Miles to go - Independence Day 2015

In 2013, I had written in the context of elections that it's time to think about four  - focus on individuals and not on institutions, loss of hope among people, misplaced sense of rights vs. privileges and lack of middle class participation in politics. It's been just two years since then and we have made tremendous progress regarding these especially due to the changing nature of politics in our country. This is a reason for hope.

Politics is the greatest lever to bring about change. This choice of this path of reform was a double edged sword. Not being part of the politics meant that the situation is going to be worse but trying to be a part of politics meant significant compromise. Those who took up this path argued that given the constraints, some compromise is necessary and ends justify the means. Others argued that the very path of coming into government restricts the ability to do discharge the duties which is the original motive.  

Some well meaning people also tried to change this by starting a new political party but they all faced with five issues. Lack of leader with mass appeal, lack of ideology which can unite critical mass of people, difficulty building perception of winnability so that people don't feel that their votes are wasted, funding, the art of  contesting elections - campaigning, converting support into votes winning elections.

Thus politics as a path to reform was a difficult choice between moral compromise and pragmatism. So, what has changed? Two important phenomenon have occurred in the past two years.

One, Aam Aadmi Party successfully transcended all the above issues and brought back life to the dying hope for clean politics. It has set new trends in funding, transparency, winning elections without money and brought back the disillusioned middle class back into politics. Two, Narendra Modi successfully steered the discourse towards development and hope. Both these parties have also redefined the way elections are contested bringing in innovative methods of campaign leveraging information technology. 

These are all reasons for hope but as we talk today these two parties face major challenges. AAP has the challenge to build the organize, replicate success and expand. It's volunteer driven and crowd sourced funding is good while contesting one state at a time but might be difficult when going for a nation wide election. The controversies around BJP government at the center reassert the constraints in bringing change if the path of coming to power is compromised. It is challenge for the party to ensure that it's old sins, specifically in states don't affect it's functioning and center and that they don't repeat these mistakes in states in future. The nature of politics of this nation is going to be defined by the extent to which these parties manage to address these challenges.

On a micro level, we have started progress on three important issues. 

One, corruption. The discourse on corruption has changed and the opportunity costs for being a corrupt have increased, though may not be to a desired extent. AAP in Delhi is demonstrating the capability of government to address this problem if there is a strong political will. The new initiatives of union government in streamlining social benefit schemes hopefully will solve significant aspect of corruption. But we have to fight battles on collusive corruption and petty level corruption at union level and states. The institutional systems necessary to address this collusive corruption at union level are yet to be strengthened and the service delivery mechanisms at state levels are to be streamlined. A common man is still being troubled today on visiting government offices.

Two, decentralization. Decentralization of governance is a matter of belief of the government. The union government has redefined center state relations with increasing the share of taxes. AAP in Delhi has for the first time allocated funds at ward level bringing in genuine people participation in politics. The Telangana government has launched Gram Jyoti scheme earmarking special funds for villages. These are necessary steps which are yet to be seen in action in other states as well but this isn't the end of it. The recent report by Center for Policy Research led by Mr. Tr Raghunandan on the status of local bodies shows that there are significant challenges involved in making this work and there are lots of nuts and bolts to be fixed.

Three, individual freedoms. We are fighting a curious battle on individual freedoms. On one hand, we have fought the stigma attached with gay-ism, lesbianism and porn and made them acceptable at least legally. On the other hand, we have freedom of speech being curbed and a new found competition between states to ban alcohol. Hopefully, one by one, we win all these one by one.

While we have started progress on the above three micro level issues, we haven't achieved yet started on four important aspects.

One - political, police, judicial, electoral reforms. These are the root causes of many problems today but there is both resistance and unwillingness to act on these. Two, education and health care. The status of education and health care in India is well known. Though the importance of growth is being recognized there isn't significant focus on addressing this major challenge which is going to define our long term prospects. Three, state capacity. State capacity is the ability of the state to implement its policies. We have come to recognize that this is one of the major constraints in addressing the challenges of education and health care. The ability of state to enforce laws and provide secure atmosphere also defines the nature of growth of entrepreneurship and business in the country. This important yet boring aspect needs attention. Four, social fabric. The recent discourse on Yakub Menon's death and social unrest in some parts of the country shows that there is a lot pending in strengthening our social fabric, addressing underlying insecurities of people.

Nation building is a complex process. It takes time and effort and possible only with informed and engaged citizenry. In short term, we can only say if it's going in correct direction and as of now it seems to be so. Hope this continues and every independence day serves as a good reason for introspection. 

Happy Independence Day.

Jai Hind.

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