Asking Manmohan Singh the right questions

The onward march of communal socialism

The UPA’s most unfortunate strategy of earmarking government expenditure along community lines continues apace. The latest in this juggernaut is the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme for the welfare of minorities. It contains, among other things, measures to allocate greater resources for the teaching of Urdu, for modernising Madrasa education, for quotas in the rural employment guarantee programmes, preferential bank loans, government jobs and why, even a quota for upgrading of slums. That’s not just an assault on good economic sense. It’s a naked assault on secularism.

Prevention and control of communal riots is an excellent policy goal. But it is a national policy goal. To place it as a ‘minority welfare measure’ is not only an affront to justice. It is counterproductive to the cause of communal harmony, as earmarking justice—in the same style as jobs, loans and slum upgrading—will deepen the suspicion that it won’t be even-handed.

One person challenged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on this patently anti-secular socialist policy:

“The New 15-Point Programme that focuses on earmarking certain outlays of various developmental schemes and programmes of the Government of India amongst the eligible beneficiaries, based on their minority status, should be reviewed in the interest of maintaining the social fabric of the nation.”

“Such discrimination, amongst the eligible beneficiaries, for flow of funds based on minority status, will not help the cause in taking people of India together on the path of development,” he said.

(He asked) the Prime Minister how was “religion important” for a government strategy on inclusive growth.

Wondering “what has gone wrong in the previous plans” that such an approach should be adopted, (he) said “poverty has no religion” and only poverty should determine allocations in the Plan. [IE]

That person was Chief Minister Narendra Modi of Gujarat. The prime minister waffled in response. And Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, didn’t even realise the irony of what he said in defence of the 15-point programme:

Ahluwalia later said “one of the instruments being used is to make special efforts to focus on districts where there is high concentration of minorities” and these programmes “do not involve discrimination in favour of minorities as such.” [IE]

What’s the difference, Montek?

Liberalise the defence industry

And thank Russia for shaking India out of its lazy old ways

What stands in the way of the Indian armed forces using indigenously developed main battle tanks, fighter aircraft and aircraft carriers?

Answer: Cheap Russian imports.

Years of dependence on Russian military hardware—which could be obtained at rather attractive prices—simply meant that the armed forces preferred readymade products they could use, rather than take more risky route of using the gear that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was developing. Giving the armed forces roughly what they wanted was a less risky option for the politicians heading the defence ministry. The relative ease with which Russian arms could be imported meant that there was no real incentive for India’s policymakers to think how domestic defence production could be improved. This is an oversimplification, of course, but it is the nub of the issue.

India needs a crisis, it is said, to jolt it out of its ways. Russia’s behaviour over the refitting and delivery of the aircraft carrier should provide one. Not merely because it upsets the navy’s plans to have two carrier groups by the end of this decade, but because the possibility of a Russia-China equation is real. India should develop a reputation for standing up to Russian armtwisting. Reliance on imports from Russia—cheap or otherwise—, however, poses long-term strategic risks.

Now, building main battle tanks, fighter aircraft and aircraft carriers is not trivial. But there is no reason to believe that India can’t develop and build them indigenously. It’s time to liberalise the defence industry. Transforming defence procurement policies to ensure that there are strong domestic manufacturers is not rocket science. It can be done.

Good governance needs trained people

Addressing the dearth of public policy professionals inside and outside government

“More than a quarter of India’s $1,200 billion gross domestic product,” Mukul Asher writes in his DNA column, “is intermediated through the public sector. Increasing size and complexity of the economy, and economic, social and political challenges facing the country require an urgent shift towards better public policies and management.”

And the way to go about that, he argues, is to transform the public policy education in India: India needs good public policy schools, certainly. But what is interesting is that he argues that “it is essential that professional public policy education be made accessible to those who have not yet joined public service, or do not intend to join but work in related areas such as media, non-profit sector and business firms requiring understanding of public policy processes.”

Think of ‘government relations’ or ‘regulatory affairs’ people in those Indian corporations that have such people these days. It is quite likely that these would either be fixers skilled in the art of moving files through the bureaucracy, lawyers, or, very occasionally, a management graduate. As much as India needs well-trained people in government, it needs well-trained public policy professionals in the private sector. [Related Post: Dear Mr Nilekani]