Monday, May 18, 2015

An open letter to Indian leader Narendra Modi: Japan Times

Much has been said on the high expectations, over promising and under delivery already, but this is an interesting read:

Dear Modi-ji,

It is one year since you assumed office. Your government can surely point to a general boost to the country’s morale and self-confidence. But actual accomplishments remain modest. Against the scale and magnitude of what is required to catapult India into the ranks of the first powers within our lifetime, the effort is frustratingly half-hearted and the pace of change frightfully slow. At this rate, far from catching up with the world’s A-listers, India will keep slipping farther behind with each passing year.

There are four portfolios that you should prioritize with a sense of extreme urgency. First, choose a tough law minister to chop, rationalize and simplify the plethora of laws surplus to requirements for running a modern economy. S/he should ask: Is this regulation really necessary? Excessive rules — a sad legacy of 60 years of License Raj mentality — add to the cost burdens and incentivize corruption. Please trash them.

Second, appoint a powerful minister to perform radical surgery on the bureaucracy. Business executives rate India’s bureaucracy the most inefficient in Asia. The top bureaucrats likely have urged caution, emphasizing the importance of continuity in public policy. With respect, prime minister, if the people wanted continuity, they would have voted the Congress Party-led coalition back in with Rahul Gandhi as leader. Instead they gave you a decisive majority — the first in 30 years — to break the continuity and chart a radically new course. Throw out the seniority principle in choosing departmental heads, give them five-year contracts to implement reforms, and change the entire structure of recruitment, training and promotions.

I was disappointed you did not choose a non-career diplomat as ambassador to Washington. Your diplomats are individually brilliant, but their collective impact amounts to the whole being less than the sum of the parts. Quadruple the entry into the foreign service immediately and then be increasingly selective in performance-based promotions.

In all walks of life, some promising people disappoint, others burn out early and others blossom late. Choose proven performers from business, journalism, universities, the defense forces, sports and the arts to fill up to one-quarter of your ambassadorships. Imagine the impact if a famous actress like Shabana Azmi or a legendary cricketer like Rahul Dravid were your ambassadors to Washington and London. They are individuals with proven character traits of integrity, conviction, maturity, dignity and tact. Their access to all sectors of society in the host countries would be the envy of other ambassadors.

Third, your finance minister has been a disappointment: cautious and middling when the need of the hour is for bold and decisive leadership. The retrospective tax law was one of the worst cases in the world of a country shooting itself in the foot; it should have been thrown out in last year’s budget. Instead, the tentacles of tax terrorism are threatening to spread to the middle class. Please break the protectionist mentality, switch from penalizing imports (many help the cost competitiveness of Indian manufacturing and are essential to “Make in India”) to facilitating exports, have faith in the Indian trader’s world beating entrepreneurial skills, and force the bureaucrats to serve the people and business houses instead of bossing them around. Limit the government to providing high quality yet affordable public goods of health, education, infrastructure and law and order.

Finally, India has no future without world-class education. As someone intimately familiar with the world of higher education, I am saddened to see the widening quality gap between India’s and the world’s secondary and tertiary educational standards.

Consider the recently published fifth edition of the QS world university rankings. This year it drew on responses from 85,000 academics and 42,000 business executives to rank the world’s top 50 universities subject by subject across 36 disciplines. Only one Indian institution made it on the list: Delhi University is ranked 17th in the world in development studies. Thus no mention of the supposedly world-class Indian institutes of management or technology: they are world-famous only in India.

By way of comparison, my own university is rated in the top 50 in 23 disciplines and in the top 10 in four (including mine, politics and international studies), while Tokyo is judged in the top 50 in 29 and in the top 10 in six subjects. Chinese institutions are listed a total of 50 times (remember: India has only one). Among them, Peking University is listed in the top 50 in 22 subjects (and in the top 10 in one), Tsinghua University in 15 disciplines (in the top 10 in two), and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in seven disciplines. How exactly is India going to compete with China in the future?

A university degree is neither necessary nor sufficient for a good minister. But your present minister .doesn’t inspire confidence in her vision and competence to overhaul the education system. Success in this key enterprise will also make redundant the distorting and damaging program of caste-based quotas that has divided Indian society and shackled the economy.

You have traveled extensively to foreign lands in the past 12 months. The ambitious agenda outlined in your many speeches is indeed admirable. I appreciate you are seeking desperately needed foreign investment to kick the sluggish Indian economy into high gear. It must be deeply satisfying to be feted by governments that denied you a visa for a decade. You are human in soaking in the adulation of the adoring Indian communities resident abroad. I recognize too the merits of courting sources of investment finance, technology, credits and markets to drive your domestic agenda by convincing foreign audiences that the new India under your dynamic leadership is open for business.

They will not come because you travel abroad to court them with slogans and promises. They will come if you deliver results by tending to the urgent domestic reform agenda so that the size of the Indian market grows dramatically, business is easy to do, price signals determine investment choices and healthy profit can be made. This would make it easier to hire and fire workers, expand the base of skilled labor, increase worker productivity, connect suppliers to markets by building fast and reliable transportation corridors, and eliminate the discretionary authority of officials and politicians that imposes arbitrariness and magnifies opportunities for them to extort businesses and ordinary people alike.

Prime minister: Reciting slogans in foreign lands wins applause but the rush of investment money will begin only when you make the laws and environment friendly for doing business, creating wealth and jobs, and educating and training a skilled modern workforce. Prove yourself different from the sclerotic Congress Party. They wasted 60 years. Please do not waste the remaining 48 of your 60 months.
Yours sincerely,

A well wisher.

Ramesh Thakur is a professor at Australian National University.

An early comment on the letter:
However erudite and thoughtful the entire article may be, but I am amazed at someone making out as if the only areas from where 
"individuals with proven character traits of integrity, conviction, maturity, dignity and tact" can be found are Bollywood and Cricket! 

The author seems to be over awed by the fact that these specimen of society earn bags full at the cost of Indian public, which itself has given in to the various styles and tantrums of these money making heroes. This obviously is an unqualified assumption or presumption of the author.

Yet another :

Modi Ji, you had been outstanding during your pre-election speeches and in making lofty promises of all kinds and asked for 60 months as against 60 years ruled by Congress. You  do not seem to have realized that most promises which could have been fulfilled without much ado, during the last one year could not be fulfilled by you and your worthy ministers and top bureaucracy, putting a question mark on credibility of your so called impressive seeming speeches and countless promises. Your speeches making new promises from day to day, in enormously large rallies and gatherings to induce and entice the millions of your countrymen who worked with great hope to make you the Indian PM, are now turning out to be hollow and just dramatized performances to get yourself elevated to the highest executive office of India. Most of your ministers seem absolute misfits for the posts you have elevated them to, and seem to be not only lacking a will and dynamism to perform their normal duties but also have proved to be totally incompetent to hold such high and prestigious offices.

Dear Mr Modi, you, boasted a lot just after taking over as the PM that yours will be a government that works, but to an utter dismay and to the contrary, the hand-picked bureaucracy of yours, has been a total disappointment, as they have yet to display any sense and capability to achieve any worthwhile targets toward fulfilling your promises, but have instead been an impediment in performing their normal duties. The government of yours just does not seem to be working at all, leave alone working towards achievement of your oft repeated tall and ambitious promises.  It may not be long before the millions of your countrymen start getting a feeling that you only made false and hollow promises to bluff them in your ambition to become Indian PM. Mr Modi please be advised that in the absence of sincere efforts on the part of your ministers and bureaucracy your credibility  is seriously at stake.

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