They were totalitarian. The modern approach is merely to have a vision, offer direction and keep an eye on the citizens who implement.

Let not these observations seem far fetched. Shri Narendra Modi is governing Gujarat on more or less similar lines. This should assure everyone that modern governance, rule by management, is possible in India and in the context of an electoral democracy. Shri Modi operates on the strength of his intellect. The result is the anti-thesis of populism. He did not surrender to the politics of free electricity in rural Gujarat. There the farms are sizeable and electricity bills are affordable for farmers. The agitations, instigated by dissident leaders were at times intense but he did not give in. He succeeded where many a state has failed mainly because he thought logically instead of reacting by a fearful instinct. Not only were the farmers not poor, most people in Gujarat understand that there cannot be indefinite free lunches. Moreover, the agitations took place in the middle of the monsoon when there is no shortage of water.

It is well-known that corruption is the enemy of good governance. Though there are leaders who are above board, Shri Narendra Modi’s way of handling colleagues and officials made all the difference. For example, there were some 50 public corporations and it was customary for the Chief Minister to appoint MLAs, who could not be accommodated in the Ministry, as their chairpersons. This led to undue expense and allegations of corruption. Under Shri Modi’s regime, hardly any corporation has a chairperson. They are all being run professionally by managing directors, mostly IAS officers. The basic principle was that if politicians wish to govern well, they must be not only honest but also seen to be incorruptible.

What is unique about Shri Modi is his governance by management and administration by objectives. Singapore under the legendary Lee Kuan Yew was the pioneer in adopting this concept and conclusively proving its success. Deng Xioping was quick to appreciate the achievement. After the consolidation of his own power, Deng visited Singapore in 1978 to understand the new concept at first hand. Thereafter, the two leaders met several times when Lee happened to visit China. The subsequent achievements of China are well known. India can do equally well or better. All we require is to learn to govern by objectives and treat governance as a management challenge.

(The writer is a former Rajya Sabha Member and general secretary of Bharatiya Jana Sangh,)

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