Just Announcing Good Intentions Won’t Lead India into ‘Amrit Kaal’

The government cannot abdicate its responsibilities by shifting the onus on citizens to perform their duty towards nation building.

During her budget speech on February 1, 2022, finance minister Nirmala Sitaraman repeatedly referred to ‘Amrit Kaal’. She went on to say, “We are marking Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav and have entered into Amrit Kaal, the 25-year-long lead up to India@100”.

The term ‘Amrit Kaal’ was first used by prime minister Narendra Modi in his speech from the Red Fort on August 15, 2021 on the occasion of India’s 75th Independence day. Elaborating on the concept, the he had said that Amrit Kaal aimed to improve the lives of the citizens of India, lessen the divide in development between villages and cities, reduce the government’s interference in people’s lives, and welcome the latest technology.  Modi further stated, “Starting from here, the journey of the next 25 years is the Amrit Kaal of a new India. The fulfilment of our resolutions in this Amrit Kaal will take us till 100 years of independence”.

Milton Friedman, the famous economist, had said “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intention rather than their results”. 

It is beyond doubt that the intent of what the prime minster has said is noble. However, what needs to be assessed is whether these intents are achievable? What are the accentuating factors that may impede achievement of the aim and how to overcome those impediments? Another factor that we have to consider is the record of delivery of the assurances made so far. 

The last 9 years don’t inspire confidence. Even if the promises of recovering black money and depositing Rs 15 lakhs in bank account of everyone are considered flippancy, there are many other promises like reigning in inflation, reduction of prices of LPG and fuel, strengthening of Rupee against Dollar, reducing poverty, doubling farmer’s income by 2022, “har ghar nal” and many more remain unrealised.

Even though we now have the distinction of being the fifth largest economy of world, we remain way down in the list in regard to per capita income. The government itself admits that they are compelled to give subsistence ration of five kgs every month free of cost to almost 80 crore people. The fact that these promises could not be fulfilled indicates that the planners failed to take such variables into account which may have adversely impacted achievement of those objectives. To be fair, some of the factors were totally unexpected, like the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic. However, some other causative factors were self-inflicted, like the ill-conceived demonetisation in 2016. 

The leaders therefore have to consider all factors and prepare tangible action plans to overcome these impediments if India is to celebrate 100 years of independence as a progressive and prosperous nation in 2047. Mere pronouncement of intent isn’t adequate.

India’s founding fathers laid such strong foundations that the nation progressed in leaps and bounds in last 76 years. During this period our economy has grown to become the fifth largest in the world and is poised to become the third largest in a couple of years. Tremendous progress has been made in creation of infrastructure, industrial production and the service sector. Our IITs and IIMs are rated amongst the best in the world and have produced many bright individuals who have excelled not only at the national level but also internationally. Several alumni of these institutions are heading important world institutions including the IMF.

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That India achieved all this in-spite of many external aggressions from two of our neighbours during these years speaks for the strength and resilience of our economy and national will. Our political and military leadership displayed their resolve by facing  these aggressions and coming out with flying colours. Several insurgencies in the North East have been resolved amicably by a mix of security and population centric measures except for Manipur which has witnessed large scale ethnic violence for over four months. The Maoist insurgency in central India continues to rage even though the level of violence has drastically reduced. That there have been some hits and misses is only natural because of the vastness and diversity of the nation and tendency of humans to repeat the success of their last endeavour.

It should not be difficult for the present and future leadership of India to take the nation to a stage where India stands at the front of comity of nations. However, for this to happen the leadership has to be forward thinking and formulate policies after war gaming futuristic scenarios. Such policies must conform to the changing environment and demands of population. 

Peace and tranquility is the first requisite for realising the potential of India to become a leading world power. Several fault lines in our society which put heavy strain on our efforts to achieve our destiny must be addressed urgently.

One major fault line that needs urgent attention is the increasing communalisation of our society. Besides major riots in Delhi, Manipur and Haryana in July, there have been several cases of mob violence which are directly attributed to increasing radicalisation amongst masses. Religious processions with crowds carrying weapons while shouting provocative slogans end up disturbing peace and result in violence. Terms like “love jihad” and “cow vigilantism” are now in common lexicon. People involved in traditional cattle trade are wantonly attacked by alleging that the animals are being carried for slaughter. There are instances of people having been killed on mere suspicion meat in their fridge being beef!

The ethnic strife in Manipur and the inability of the government to contain it has the potential to spiral out of control and may fuel secessionist tendencies in the North-East once again. The leaders must behave in statesman-like manner and rise above the parochial considerations of religion, ethnicity and language. The leaders must work towards emotional integration of people from all regions, religions and ethnicity. The grievances of people from Jammu and Kashmir, North-East and Tribal areas in central India must be addressed for ensuring peace which is a prerequisite for progress.

India is now the most populous country of the world leaving China behind. More than 50% of the Indian population is below the age of 25 years and more than 65% below the age of 35. However, this population dividend will prove ineffective if adequate employment opportunities are not available in the country. With the unemployment rate hovering at around 7.5%, the symptoms of restiveness amongst youth are already visible. Anecdotal evidence suggests that people involved in rioting and vigilantism are mostly unemployed youth. Unemployment therefore has to be addressed urgently by strengthening the manufacturing as well as service sector. 

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One reason often cited for unemployment or rather “under employment” is the lack of adequately skilled man power. This is because the standards of education have diluted drastically over the last few years. There is no quality check on the infrastructure and resource persons employed in the educational institutions which have mushroomed haphazardly all over the country. We are therefore churning out under qualified engineers, doctors and MBAs from establishments housed in one or two rooms facility without any laboratories or other essential infrastructure. These establishments do not meet the stringent requirements of industry yet manage to obtain approval – widely believed to have been obtained through underhand means. Such people are thus compelled to take up jobs which are way below their “qualification on paper” leading to a sense of dissatisfaction. Educational institutions must therefore be subjected to strict quality control in terms of infrastructure, resource persons and quality and content of education imparted.

We must also focus on improving primary education in far flung remote areas and villages. The government schools in villages are the most neglected. It is utopian to expect such schools to have any other facility essential for all-round personality development of a child. 

Another area where India needs to focus is the health infrastructure. While we are focusing on creating tertiary level facilities like AIIMS in big cities, we are not creating adequate primary and secondary level facilities in villages, and small cities, leading to overcrowding in the city hospitals. Only a healthy population can gainfully contribute to the development of the country and expansion of our economy. The Primary health centres in villages must be strengthened. All those graduating from medical colleges must be compelled to initially work in rural areas at least for a couple of years. Adequate trained staff and medicines must also be made available in these primary health centres.

Last but not the least, the government must provide a humane and responsive administration which treats the citizen as priority. It is often seen that the general public keeps running from pillar to post for redressal of even minor grievances. Most of the government functionaries and even elected representatives do not treat common public with empathy. Many bureaucrats resort to bribe taking even for doing something which is the right of the individual. Remote villages are hardly ever visited by bureaucrats and such places never ever get to see the face of a government authority. The elected representatives too do not visit their constituencies regularly.

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Such neglect leads to dissatisfaction and is cause of simmering unrest which may lead to avoidable agitations. Part of the problem lies in the selection process of the leaders heading the bureaucracy. Selected through a testing process which focusses mainly on rote memory, they undergo motions of a training process which encourages the status quo and doesn’t equip them to interpret the laws of land with empathy, leading to plethora of litigation where the government is either a litigant or a respondent. Not that litigation for a common man is easy. The courts take years to decide a case. Even matters like granting of bail are decided after lengthy arguments and several postponements. The lower courts in many cases are happy abdicating their responsibility by passing ambiguous orders. Besides the unduly long time taken, litigation is very costly which a regualr person cannot afford especially in the High courts and Supreme Court. Both bureaucracy and judicial systems are in urgent need of reforms if the stated aim of government is to be achieved. 

The prime minister on July 5 renamed “Amrit Kal” as “Kartavya Kal” i.e. the era of ‘duty’, imploring the public to perform their duties diligently in order to make India an advanced country during the period leading to 2047. The emphasis thus has been placed on performance of duties as the first priority.

It is beyond doubt that the nation cannot progress without every citizen performing their duty towards nation building diligently. However, reforms and course correction suggested above must also be implemented by the government to realise the dream of India becoming a truly progressive and prosperous nation. Our leaders must display the sagacity to address the fault lines and work with single minded devotion to achieve that aim.

Sanjiv Krishan Sood retired as additional director general, Border Security Force.