Loksatta founder Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan attended a 2 day India conference at Harvard University on the 6th and 7th of February. Speakers at the conference included several top politicians, business leaders, bollywood celebrities, artists, NGO leaders, and Faculty of leading US universities researching on various aspects of India’s development. Over 750 students and participants were in attendance. Dr. JP was a key note panelist at the conference along with Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister for IT and communications, and Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda a four time MP from Orissa belonging to the BJD party. The panel spoke to all the attendees on the topic of ‘Indian Politics at the Crossroads’.
In his highly regarded and enthusiastically received speech, Dr. JP said that India is such a large country that anything we say about it is both true and untrue at the same time! While the country has made enormous progress, we have been blind to some basic needs of our people. The rest of the World wants India to succeed because of China he said, amidst applause. We cannot continue to languish in 19th century politics aspiring to live in the 21st century economy. There is an increasing gulf between aspiration, policy, and outcomes. For example, in education, our focus has been on student enrollment numbers without attention to the quality of education. Several international and internally conducted studies like the PISA study by the OECD have ranked Indian education quality at the bottom of the World he said.
In healthcare, it is well known that India’s spend including both public and private spend is less than 4% of GDP which is about 4 times lesser than the US and at least twice as low as most developed and developing countries.
While candidates battling for party nominations in the US are debating education and healthcare policy there is no such public debate on ideas by political leaders in India he pointed out drawing huge cheers from the attendees.
While in the past we had strong state governments, we now have creeping centralization of state powers into the center. Our democracy has been reduced to voting and shouting.
He concluded saying we need to do three things urgently. One, limit Delhi’s power to Central and international topics. Two, states must get more choice to decide their own manner of governance, and even system of governance. They should make local governments more powerful. Today, only 7% money goes to local govt. This is making citizens professional protestors and mendicants as they have no self-governance. Three, refine the bureaucracy and make them work for the public good by asking them to specialize, and by introducing a transparent system of accountability.