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Updated: April 8, 2013 04:47 IST

More than a leader, India needs a vision

Arun Maira
Comment (25)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

The pursuit of a GDP number does not inspire citizens because it does not tell them how their lives will improve but the idea of building a good society would

Diverse India needs much better processes for citizens to listen to each other and develop a shared thought of the country they want to build. Photo: PTI
Diverse India needs much better processes for citizens to listen to each other and develop a shared thought of the country they want to build. Photo: PTI

Rahul Gandhi spoke to the captains of industry for the first time on April 4. He described his inclusionary vision for India. He said that when the people prosper, especially the poor and the youth, industry will prosper too. Thus he evoked a bottom-up vision of growth, in contrast to a top-down vision in which industry must first grow before people can prosper. His speech has been criticised by many for being merely visionary and not concrete. This raises questions about the role of vision in energising movements of change and what should be the content of a vision.

Democratic India is not a unitary battleship. With its many contending interest groups, its federal state structure, and jostling political parties, India is a flotilla of independent, but interdependent boats. For a flotilla of independent boats to advance together, they must wish to go to the same destination and follow the same course. The flotilla needs a shared vision of what it wants to achieve and how it will do it.

Relate it to lives

A vision cannot be merely numbers. It must be an evocative idea representing the aspirations of citizens for the quality of society and economy they want to be a part of and will help to shape. This is a lesson that business corporations have learnt. In the 1990s when the pursuit of shareholder value became a corporate mantra, many companies expressed their vision of the future as a number (revenue or market capitalisation) they aimed to achieve. However, such visions did little to inspire employees down the line to change their behaviour. Shop floor workers would not wake up in the morning looking forward to what they could do that day to increase shareholder value — an outcome far removed from their lives. Similarly, the pursuit of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers inspires very few citizens. What do these numbers mean to them? What matters to them is how the quality of their lives will change and the opportunities they will have for better livelihoods.

India’s GDP growth rate has been stumbling. The Indian flotilla is muddling along. Sometimes it even seems to be falling apart in cacophonies of contention and confusion. The need of the hour is to rally the flotilla of boats and the people in them with a vision. This vision cannot be merely a number, or even just a slogan. It has to be an evocative story of the nation’s progress. We are far from our goals of becoming, in Tagore’s words, a nation in which every head is held high, and which is not broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls. Economic reforms had become imperative in 1991. Fortunately, India had leaders then with the courage and skills required to implement them. However, an inadvertent casualty of the era of economic reforms is that, since then, a vision of a large GDP seems to have overshadowed a shared vision of a good society. Those who point to the narrowness of GDP as a measure of good growth are accused of being “anti-growth” when in reality they are also calling for growth — the growth of a good society and inclusive economy.

For dialogue

The design of democracy’s structures — constitutions and electoral processes — is important for democracy to function smoothly. India can be proud of its Constitution and its ability to conduct elections on a scale no other country can. However, the nature of the dialogue and deliberations among citizens produces democracy’s quality. The structures are like the hardware of a computer. Dialogue and deliberations are the software of democracy. And, as in computer systems, given adequate hardware, the system’s performance depends entirely on the quality of the software. Diverse India needs much better processes for citizens to listen to each other, deliberate together, and develop a shared vision of the country they want to build.

Three growth directions

The 12th Plan foresees three possible scenarios for India’s growth. The scenarios are described as Muddling Along, Falling Apart, and The Flotilla Advances. According to the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), GDP growth will be eight per cent in the Flotilla Advances scenario, six per cent in Muddling Along, and five per cent in Falling Apart. Clearly, we want the flotilla to advance and produce the best outcomes for all aboard.

The Indian flotilla needs a vision to unite it. It needs credible leaders who can speak to people’s hearts about a path to a future in which all citizens will enjoy accountable, participative and effective governance; a future in which there will be many opportunities for good livelihoods for India’s burgeoning population of youth who could become violent when they have better education and skills but no jobs; and a future in which the country’s natural environment will not be further destroyed in the pursuit of GDP growth.

(Arun Maira is a Member of the Planning Commission.)

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I value the opinion of Mr Maira as he is not just an industrialist but someone who has contributed to the planning in our country. He rightly has tried to emphasise that the growth has to be all inclusive. Rahul hasnt spelt how this should be done, but he has awakened the industry to realise that they cannot grow at the expense of a large percentage of the people of the country. Industry has also realised this as they see the growth in demand form the rural areas. The key word is "democratically" and not a forced development model by the richer section of the people.

from:  S.N.Iyer
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 11:06 IST

A common theme in our political discussions is that politicians are to
blame for everything. This is followed by "just control corruption",
or "just cut bureaucracy", and everything will be fine.

Let me add to the list of ridiculous suggestions by saying that we
should "just stop being communal", "just stop throwing garbage on the
streets" and "just stop beating our women".

The politicians do not make us do these things. Our elected leaders
are still elected.

It is time to raise the level of the debate.

from:  Rohit Chatterjee
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 09:37 IST

Funny.. So the writer thinks that India never had a visionary leader till now. I honestly believe that there were many with 'vision',then why most of Indians still continue to suffer/devoid of basic needs. What could be the reason? Lack of Leadership? Yes,Perhaps.So isn't the leadership an essential component? Yes it is.
The wrong Arun did was to give hands down importance to one quality over the other (here Vision over Leadership). This is wrong. It creates a confusion. Just think y a person is termed a 'Leader'. Bcoz he leads. And in this case bcoz we are talking of human who follow a particular person bcoz of his 'vision'. Why would people follow someone without a 'vision'?
The pro-congress people are desperately trying to get some +ve at Rahul's corner, which he can use against NaMo's +ve qualities. Thats y this new mantra of 'More than a leader, India needs a vision'. But let me break myth of his. Apart from being a far better leader, Namo is also a better visionary than RaGa.

from:  Tilak
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 04:48 IST

I think we are confused about the job of a politician (PM, CM, MP ..). A politician doesn't need to think how the country will grow, there are panels of intellectuals who will tell him/her that. A politician just needs to hear those advices and say yes or no keeping the benefits of people in mind. That is why there are no educational qualification for a politician. What we really need is neither a hollow visionary nor an arrogant dictator; instead an honest responsible person.

from:  rksaren
Posted on: Apr 9, 2013 at 01:01 IST

Indeed, Rahul Gandhi has made a point to count on.It is not time to review our age old top down approach and try the bottom up approach to make the growth inclusive.Instead of seeing the country's growth interms of industrial and billioniers growth, it is not time to set targets in moving people from BPL to the otherside. Just because there are number of scams done by his party and his family we should not blindly criticize his remarks on growth.

from:  Raju
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 23:32 IST

Very true. GDP increase or the number of billionaires does not make a nation rich. What matters is the earnings of the lowest paid worker. Did it increase in real terms, i.e. after adjusting for inflation? The answer is, No. Hourly rate of unskilled labor is $0.69, while it is 20% more in Sri Lanka and $39 in NY. Government needs to improve the earnings of unskilled labor, rickshaw-wallah, and skilled labor like masons, carpenters to make a change.

from:  Krishnan
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 22:36 IST

Bottom up and top down argument is really funny, that too coming from
planning commission member. Having vision is one thing but proper
opportunities, playing and governing by rules are other. What happened
with Mr. Robert Vadra? Is DLF going to give me crores of rupees in loan
like that gave to Mr. Vadra?.

from:  prasbad
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 22:10 IST

Looks as though the party's PR machinery has set to work, to garnish
RG's speech .. if a member of the Planning Commission has managed to
make out this 'vision', why has it not been able to show a more humane
approach so far?

from:  swarna
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 20:59 IST

Without a leader and his/ her good leadership; how can India get a vision?

from:  Shrihari Kulkarni
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 18:15 IST

The dying bandwagon of inclusive/socialist growth which congress followed all their political life has shown opposite results. Time is evidence enough that a country and its people progress when private industries progress freely. Look at USA and Russia. USA is a free interprize of big industrial houses while Russia was of central inclusive growth. But what happened? Where did inclusive growth went? Nowhere. Only industrial growth can fuel jobs which in turn fuels economy. So this bottom down approach has failed through out history from Russia to Cuba. Even China in the end had to follow US model. So what is the fuss about? Top down approach may be painful at times to some people but it achieves better results. Inclusive propaganda is just a populist model for remaining in power by giving free goodies to lethargic people who don't want to work or compete.

from:  harshvardhan Sharma
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 17:11 IST

What we have are Pygmy leaders and hardly any statesman, confident
enough to lead, having clear vision. Progress and growth have become
synonymous to making more money. People are lethargic, frustrated
with the attitude of "kuch nahi hota" (nothing will happen) and are
directionless. Though Rahul Gandhi appears to be honest and
idealistic, he sounds pessimistic when he says 'no one will come
riding a horse'! Like Mr. Mahapatra says, we need a Leader who can
build the nation based on morals, discipline and equality and
opportunity to all to prosper. The national will automatically

from:  N.Raghavan
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 16:56 IST

Why talk about GDP, imports-exports, economic systems? Rahul Gandhi
has no new ideas - after all he is looking to wear the crown because
he and the hundreds of sycophants believe that he has the right
qualifications to lead 1200 million people. Pray, what is his
qualification, other than being from the "first family"? None
whatsoever. Period.
As for all those economic jargons, they don't really matter. Plain speaking makes sense. We need to cleanse everything - politics, the judiciary and the bureaucracy . India can never be an economic super power unless we control population growth, cut red tape, build infrastructure,eliminate corruption, control inflation, and make life safe for everyone.
I doubt if anyone seems to care. Mere talk of resolving issues makes no sense. Is it possible everyone believes that our current illnesses are incurable - so why worry?

from:  Mallika Sharma
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 16:06 IST

This is an accounting world where things that can be measured (without efforts) by converting into 'numbers' were taken into consideration. Hence, the question of how much value you assign for your own hunger is still out of books. Can anyone answer?

from:  Sankar
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 13:59 IST

TO PROSPER THE COUNTRY NEEDS A GOVT founded on principles, values and
morals; based on inclusive participation of all the citizens of the
country, committed to treating all citizens equally and equitably - not
setting one community against another for party-political advantage;
grounded on good governance, transparency and accountability; with a
vision to empower all Indians (not just political backers and vote-
banks) to unleash their enormous ingenuity, capabilities and resources –
hitherto not fully tapped, TO BUILD A CORRUPTION-FREE, LAW-ABIDING,
decide the future condition of their own lives and that of their future
generations. THINK BEFORE YOU VOTE!!!

from:  D Mahapatra
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 13:19 IST

The real problem in this country is lack of education and rampant
corruption. The corruption has to end to enhance the trickle down
effect. Our so-called Netas need to understand our economic
policies and devices. Today most of our politicians do not know
our constitution and the laws of the land. The flotilla is moving in
different directions and progress is greatly hindered.

from:  S N IYER
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 12:12 IST

"a bottom-up vision of growth, in contrast to a top-down vision in which industry must first grow before people can prosper"

RG must be joking, I mean isn't this what is happening already? People are still waiting to prosper in that long queue, where the private sector always cut in front.

from:  Vinith Vijayan
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 11:53 IST

Thanks for couple of apt metaphors of India. It can be said that the
focus on GDP must be complementary to the inclusiveness. One should not
see them mutually exclusive. Much of the economic growth depends on the
scale of economic activity, the citizens involve given that the gov't
creates enabling environment for the same. What India needs is a leader
who can equally devote to GDP led growth and inclusiveness bringing much
needed quality of life.

from:  BSajjanar
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 10:20 IST

Industry and business brings money and that will go to poor and poverty will be eliminated. How the reverse happens?. Just by speaking some words will not do. For growth somebody has to put money all around for that Govt should give conducive atmosphere. There is no practical vision just some words in it without substance. Money spending is the most easiest and being done by inefficient Govts but generating it is the difficult task.

from:  Arvind
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 09:58 IST

Having vision is not a great thing in a great country like ours with superb history of Rishis and Vedas. Persons who can implement such vision with country's people in mind are required. We today find people in UPA administration who think American or foreign models of economic development are best and that foreign vision was great, without really considering their appropriateness to our country in the present context and time.No one followed what new ideas have been pronounced by Rahul as apart of the vision he has for this country and of course, CII crowd had to give standing ovation to his empty rhetoric for very obvious reasons.

from:  MVJRao
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 09:24 IST

Am afraid to see in what useless hands our country is in. If planning commision member
finds RG's speech having concrete vision no wonder our planning commision is doing such a
pathetic job in uplifting industry mood and living standards of the people of this country.

without action means nothing at all. Its mere consultancy what Rahul baba and Manmohan
are doing from last 9years. A leader is the one who has vision and a brings it to reality with
action and that is exactly what we need. Nothing less than that.

from:  Prateek
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 09:22 IST

Why wait for any leader? I ensure, daily, that I create the best
goods/services, that I am honest and known for treating my
colleagues/staff well and for delighting my clients. We have to be known
as the best citizens always, wherever we live, whatever we do. Nothing
difficult. Most exhilarating!

from:  bharati
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 08:57 IST

The most important thing the author has missed is the intentions of the ruling class in introducing reforms.In early nineties the economy had faced a deficit balance due to reduction of foreign exchange balance.Without looking into the real reason ,the rulingclass had changed the whole gamut of economic policy and planning, foreign policy etc to allign with USA led western nations from our role as a leading non alligned nation.The role of labour and manufacturing sector have been neglected in favour of jugglery of balance sheets with advice from stock market PUNDITS. And we have reached where we should reach!

from:  atis
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 06:31 IST

Good article! The Hindu should take the initiative in presenting diverse
views about an alternative vision for the country!

from:  umesh bhagwat
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 06:24 IST

Everything is subservient to government in a democracy with some autonomy to of course, the constitutional heads. CII in its AGM 2013 has given a good opportunity to Congress vicepresident to freely vent his feelings. Next time it should give such a chance to Aam Aadmi to express what he wants from hard fought Indian democracy itself. CII can never do it? It prefers to revolve around power centres to get its things done. Jai Hind !

from:  Vyas K Susarla
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 03:12 IST

I feel the more the country focuses on GDP we end up in price raise of all essentials and that means no change of standards.
Poor suffers a lot. They quit their job which they where doing for several years and foray in as construction workers.
Like how Middle class forayed into IT, lower income forayed into Infrastructure. Now the Govt should have a plan how to tackle with reducing number of farmers and farm lands.
how to promote large scale and industrial farming.

from:  Arul
Posted on: Apr 8, 2013 at 02:07 IST
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