TECH TALK: An Agenda for the Next Government: Mixed Feelings

After a popular, peaceful rebellion by the ballot, India has a new government at the Centre. The victory of the Congress and its allies was unexpected it was a surprise even for the victors. It just goes to show how much the media and we people in urban India are out-of-step with the opinion of the majority. So, after eight years in the political wilderness, the Congress returns to power and Vajpayee leaves the helm of India after six-and-a-half years. The election results will cause a lot of soul-searching across the Indian political spectrum. Even as the post-mortem takes place, it is time for a new government to take over. This column looks at the challenges for the new leadership.

India stands at the crossroads today. Even as the Indian economy grew by a record 10.4% growth in the December 2003, the spectre of uncertainty and potential reverse of economic reforms has sent the stock markets plunging in the past few weeks by more than 15%. Even as the BJP government was ousted at the centre, the two technophile chief ministers of the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka were also dispensed with by the electorate. The first decision by the new chief minister of Andhra Pradesh was to give free electricity to farmers (at a cost of more than Rs 300 crore), and also write-off more than Rs 1,000 crore ($220 million) in arrears.

Where does India go from here? Will there be a hark back to the socialistic policies of the past (considering that the Left is likely to be a key element in ensuring the Congress stays in power) which kept us submerged in poverty or the intermittent market-orientation of the past decade? Are we in for short-term populist measures or do we have the courage to tackle the fundamental problems that plague the country? Of course, it must be remembered that the Congress was the pioneer of the reforms in India in 1991 at a time of great economic stress. What happens now? What should happen?

I am not a political commentator. I nearly ignored the elections, assuming that India (and Indians) had reached a level of political maturity that would keep us moving forward, irrespective of who comes to power. But events of the past few days have left me a little perturbed.

Over the past year or so, I had grown very optimistic about India’s future that we were finally starting to do things right. But suddenly, the applecart has turned over. There is a fog on the road ahead. What seemed like yet another clear sunny day has become overcast. Maybe, when the clouds clear, there will be a glorious rainbow. Equally likely, though, is that there could be a storm coming. The future of India is now not in the hands of its people they made their millions of individual decisions over the past month. India’s future now is in the hands of a few the ones who will become ministers and set policies. The greed of power does strange things to rational people. That is what worries me. And that is the sombre mood in which I write out this Tech Talk.

Tomorrow: Governance

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.