Roti, Kapada, Makaan (Food, Clothes and Home) and Pani, Bijli, Sadak (Water, Electricity, Roads) are still a source of immense challenge across the country. In many ways, this resentment against the status quo coupled by rising expectations fueled an anti-incumbency vote across the country. People want solutions quick! Patience seems to be running out with the politicians and bureaucracy. Even as TVs and cellphones connect hitherto isolated communities, people want a better life. Or so it seems. Because the only thing they get are promises and short-term solutions which in fact will make the situation worse. What use is the promise of free power if it is not available? What use is the promise of free education when there are no teachers to provide it? Are we going to sacrifice yet another generation at the altar of ill-conceived policies?
In India, we shy away from tackling problems at their core. We look for quick please-all measures without thinking through the complete implications. We are in danger of doing the same mistake again as we analyse the results of the elections of course, the actions will be no surprise because it is just what we have come to expect from our political leadership. And then five years later, we will have a new set in power looking for equally expedient solutions.
Vote 2004 has been called the revenge of Bharat on India — the rural masses have hit back in the only way they can against the India Shining and feel-good campaign. This makes for great political theatre and sound-bytes which are so necessary on television, our dumbed-down media, and our own nano attention spans. We seek quick fixes to reconcile events we do not understand. The danger in this is that we do not get to the core of the issues. We are all set to do this yet again as we seek to solve the mystery of the rural Indian voting patterns.
What Rural India needs is not additional analysis, but solutions to its core problems. It does not need free, invisible electricity, it needs reliable 24×7 power it can pay for. It does not need concrete structures called schools, it needs education. It does not need subsidies, it needs opportunities. It does not need yet another poverty alleviation scheme which only enriches the chain of officials, it needs services which rural people can use to enhance their incomes.
Above all, Rural India needs a vision which can transform it not between two generations, but between two elections. Just such a Marshall Plan for rural India exists proposed by Dr Atanu Dey and Vinod Khosla. For an investment of Rs 10,000 crores ($2.2 billion) in 5,000 rural infrastructure and services commons (RISC), we can create the right platform to bring industries, entrepreneurship and development in the lands of Bharat that India forgot.
For starters, read this paper on RISC by Atanu and Khosla, and lets work on operationalising it. [I had written a series earlier, As India Develops, which also discusses the developmental challenges we face.]