ARTICLES FROM THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN
Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2019.
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here is no end to the list of surprises that Prime Minister Narendra Modi stumps his political opponents with, leaving them either mute or incoherent. Take his recent touching gesture of spending Diwali, the festival of lights and happiness, with the jawans guarding our borders at Siachen, far away from their near and dear ones. And after that, with the people of the Kashmir Valley, showing solidarity with them in their difficult time, as they try desperately to recover from their recent devastation. "125 crore Indians could celebrate Diwali today and go about their lives in comfort because the jawans stood guard at the borders, prepared to make every sacrifice for the nation. Each and every Indian stands shoulder to shoulder with you," he said, winning the heart of every soldier, and endearing himself to the defence establishment of our country. For the last ten years, no Prime Minister had visited Siachen. With this simple, sincere gesture by Narendra Modi, the morale of our defence forces has skyrocketed. As far as the Congress party is concerned, since no initiatives or new ideas are permitted to emanate in the country from anyone except the Gandhi-Maino family, the party thought it best to boycott Modi's Kashmir visit. Let them rest in peace.
But whether they are ardent admirers or severe critics of the Prime Minister, no one, not even the Congress, can question the fact that he is focusing all his energy for creating a sound national blueprint that will unleash the real power of India. Some of India's power is already visible today, but most of it lies dormant and untapped.
A closer scrutiny of some of the significant statements the PM has made during his visits abroad and in India indicates he has thought very hard about his vision for India, the contours of which he discloses to the country, bit by bit. He wants to unshackle our people from poverty and all its attendant misfortunes, and enable them to achieve their full potential, which will not only bring them personal social and economic uplift, but will also in turn automatically translate into national growth and progress. It is only when our human resources acquire the necessary health, nutrition, education, skills and economic productivity, that our poverty and inequity will end, and our national stature and confidence increase. Only then will our proverbial fatalism and negative social traditions fade away and liberate the next generation.
Naturally, therefore, the Prime Minister's highest priority is on faster economic growth of India and inclusiveness. The foundation for higher economic growth is not merely a high GDP, but a GDP that is shared by the work force, and trickles down to them adequately to increase per capita income, not just in statistical terms, but in actual human terms.
For higher GDP, Modi has compellingly marketed India as an investment destination, and has already initiated the process of clipping procedural irritants that discourage foreign investment in the country. He has promised a transformational change in the investment climate, which during the last decade acquired one of the worst reputations in terms of red tape, corruption and delay, clearly reflected in various corruption and transparency indices which place India at the bottom of the list. Creating an enabling investment climate is Modi's forte, of which he has direct experience, having engineered it successfully in Gujarat, transforming it into one of the most attractive investment hubs in the world. With some time and toughness, I have no doubt that he will do the same for our country.
Modi is categorical that investment must result in "Make in India". This is the only way in which the great workforce of India can participate in our growth story and benefit from it. Through "Make in India", Modi wants to trigger a manufacturing revolution in India, something long neglected in the past decade. This is one of the most important messages the Prime Minister has repeatedly stated at home and during all his recent visits abroad.
For "Make in India" we require a strong, productive and skilled workforce tailored to the immediate investment and manufacturing requirements. For this too, Modi has set in motion the agenda for his Skill Development Mission. To begin with, he has created a new Ministry for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship dedicated to this programme, which is already consulting with related ministries to act in tandem for creating the right skills in our workforce and making India a manufacturing hub. Skill development has been a government programme for decades, but it worked at primary level skills required for wage employment or subsistence. The new ministry, in partnership with the private sector, is now eyeing the future, and is concentrating on skills with value addition, on quality assurance, international standards and certification to provide our people access not only to domestic manufacturing and service sector demand, but also to global skill demands across the world. Rest assured, the objectives will be achieved. The bureaucrats have learnt by experience and observation that the one thing that Modi does not tolerate is delay, inefficiency and shirking.
It is important that the Skills Mission must also get embedded with school education, particularly in government schools. Statistics confirm a high school dropout rate after students reach Classes 7 and 8. There are several reasons for this, such as the inability to cope, poor quality of schools and teachers, or a disabling home environment for first time learners. In these circumstances, to channelise productively the energy of these half educated adolescents with dreams and aspirations, it would be necessary to link them at the school level to the skill development programme that the government is developing. This would provide the potential dropout students a sense of purpose and a window to participate in "Make in India" and prevent them from drifting into the grey areas of society and indulging in anti-social or criminal activities to achieve monetary gain. Crime rates among this stratum of society are rising in every part of India.
The Prime Minister has stated eloquently that though we are an ancient civilisation, we are one of the youngest nations, with about 35% of our population below the age of 35 years. This is our great demographic dividend, which must be included in "Make in India". This is also for the most part the "neo middle class" that Modi spoke about with so much passion, who should not be allowed to sink back into poverty. This class, whose numbers are growing at great speed, has just emerged from the culture of poverty, has acquired literacy or some formal education, but not necessarily education, knowledge or social responsibility. They may not be sick or diseased, but they are still undernourished. They may have acquired skills to earn a living, but may not have enough awareness or information on how to spend their disposable incomes to improve the quality of their lives. Having just emerged from poverty, their greatest aspirations are to acquire the trappings of the middle class, completely related to the consumerism that they are bombarded with through their newly acquired television sets and mobile phones.
Good health and proper nutrition, education and information, sanitation and hygiene, must be bracketed together. This is what our neo middle class also needs for becoming world class participants in India's growth story. With these, they will achieve their true potential, have higher productivity and earnings, will improve the quality of their lives, and contribute to national growth.
While we must concentrate on investment and economic growth, we must side by side also invest in our human resources. This should be our next major objective, if we really want our demographic strength to deliver its true dividend.