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A note for our readers: the views reflected by the authors do not reflect the views of ASPA.
By Shami Dugal
India is the world’s largest democracy with a population size of 1.2 billion. One may not have the right to adequate housing and food on a daily basis but everyone 18 and older has the right to vote. Of course, coercion, inducements and obstructions are part of the game especially in rural areas and are not restricted to any one party. The democratic voting system was demonstrated in the recent elections that took place took place between mid-April and May of this year and gave a majority to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Lok Sabha (The People’s Assembly or Parliament).
As a key member of the BRIC group of emerging economies in the world (the countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China), and as a possible contender that may be looking to challenge the G-7 established, advanced economies, the policies of the new party are of interest to the world.
Although the country grew at a healthy rate of over 8 percent during the last decade, it has slowed to half. This is due to a host of issues including corruption and bureaucratic inaction that resulted in the dismissal of the Congress government. The latest humorous quote is that the temperature in Delhi this summer has exceeded the number of Congress seats in government for the first time in history.
India is a unique fusion of advancement and stagnation. Its prowess and presence in the area of information technology is pretty well recognized and established throughout the world. It has a number of entrepreneurs who have judiciously invested in people, technologies, methods and markets to create strongholds in certain industries. Pharmaceuticals, steel, skilled human capital are some that come to mind. They have also connected citizens internally through voice communications and SMS to achieve a high level of productivity.
One project of unprecedented proportions is the unique identification system for Indian citizens. Under the leadership of Mr. Nandan Nilekani, ex CEO of Infosys, and with talent drawn from the Indian diaspora of brilliant technologists, they set about the identification of the Indian population with a random 12-digit identification number. They already have 200 million members with an expectation to have half of the population in the system by the end of 2014.
The characteristics of the system include simple identification for an individual consisting of their name, date of birth and gender with an email and mobile number as optional elements. Uniqueness is managed through biometric information consisting of a combination of 10-finger biometrics, two-iris scans and a photograph. This is expected to establish the identity of a person with over 99.5 percent accuracy. With its Internet-class open source backbone; the database will accommodate more than 12 billion fingerprints, 2.4 billion iris scans and 1.2 billion photographs.
This advertisement of a progressive India unfortunately shields an underground economy based on graft and corruption, to the point that almost everyone needs this as a second income to survive and counts on it beyond the normal employment wage. Very little used to move within the country at almost every level without some aspect of a wink and a nod accompanied by hard cash. It is far more blatant now.
An example of graft I remember is that in order to obtain a landline and a telephone, which was a 10 lb. brick, some 50 years ago, it required payment to an official and then you had to wait 6 months or a year. Long distance or “trunk” calls had to be booked through operators and were expensive. Charges received at the end of the month often did not correlate to usage and were spread out by cooperative officials to reduce cost to “connected” corporate customers.
While voice communications has now become the “killer” application for India, graft has shifted to more sophisticated products and services such as armaments, licensing, permits, quotas, etc. Value of funds exchanged for such privileges has increased monumentally. The increase has been such that millionaires and billionaires in places like India, China and other emerging countries are not proportional to the economies of those countries. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is consistent with the notion about the 1 percent and 99 percent we have in North America.
Back to the elections and the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, there is huge expectation that he will instill discipline and a businesslike approach in the running of the government, similar to manner of economic growth he engendered as the Chief Minister in the state of Gujrat. The concern has been his close association with Hindu Nationalists and his role in not preventing racial riots in Gujrat. However, his comments during the elections indicate that he is transcending the negative regional image he had created and appears to be taking on the national position to which a significant majority has elected him.
His speeches and actions to his ministers to work on top 10 economic items, pay attention to business, work longer hours all appear to be steps and policies in the right direction. Election of the Gandhi stalwarts after the poor results to continue leading the Congress party only signifies that they have not understood the public’s message, and further strengthens Mr. Modi’s position and the view that the country made the right decision. Citizens impatiently expect that their trust in the BJP and especially Mr. Modi will return dividends. Reduction of graft, efficiencies in government, an economic upsurge, and good social policies will represent some of the key measures that people will be watching domestically and internationally in his first year of administration.
Author: Shami was born in India and lives in North America, but stays connected to the scene in India. He can be contacted at [email protected]