10. India needs a deep rethink on the role of government in our lives.
I wrote much of this series on an Air-India flight back from New York to Mumbai. What business does the government of India have running an airline? What business does it have taking taxpayers money time and again and putting it into white elephants? Questions like these cut to the heart of the debate around the role of government.
It is time for us Indians to realize that the government has failed us over the last six decades. If the government had done its job competently, India would have been a better country. We would have had 100% literacy two generations ago. We would have growth rates to match China’s – not for 5 years, but for 30 years. We would not have 500 million poor (more than three times the absolute number from 1947). We would not have pathetic urban infrastructure. We would not have 70% of the country’s population still engaged in agriculture. We would not have power cuts.
Some of us may delight in the near 9% growth that we now see. But we have to also understand that this growth is on a very low base.
The US is going through a difficult period right now on the economic front, with very low growth. But before we gloat about our growth rate, let us step back and see what the US has achieved through its relatively short history. For example, can the Indian transportation system compare to the American? Are we anywhere close to the American education system? Clearly not since most of our best and brightest make their way to the US for higher education – and often stay there after their education. (Not just the best and the brightest, the children of Indian leaders get their education abroad.)
Sitting through the conference and listening to speakers from within and outside government, I could not but help think that once again the US is showing its ability to question, rethink and come up with better solutions. There is a recognition that the government systems they have had need change, and there is a healthy debate on how that needs to be done.
Obama may have failed on some fronts, but his Open Government initiative is helping bring about perhaps the greatest transformation in how government works. Even though these Gov 2.0 changes will not be immediately visible to all and will have some hiccups on the way, they will have far-reaching positive consequences for the US in the coming years. That is in keeping with the US spirit of resilience and reinvention.