Nandan nilekani hypocrisy & opportunism 14th april
Dissecting Imagining India. Questions concerning the honesty of an entrepreneur and hypocrisy of modern Indian Intellectual-Nandan Nilekani. His double standards, hypocrisy and Intellectual Bankruptcy. With leaders of this kind, the happy prosperous India is not just impossibility, but an oxymoron. Read the shared document, the key issues from his book Imagining India.
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Nandan nilekani hypocrisy & opportunism 14th april
Dissecting Imagining India
Citizens for Democracy, Bengaluru
Dissecting Imagining India
Hypocrisy & Opportunism2
Nandan Nilekani: Questions concerning the
honesty of an entrepreneur and hypocrisy of
modern Indian Intellectual
t was one of those sunny days of Indian summer, which was beginning in 2014 and the
gloomiest of the days for UPA2, while making an attempt to defend the indefensible
in the election campaigns that were taking shape. In the midst of these happenings,
all of us, young generation, techno savvy, so called intellectual type of young voters hear
this surprising rumors about one of the Business Magnates and the Chairman of UPA’s
most controversial project UID (Aadhar), entering to electoral politics as the candidate from
Bangalore South Constituency from Karnataka. This is exactly the time; few of us tried
making sense of what are the position and vision of Nilekani about India in general and how
it matches with the contemporary reality as well as the most degraded ideological position
of Congress. Only in this background, a not so serious rhetoric of management Guru, titled,
Imagining India: Ideas for the new Century, Published by Penguin India, became a serious
reading piece. In the very introduction which runs for around 36 pages in a very loosely
organized, argument rhetoric one can see the amount of controversy, lack of vision and
today’s position that his is taking with Congress party proves, Nilekani’s double standards,
hypocrisy and Intellectual Bankruptcy. With leaders of this kind, the happy prosperous India
is not just impossibility, but an oxymoron.
Following are some of the key issues from his book Imagining India.
There was no attempt to bridge the distances between many countries within a country*.
any dissensions that threatened the ideal –Acostly move in the long term.This happened
Sheikh Abdullah shifted his early, pro- India stance towards the idea of ‘free Kashmir’,
He stayed in prison for eleven years, much to the anger and disillusionment of the
Kashmiris. (Page 14)
Do you suggest Mr. Nilekani that Indian government should have left Kashmir on
its own? You must also remember that millions of Indians endorsed Shyama Prasad
Mukherjee and you don’t seem to be remembering that. By the by, are you suggesting
to separate Kashmir from India?
The policies that would have narrowed this distance and made the theories of secularism
and liberty popular-such as a mass education system and urbanization-were ones that
the state failed to implement. And the government’s hostility to business meant that
entrepreneurship, so critical in strengthening the foundation of a modern civil society, was
constrained. (Page 14-15)
If you are so upset about Nehruvian models, why did you join Congress Party? Isn’t it a
contradiction Mr. Nilekani?
I had to discard my father’s beliefs in Nehruvian socialism when I began working at
Infosys. (Page 17)
Suddenly you discovered the discarded socialism meaningful and became a Congressman.
3Dissecting Imagining India
There is great resistance to an open access order, and it comes from both business and
government. Interest groups and elites are leery about relinquishing power. There are good
reasons why they prefer the status quo: labor reforms threaten not only businesses employing
cheap contract labor but also protected trade unions. Better empowered parents and students
in schools challenge the sway of teachers’ unions and administrators. Greater economic and
social rights for women threaten the relative bargaining power of male citizens and relatives.
You were part of both business and government and this tells why there are good reasons
for you to empower people Mr. Nilekani
The India-US nuclear deal has also created the perception that India is now closer to United
States, which has drawn attention of global Jihadists. (Page 26)
I can understand your concern Mr. Nilekani, but your UPA government has done that
deal. And why should we fear the Jihadists please explain?
India’s biggest weaknesses in fact may have come from too little democracy, rather than too
much of it. (Page 29)
Congress imposed emergency and tried to kill democracy during its 60 year rule. Then
why Mr. Nilekani, are you joining hands with anti-democratic forces?
Congress-led governments, politically dominant and faced with little real opposition, could
stick with pet policies long after they had proved ineffective. Theirs was an ideologically
driven, top-down approach, largely undisturbed by the demands and reactions of its citizens.
Heights of double standards, Mr. Nilekani!! You still want to contest election from
Congress, when you have other better alternatives?
In 1975, however, Indira Gandhi announced the Emergency, which suspended democratic
rights and elections and endowed her with new powers of persuasion, so to speak. The Indian
government morphed into a frighteningly sycophantic group, there to do the bidding of the
prime minister and her son Sanjay—the same hot-headed young man who had described the
cabinet ministers as “ignorant buffoons,” thought his mother a “ditherer” and regarded the
Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos his role model. (Page 42)
You need to answer as to how this party has now suddenly become a party of democracy
rather than the dictators that you spoke of.
The sterilization measures that were introduced came to be known as the “Sanjay Effect”—a
combination, as the demographer Ashish Bose put it to me, of “coercion, cruelty, corruption
and cooked figures.” Ashish notes that “incentives” to undergo the sterilization procedure
included laws that required a sterilization certificate before government permits and rural
credit could be granted. Children of parents with more than three children found that schools
refused them admission, and prisoners did not get parole until they went under the knife.
And some government departments “persuaded” their more reluctant employees to undergo
the procedure by threatening them with charges of embezzlement. (Page 42 - 43)
It shows what a brutal history your Congress Party has sir. The nation demands an
answer from you!
The steep sterilization targets for state governments meant that people were often rounded
up like sheep and taken to “family planning” clinics. For instance, one journalist witnessed
municipal police in the small town of Barsi, Maharashtra, “dragging several hundred peasants
4 Hypocrisy & Opportunism
visiting Barsi on market day off the streets.” They drove these men in two garbage trucks
to the local family planning clinic, where beefy orderlies held them down while they were
given vasectomies. This scene repeated itself time and again across the country. (Page 43)
Can you ever see more violence than this? Congress has always treated people as its
slaves. You recognize that and yet go with it. Are you also trying to enslave your voters,
The strength of a large pool of young workers can quickly turn into a weakness if India fails
to implement effective policies in education and health, and create sufficient opportunities
for work and income. Today, however, just 13 percent of our young population enrolls for
higher education. As a result India is already experiencing constraints in its access to skilled
labor, and companies have begun moving from B-class to C-class cities in search of lower
employment costs. (Page 57)
What was your Congress government doing? You were part of National Knowledge
Commission sir, what did you do?
India’s challenges in creating enough jobs have also already begun—a large percentage
of our labor force is now in the tenuous unorganized market, with its attendant frailties of
seasonal employment and lack of social security. As more people join the workforce, the
challenges of providing long-term employment will only grow. Our failure to create these
opportunities can turn the dividend into a crisis (Page 57)
I guess Congress forgot about it. I don’t know how could you forget this?
Key players in Bombay’s underworld, for instance, were people belonging to discriminated
groups and the impoverished underclass—Chhota Rajan was the son of a Dalit sweeper,
Abu Salem’s mother rolled beedis for a living, Chhota Shakeel grew up in a Bombay slum
and Arun Gawli’s father was a textile worker laid off during the mill strikes of the 1970s.
While these circumstances do not exonerate their actions in the least, these are signs of how
economic bitterness can create high social costs. (Page 57)
It was your party which claims to champion the cause of depressed class and yet all these
things happened when Congress was in power. The stunting of growth was due to your
Congress Party and your party needs to take the blame squarely, if you are sincere.
Is that China can maneuver into sharp policy shifts in order to manage its demographics,
and quell violence.” But India’s coming demographic changes are complicated to control,
thanks to its democracy. In addition, India has several demographically prominent
religious and caste groups, who have been powerful in determining election outcomes.
These groups can corner state resources and often demand policies that give them unique
access to markets, in the form of reservations in jobs and colleges (Page 58)
Complete U Turn. Reservations were bad yesterday and today they have become a
good thing? Heights of double standards!
Sudarshan often celebrates the mata in his speeches, the prolific woman who produces large
numbers of children; his blessing for women followers who meet him is the alarming “May
you have a hundred sons.” (Page 57)
You can have problem with RSS but one should not lie sir.
And as different communities collide while competing for the same jobs and for seats in
educational institutions, hostilities have soared—as in Maharashtra in the rhetoric against
non-Marathi-speaking Indians, in Delhi in the debate over worker ID cards and in Karnataka
5Dissecting Imagining India
in the efforts to make the local tongue, Kannada, the “sole language.” (Page 58)
Don’t use untrue words sir. Kannada was never sought to be made the “sole language”.
You cannot even speak proper Kannada even after enjoying the benefits of Kannada
land for these decades. Disgusting.
Nehru was the biggest champion of socialist policy in these pre independence years, and
it was a real thorn in the side for India’s business houses that the nation’s most charming,
popular politician regarded them at best with distaste and at worst with open hostility. In
unguarded moments, Nehru described capitalism as “cut-throat” and was emphatic on
wanting to “limit” the role of business. (Page 63)
How can you forget that your Rs 7,700 Crore came from Narasimha Rao’s capitalism and
not Nehruvian socialism. But today you want to support Rahul’s socialism? Hypocrisy
to the core!
In the early years, however, Indian industry did have some prominent leaders willing
to defend their interests, particularly the pro-business leader and future home minister
Vallabhabhai Patel. Patel was fearsome in both personality and the influence he wielded in
the government—his critics called him “Herr Vallabh bhai”—and having him on the side of
industry was reassuring. Through the first shaky years of independence, when Nehru shook
them with his blunt, combative remarks, Patel would assure them (Page 63)
That is what exactly Mr.Modi is telling !!. It was Patel who drove our nation in the correct
path. How come having recognized this you are with Congress and Nehru family? Are
you still with this idea or have sacrificed this for the sake of power?
The dominance of the state had created a decidedly unequal relationship between the
business and the government. State-led planning helped the government justify a massive
expansion in employment, creating a “welfare bureaucracy,” and this began to clog up the
industry with regulations, permissions and the slow transfer of paper from desk to desk. The
licensing model for doing business also turned economic competition into a game with a
crooked wheel, as bureaucrats who managed licenses became the gatekeepers to industry
Congress is the party which generated this nexus of welfare bureaucracy. How come Mr.
Nilekani is joining hands with them? Why Congress, Mr. Nilekani, Why congress, after
blaming them for all the ills of our country?
Educated bureaucrats were hardly industry allies, and the government’s disdain for
businessmen traveled down their ranks. The officers were especially risk-averse in awarding
permits—given the choice between a young upstart entrepreneur and an established business
house, they awarded licenses to the latter, picking experience over innovation. Business
procured multiple licenses to preempt competition in their industry; snap up enough,
companies found out, and you could have your own little monopoly. By 1964 more than half
of India’s product industries had just one or two firms competing in them (Page 67)
It was and is the business culture of Congress and you have joined hands with them. You
say something and do something does it suits you sir?
Ironically, in trying to eliminate the legacies of the East India Company, our leaders shaped
Indian business into exactly the venal kind of capitalism they deplored. These firms picked
their teeth while consumers complained.The licensing model created lazy monopolies, which
held Indian consumers captive to products of terrible quality, yellow paper, refrigerators that
didn’t cool and cars that backfired on their way off the assembly line. The major drivers
6 Hypocrisy & Opportunism
of GDP—capital investment and productivity growth—stagnated. It was as if the workers
slept at the machines and the managers slept at their desks. The country’s export earnings
remained stagnant, and as our trade deficit grew from Rs 780 million to Rs 7.91 billion
between 1950 and 1964, foreign aid grew from zero to Rs 8.19 billion. (Page 68)
Are you planning to join hands with party which is going to make its people its slave?
May be you like doing so, otherwise you would not have chosen Congress.
Instead, through the 1960s and 1970s, as policies suppressed entrepreneurship and
joblessness soared, Indians found other ways to be, well, enterprising. Most of India’s most
violent movements and mobocracy trace their origins back to these decades. The hordes of
unemployed degree holders fed the growth of an extreme left Naxalite movement. In Punjab
and the northeast, militancy was on the rise, and Kashmir stayed on a constant simmer.
The price controls of a socialist economy also fed the growth of a vibrant black market and
powerful mafiosi such as Haji Mastan, Yusuf Patel and Vardhabhai. (Page 70)
Congress is known for creating the mafia controlled market management and supporting
insurgency. We are wondering how come you are with Congress, Mr. Nilekani?
Unorganized violence was also at an all-time high. A tottering economy had turned India
into an angry, seething nation—agricultural production was down by nearly a third by the
mid-1960s, and prices hit new records as a series of droughts brought India to the brink of
famine. Policemen held off mobs across the country, college campuses closed down and
India’s once-celebrated symbols became hubs of rioting—the shining steel towns of Bhilai
and Rourkela were not spared, and Chandigarh, India’s glittering showcase city, erupted
with both communal and economic tensions. (Page 71)
Congress is known for generating violence and sabotaging violence using state power. By
contesting from Congress, country has learnt that you for the same ideal, sad, very sad!
Acts such as reservations for small-scale industries in expert sectors like leather and textiles
and the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act (MRTP) penalized business growth.
Indira also announced the nationalization of banks through an ordinance, nationalized coal,
iron and steel, and—when their imminent shutdown put seventy thousand jobs at stake….
If you are against this model, how come you are with Congress? Double standards!
In 1969 Indira had responded to India’s financial crisis with populism; this time, as strikes
and the government initiated a pro business economic policy, with the announcement of a
twenty-point economic program. It prioritized growth and better capacity utilization, and put
performance conditions on the public sector. (Page 73)
Here is the point sir. You are not worried of Emergency’s excesses and you are happy with
Emergency’s pro-business policy. You say that money at any cost, even without freedom
is perfectly okay.
Montek suggests that while the 1980s saw some movement toward better policies, it took the
1991 reforms to bring about a real transformation in how the government viewed markets.
Montek’s reformist credentials are impeccable: he was the Finance Secretary during India’s
crucial 1991-96 years, and in his stint at the Planning Commission he has gained a reputation
as a straight-talking champion for liberal policy (Page 74)
It is the same Montek who even feels that around Rs. 30 per day means not poor! And if
you feel that Montek is great, I can only feel sorry for you.
7Dissecting Imagining India
Unfortunately, ambivalence here hits the most vulnerable of India’s self-employed. Without
fully functioning commodity markets, the chances for farmers to diversify and make new
investments are limited, and the lack of social security restricts their ability to take risks.
Small entrepreneurs remain small and, without the information or funds to expand, stick
with their carts and small one-room shops year after year. Difficulties in getting permits
encourage their exploitation. Until the licensing system and bureaucracy change enough to
affect even these small firms, India’s potential remains only partially awakened. (Page 80)
This is the standard complaint against Congress. Why are you with them? If you want
a good business space, join Modi bandwagon sir. Gujarat has set example already. Your
double standards are exposed!
There was an old way of a saying that “India has potential, and it will always have potential.”
It is as Indian attitudes toward entrepreneurs have transformed—from criticism and suspicion
to a new appreciation of the “animal spirit”—that this potential is finally being realized.
Nehru had once expressed contempt for what he called the “bania civilization,” and Indira
Gandhi had spoken of businessmen as “the dark and evil forces” that threatened to destroy
the country. In the new era, however, Manmohan Singh lauds businessmen as “the source of
India’s confidence, and our optimism.” (Page 82)
This shows the contradictions of Congress. Why are you joining them when they are full
of such confusions? We don’t want hypocrisy and stage drama. Accept that Congress is
in contradiction, they do not have a business policy.
Indira Gandhi’s shaky terms as prime minister were marked by high inflation, which she tried
to smooth over with pro-poor rhetoric. Controlling inflation while retaining bad socialist-era
policies has also been the cause of India’s persistent and rising deficit, created by a deficit-
money-inflation-deficit spiral. (Page 141)
Congress can never handle inflation and yet you want to be with them having known this
fact. Now try saying that Indira Gandhi could not handle inflation, sir?
The leeway that Indian citizens give governments on prices has also reduced over the years.
While governments could survive double-digit inflation rates in the 1970s and 1980s—Indira
Gandhi presided over rates of 26 percent and 20 percent in 1973-74 and 1980-81—such
tolerance has dramatically reduced since reforms. Now, inflation touching 5 percent triggers
fears of voter reprisal. As inflation crossed 12 percent in mid-2008, the Indian government
began to openly panic, and coalition members criticized and distanced themselves from state
policy. The inability of India’s voters to tolerate inflation means that our governments have
tended to favor an appreciating currency, the reverse of the Chinese approach. Such a policy
makes it difficult to argue that India is not playing fair, and it has made its integration into
global trade easier to stomach (Page 142)
You want Indian voters to tolerate inflation because you want to make profit? You need
to clarify sir.
It would be amiss not to add that some Indian firms still remain highly connected with the
government, thanks to their sheer size and clout in major industries—such as energy and
mining. However, the number of such firms so far makes them the exception rather than the
rule. (Page 142)
You must not preach anymore on transparent policy sir, You are also close to Gandhi
family. (Your firm too is a beneficiary)
Lack of broad access has also allowed a strident lack of concern among governments for
8 Hypocrisy & Opportunism
the rights of the poor and of weaker groups. It has been visible in the political thuggery
when the government hired police to beat up nonviolent protestors of the Enron agreement
in Maharashtra, and more recently in the insensitive treatment of villagers and farm owners
living on land bought for SEZ projects. (Page 146)
Congress is responsible and instrumental in these issues. Still you are with Congress!!!
Now it is time to actually question your intention, Mr. Nilekani. Why Congress then?
After all, the very concept of the nation-state, that post-Renaissance ideal, had its roots
in liberalism and the rise of an educated middle class. But India, like the many “new
democracies” that emerged in the 1940s and 1950s, was a largely poor and illiterate country
that had little history of a widespread, liberal movement. We were a country that underneath
the surface was what it had always been—a region driven by factionalism, whose caste and
religious divisions seemed to be written in stone (Page 151)
We are amazed by your views on India. How different are you from our colonial (British)
masters. They had more sympathy than you sir. No wonder, you want clean India and
continue what Nehru did.
Nehru, for instance, despite his strong belief in a socialist economy, rejected “full-blooded
socialism” because it undermined democracy—“The price paid,” he wrote, “is heavy.
Now we understand what you are up to. Nehru accepted that he had hypocrisy and you
are also showing the same. In the path of Guru!!!
In the two hundred years that India transitioned from a patchwork of kingdoms to a
democracy, the essence of its society changed very little. Under the British government, the
region remained both divided and feudal. (Page 151)
Great, India did not change at all in past 200 years. Our Marxist friends are with you.
We never thought you would treat your friends and relatives in India as unchanging
But in defining our class divides entirely separately from these other cleavages, Indian
leaders ignored the particular nature of our poverty. The sociologist Ashutosh Varshney has
noted that India’s class divides were a “ranked ethnic system” that combined both caste and
class, similar to the apartheid systems in South Africa in those bloodlines would be a fair
predictor of where you stood in the society in terms of income, respect and authority. As
Varshney tells me, “The poor in India were not just poor—they were overwhelmingly low
caste. (Page 155)
If you are subscribing to this view, you do not even understand the social reality. Can’t
there be poor without lower caste. What are you saying Mr. Nilekani? You are misguiding
and dividing the society. Don’t mess caste (which is a reality) with Class (about which no
one is clear) and divide us.
This relationship between class and caste held strong across Indian communities. As the
writer and journalist Harish Damodaran observed when I put this question to him, “The
business classes in India were dominated by the ‘Vaishya castes,’ and the business networks
they built were around family and informal caste connections. These were tremendously
difficult for an outsider to penetrate. (Page 155)
How come you and Narayana Murthy have become entrepreneurs? How did so many
new business enterprises are coming up? Sorry, I forgot, you are telling about Congress
and its business houses
9Dissecting Imagining India
In fact, for a long time, Congress leaders in Delhi saw their party as the lone bulwark against
India’s feudal urges—Congress was the sole “agent of destiny” that could fulfill India’s
vision of a democratic nation. To ensure this, the government in Delhi created a culture of
center-driven, top-down governance that may indeed have protected the ideas of secularism
and liberalism from popular erosion. But this also allowed bad ideas to stand longer than
they should have—such as the quasi-socialist policies that by the late 1960s had already
proved to be weak and ineffective. (Page 156 - 157)
How come a discovery of 3 decade old is not making you think about Congress? How
come even after your strong anti socialism campaign Girish Karnad and Ananta Murthy
still support you? Mysteries of mystery of the height of intellectual dishonesty and
Ambedkar had observed that democracy in India was a mere “topsoil” that lacked any
deep roots, and the one advantage, perhaps, of this was that the Indian government did not
face many challenges in the early years of democratic rule—the majority of Indians were
politically illiterate and unaware of their rights. This gave the Congress, Atul notes, plenty
of elbow room and decisive majorities to enact secular, democratic policies in a country not
necessarily committed to these notions. (Page 157)
This means that Congress idea of democracy and secularism is shallow, They do not
implement them seriously and make policies for the sake of it. With this you believe that
Congress is the only hope for India?
The first Indian government went to the extent of eliminating the caste factor from the
1951 census, and the writer Christophe Jaffrelot notes that when it was compelled to
categorize the backward castes besides the scheduled castes and tribes, it termed them the
backward “classes,” pointedly avoiding the word “caste.” In 1953, when the Backward
Classes Commission estimated that the lower castes dominated the numbers among India’s
poorest communities, the government, alarmed at these implications, rejected its findings.
It was Congress government and now you are with the same party. What is the deal now
Mr. Nilekani, with the congress?
The Congress created governments that allowed dominant castes to “colonize state systems
with their kin,” keep governance all in the family and distribute public resources on the basis
of bloodlines. (Page 158)
This is your discovery in your book and yet you are with Congress!!
This resulted in schools and wells built only where the dominant castes of the village lived,
the segregation of election booths for “upper” and “lower” castes and the marginalization
of Muslim communities in Hindu dominant areas. When the other backward castes (OBCs)
and Dalits demanded land rights and access to state resources, they often faced violence—
sometimes aided by the local government. In many ways, this was a heartbreaking letdown
after the early promise and possibility of the democratic vision. (Page 158)
Congress is responsible for these things, isn’t it Mr. Nilekani? It is your party which
ruled this nation for so long to make these painful things happen! You are contesting
elections from the same party which created such miseries.
Indira Gandhi resorted to coalescing power at the center, demoting the authority of state
Congress leaders and governments and violently suppressing these emerging movements.
10 Hypocrisy & Opportunism
The Emergency that the government finally declared in 1975 was in many ways the last gasp
of a centre. (Page 161)
Then will you ask the Congress to apologize for the horrible emergency?
Indian democracy has had to absorb its divides to survive. The coalition-style governments
that have dominated since the late 1980s, and the regional and caste parties that have emerged
at the state level have directly contradicted fears that these parties would threaten secular
rule. These movements in fact have shown a respect for democracy—as the social scientist
Sudipta Kaviraj notes, they have only “wished to enter, not to shake the structures to dust.”
Suppressing such movements and Indira’s attempts at “government by willfulness” were
the real threats to Indian democracy. Such repression only encouraged more violent groups,
as in Punjab, where militancy flared up around the demands for an independent state. This
escalated rapidly in 1984 when Indira’s government initiated Operation Bluestar to flush out
militants from their hideout within the Golden Temple in Amritsar. (Page 161)
You know how Congress was anti democratic historically. Even though you do not
consider 84 Sikh’s mass murder a significant problem, you acknowledge that it is the
crisis of democracy and yet you wanted to be with Congress!!! Does your conscience
permit you to sleep well at night, Mr. Nilekani?
Both Indian and international media have covered the many abuses of the Indian army
in Kashmir and in Assam in their fight against militants. Laws such as the Terrorist and
Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) that the Rajiv Gandhi government passed
in 1985 to handle violence in Punjab and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) that the
NDAgovernment introduced after the 9/11 attacks in the United States also massively scaled
back civil rights for terrorist suspects. These laws, now repealed, allowed forced confessions
in court, phone tapping and censoring mail, and gave prosecutors significant powers when
it came to detaining and questioning people. Such draconian responses, and the abuse that
civilians in terrorist-hit regions have suffered, only helped create sympathy (and recruits) for
militant movements. (Page 161)
You have sympathy to militants and Islamic fundamentalists, but not to our Army. You
do not want POTA and want terrorists to roam around kill people in the country. No
wonder now we know why you have been chosen by Congress for UID (Aadhar) and MP
What is worrying is that the recent spasms of terrorist attacks across India have revived
calls to bring back POTA and similar laws. But what we truly need to end such attacks is
still missing—reforms in the systems of our police and judiciary, and in our intelligence
agencies, which are now damaged and deeply politicized. Laws such as POTA are a weak
substitute for this and inevitably capture civilians along with terrorists into their net thanks
to the vast powers they give police and prosecutors to detain and interrogate—and they have
a much higher chance of backfiring with more violence than catching the real terrorists.
This is the Standard Human Rights rhetoric. Now we even more clearly that you are with
those progressive anti nationals.
The years since the 1980s, however, did see progress elsewhere. We began to see the two
conditions for a true and effective democracy—voter mobilization and political rivalry—
emerge, especially with the rise of regionally powerful parties. This transition from top-down
to a bottom-up politics has rapidly reshaped the face of Indian democracy. For instance, the
11Dissecting Imagining India
1989 Janata Dal-led coalition government had an explosive effect on caste politics when
it gave a new lease on life to caste-based reservations and implemented the 1978 Mandal
Commission recommendations. Such caste-based demands for economic rights have since
then become an effective way to bring the backward classes together into a reliable voter
base. (Page 162)
What are you up to sir? At times you say caste division is bad and now you are saying
caste based politics is a good thing. What is your position actually? Do you have a position
Without economic power, there was also little responsibility—states were fighting with
what money they did get from the center, giving it away as freebies. Political competition
between the center and the state only worsened this dynamic; rival parties at the state level
that emerged in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh could blame the center for
underdevelopment, killing local support for the Congress party. The central government was
recognizing the political price it paid for being solely responsible for the country’s growth.
Do you think this is the reason why UPA governments sacrificed country’s growth and
started spending on freebies? Was your Aadhar was to facilitate the freebies for voters of
the Congress Party? To sacrifice the country’s growth are you joining Congress?
For too long, the unchallenged authority of a set of quasi-socialist ideas took India on a
path of low, disappointing growth. Nevertheless, while India’s top-down political system
allowed bad policies to last far longer than they should have, in the early years of reform.
You must remember that Socialism is the fancy idea of Congress even today and you want
to be part of low growth anti-business party today. Are you playing a cruel joke on the
country, Mr. Nilekani?
This incessant focus on caste and religious identities has effects that ripple much beyond our
economic policies: it sidelines national identity in favor of these others. Once reservation
policies and vote-bank politics encourage Indians to fence themselves in within their own
communities, people begin to see themselves as belonging to their caste or religion first,
and country second, a dangerous theme in a nation so diverse. This also makes Indians
susceptible to the extreme ideologies of terrorism in the name of their religious allegiances
and communities. I believe there is a direct link here: in recent years, as we have seen more
middle-class and educated Indians express more radical views on religion, we have also seen
software engineers and doctors emerge among the ranks of domestic terrorists. (Page 174)
If you are serious about your own statement, you must remember your own Congress
Party and their allies are responsible for this situation. Why don’t you leave Congress
now and work to eliminate this new religious radicalism that is emerging today?
We have some pretty shocking statistics when it comes to education: India produces the
second largest number of engineers in the world every year, as well as the largest number
of school dropouts. Even as India is building a name for itself in intellectual capital, a third
of its population remains illiterate. Across cities, some of the best-equipped schools—with
swimming pools and air-conditioned tennis courts—and the worst, lacking even a blackboard,
exist across the street from one another. It is our schools that now delineate our class lines
most prominently—even as middle-class parents compete to get their kids into the privately
run Delhi Public School in RK Puram, parents in the RK Puram slums can do little more than
place their children in the single-room slum school, or in the crumbling, dismal government
12 Hypocrisy & Opportunism
school round the corner and hope for the best. (Page 184)
Sir, you must remember, since independence Congress Party is in power for around
60 years. If someone has to take the responsibility of failure that you are showing, it is
Congress. You have clearly shown how Congress has ruined our nation and yet you want
to be MP from Congress. I don’t understand your logic sir.
For the poor, educating their children also meant enormous trade-offs. The reality of poor
students in government schools, especially in the villages, was of “pupils in rags, unwashed,
their hair red from sun and malnutrition, and made stiff and blond with dust.” For a family
coping with meager shelter, hard to come by meals and regular movements from place to
place due to temporary jobs, schooling was an issue fraught with too much sacrifice. Senthil
Mullainathan, the Harvard economist who has taken a close look at poverty in his work at
the university, tells me, “Few of us can comprehend the day-to-day tragedy that the poorest
people face. You have a limited daily wage, and your choice lies between every day, urgent
need versus spending money on school books and uniforms to send your child to school.
That’s not an easy call.” (Page 190)
It is the old story that we have been hearing from ages. What did you Congress Party do?
You can’t be in Congress and yet cry about it sir.
“Education” of real and tangible value requires a mix of factors, ranging from qualified,
inspired teachers to up-to-date curriculum and effective testing. But the Indian government’s
education approach has been clumsy and unwieldy. Through the 1960s and 1970s, the focus
of governments in school education was on building infrastructure, with little emphasis on
teachers’ training, educational achievements and performance measurement. As a result
the total number of illiterates continued to grow, even as states haplessly built school after
ineffective school—schools that were hollow promises, with little teaching taking place
within the buildings. Our education policies, as the writer Amit Varma put it, “have funded
schools, not schooling. (Page 191)
We are surprised to see your complaints and dissatisfaction about Congress led
government and yet you are joining the bandwagon. The nation demands an answer!
India’s government schools into education of the last resort, the final, desperate measure
for the children of the poor and the illiterate, who are left to the terrible mercy of state
bureaucracies and teachers’ unions. As a result the standards in these schools across
indicators—the quality and relevance of textbooks, the monitoring of student achievement—
have rapidly stagnated. Today, 90 percent of the public expenditure in Indian schools is on
the salaries of the teachers and administration. And yet we have the highest rates of teacher
truancy in the world—across our state schools, teachers simply do not turn up, and one in
four government teachers is absent on any given day. Not surprisingly, students drop out in
droves; as one education worker told me, “What’s the point of sitting in an empty room?
(Page 192 - 193)
This is politicization of school administration and ineffective governance consciously
initiated by Congress leaders. Congress Party is responsible for the degeneration of
government school in the country. Mr. Nilekani, can you tell us how you will improve
this situation by once again joining the same Congress Party which is responsible for this
Efforts to make such changes permanent were often scuttled in the tug-of-war for political
power between state and local governments. In Madhya Pradesh, for instance, the Digvijay
13Dissecting Imagining India
Singh government retreated from policies that gave increased power and authority to the
panchayats when state legislators and school unions protested.. (Page 195)
Irony ! The same Digvijay Singh is your boss Rahul Gandhi’s mentor!! And you want to
join Congress? What a cruel joke on our country.
Education policy became, for the first time, politically fashionable. A tipping point here was
probably Prime Minister Vajpayee’s Independence Day speech in 2000, when he envisioned
full literacy by 2010.. Declaring that “Independence is incomplete without social justice,”
he pledged that his government would ensure that “no child . . . will be deprived of primary
education.” (Page 199)
Of all the people if you think it was Vajpayee and NDA which was doing good job to
realize the dream of education, why don’t you join them? Why join Congress which is
spoiling education in the country?
The Vajpayee government met this problem with a well-funded and highly publicized
government effort, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) or Mission for Universal Education,
a package of “mini-interventions” for state schools. The scheme includes plans for local
participation in school administrations, with village education committees and parent-
teacher associations taking up a large role. (Page 200)
Once again you are recognizing the NDA achievement and not keen on working with
them. Isn’t it a hypocrisy?
Neither the original goal of the SSA—of having all children in school by 2003—nor the
revised target of bringing all children to school by 2005 has been achieved. In 2005 a quarter
of children at the upper primary level had already dropped out. And of course, the usual
vices of corruption and ineffective management have affected the initiative. (Page 203)
Sir, what was your Congress Party led UPA1 and UPA2 was doing to improve status of
education? You think with all the limitation of Congress that you are unhappy with can
bring grass root change in education? Why are you still with Congress sir, with all these
problems that you have seen in the party?
What is heartbreaking about the thousands of children across India who go to hopeless
schools is not just what we lose in terms of their potential, but also its broader political
and social damage. It is difficult to overemphasize how education can trigger cultural and
social change—this is already evident from India’s past, when the educated class became the
pivot on which our independence movement turned. Literacy has always had a revolutionary
impact, and throughout history, universal education led to rapid, widespread social reform—
rural schools created literate peasants and enabled the zemstvo or teacher-led revolution in
imperial Russia; a newly literate class led campaigns for universal voting and women’s rights
in Britain; and educated blacks faced up to Jim Crow in the U.S. Civil Rights movement.
Don’t you think Congress is responsible for this crisis? The party that spoke so much
about poverty and illiteracy did nothing to repair it, should vow some responsibility
towards it? And you still want to be a part of this Congress?
Limiting education also limits the ability of poorer people to increase their access to resources
even in successive generations—and it shuts the poor out of economic opportunities.
It fences them within unfair social systems and limits their ability to question them.
14 Hypocrisy & Opportunism
Probably you are the only Congressman to think so. Unfortunately, your party does not
believe in it as it has not acted to change the scene from past 6 decades.
The basic idea of an education voucher is that the government funds students instead of
schools—a transfer of power, since the money follows the student rather than the institution,
and allows student choices to determine where the government’s education funds go.
Now we understand why were you so busy in making Aadhar cards. I feel the idea of
distributing money to people probably had come from you to Congress. No wonder why
you have got an MP ticket.
The voucher system not only removes ideological tilts toward either private or state schools
but also brings in competition that can improve both these school systems, making one
less exclusive and the other less bottom of the barrel. It also gives rich and poor students
comparable opportunities to exit bad schools and provides a compulsion for reform in
the government school sector. As Madhav notes, “If the government schools are empty, it
doesn’t matter how often a teachers’ union calls a strike.” (Page 205)
Perfect Businessman. Your alternative would kill all government schools. That is why
NGOs like you so much. Is this what Mr. Girish Karnad and Ananta Murthy are striving
for by supporting you?
Such reform effectively removes ideology from funding and implementation and makes
it easier, say, to hand over management of existing and failing government schools to the
private sector, if this will attract students. This can bring the private sector and NGOs into
already existing school infrastructure and government school buildings, instead of the
current approach where we are constructing an alternative, private school system from
scratch. (Page 205)
Fabulous!! You want our government buildings to be given to private schools and NGOs,
allow them to loot people and kill mother tongue education. Our intellectuals who support
you must be crazy.
A truly competitive market in education that involves both private and state schools offers a
unique advantage—a rapid dissemination of best practices and effective teaching methods.
Schools would invest in improvements not just to attain but also to exceed standards, so as to
attract the best students. In India’s private school systems, there are a number of institutions
that are already providing an unusual, widening range of educational choices—such as …..
would be owned and operated by entrepreneurs, who would be provided with a “plug-and-
play package” that comes with everything required—from curriculum to fee structures to
infrastructure design—to start and run a low-end school. It is a model meant to assure both
quality and low-cost education to poor families. (Page 206)
Here it is. You are for complete privatization. What can you expect from a Congressman
who is also a businessman? For you education is a market. We did not know that our
intellectuals supported these ideas. It is a great discovery.
From the moment of India’s independence, Nehru was bent on transforming the country from
its ugly duckling status of a poor former colony to a swan, a soaring, industrial economy,
filled with the visible and spectacular signs of development. Nehru envisioned powerful
industrial cities that would be a marvel of execution and state planning. (Page 214)
You know that since the days of Nehru, Congress Party was keen on building cities but not to think
of our poor rural masses and ordinary people. Yet you believe that Congress is the only hope.
15Dissecting Imagining India
For the Indian state was busy committing a laundry list of missteps in the name of urban
planning. The cities in independent India were still essentially symbols, as they were for
the British—Chandigarh was the sparkling spire on the hill for Indian socialism, “a city
of government rather than of industry, meant for politicians, bureaucrats, administrators.”
You know the missteps of Congress. What a waste – building cities for government. Were
they not behaving like Kings? Probably, you wanted company of Kings.
“Our first Town and Country Planning Act was based on Britain’s Town and Country
Planning Act of 1909. But while they have revised their act and urban planning laws over
eight times, we have held on to ours as if they have been carved in stone.” (Page 215)
What stopped your Congress governments over six decades to change them from colonial
attitude? You think you will change it by joining Congress? All the best.
But while the concerns of urban India may have held little interest for Indian legislators,
the city lights were beacons of hope and promise for the masses of India’s rural poor, the
dispossessed and the unemployed. As agriculture stagnated, people left the countryside in
droves. It was migration as escape—for many people, it meant leaving behind lives that
entailed “three months of work per year and then hunger, terrible hunger . . . it was like a
heavy hand on my heart.” (Page 215)
Your party neither built city nor maintained the agrarian, rural economy. What it did was
to perpetuate itself and yet you see hopes with Congress for the future of this nation.
L. C. Jain, former member of the planning commission who participated in the building
of Faridabad, tells me, “We had angry refugees, trigger-happy Pathans, and chaos at the
government level. Much of what we managed was with local initiative.” Urban growth was a
fast-moving tide that hit the walls of a sleepy administration again and again. In independent
India, city master plans usually take years to be prepared and published. By the time they
are out of course, they have all the relevance of an old photograph and look nothing like the
existing city itself. Karnataka’s state government, for instance, released its 2005 plan for
Bangalore city two years late, during which time the city expanded with chaos as its ruling
theme. Urban planning in India has become little more than a performance piece, with both
the state actors and the audience—the urban citizens—aware that once the lights go off, life
will go on as before. (Page 216)
You are an amazing critique of Congress and its failure. Isn’t it double standards to be
with the same party after finding faults with it. You only have to tell us why are you with
Gandhi saw cities as a sponge on the village’s resources—its edifices, he once alleged,
were “built on the blood of the villages.” Our approach to cities seemed to be attempting
the reverse—a sacrifice that may have been worthwhile if there had been tangible rural
development. But the government’s focus on the villages was mainly to sustain them with
dole-outs and ineffective subsidy schemes. The battered rural districts remained backward
and painfully poor. As Vijay Kelkar tells me, the economic health of these rural areas only
grew worse as global trade dynamics worked against them. “The third world entered the
global market in one swoop in the 1950s and 1960s, flooding it with agricultural products.”
As a result there was already a global surplus in what rural India produced, and this
impoverished them further. (Page 217)
You have so clearly shown how Congress has done a great disservice to Gandhi’s vision
16 Hypocrisy & Opportunism
of village republic. It has killed not just villages and its economy but trying to kill the
culture of this nation about which you are so worried. How do you justify this sir? Then,
In Indian cities, however, political power has been amputated at every level. City-level
decisions in India are subjected to a multitude of state-level checks and balances, for
everything from creating new posts to passing the budget and selling property. The very
existence of the municipalities has often depended on state goodwill, turning them into
little more than the vestigial organs of the state body. Dr. Sivaramakrishnan tells me that the
majority of India’s municipal corporations “were superseded by the state at one time or the
other. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation was superseded as early as 1948.” (Page 218)
On the one hand Congress speaks of autonomy, decentralization and urban development
and another side it kills all that it says. What are you up to sir by joining hand with a
double standards party?
Local governments with little authority, and state governments that were powerful but
unaccountable to city residents: the Athenian ideal of democracy, where policy decisions
are local and face-to-face, has been clearly buried deep down in the cities. The lack of a
powerful elected body has meant that city resources became prizes to be quartered among
powerful interest groups in the state. And city development has become both opaque and
ad hoc—as when governments in Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore up and conduct demolition
drives on encroachments every few years but fail to enforce building regulations the rest of
the time. (Page 219)
Sir, you know your party is responsible for this problem. Why don’t you come out and say
don’t encourage Congress, they are not good for the growth of this nation.
I was lucky—such networks of well-connected relatives were not available to the vast
majority of people who came to the city to earn a living. The rise of slums, then, is no
surprise; people have merely carved out spaces for themselves where there is none. Two
thirds of Bombay’s population lives in such housing. Inventively built with plastic tarp and
tin and cardboard sheeting, and occasionally with more durable material like concrete and
brick, these slums are an architectural marvel. They are dense and tiny homes, built wall to
wall and one on top of the other, defying gravity and as delicate as a house of cards, and
sometimes, like a final flourish, have dish antennae sticking out of their roofs. They are a
testimony to urban survival; many cram eight people and more inside a tiny room. These
slum neighborhoods manage with decrepit infrastructure and tap electricity from the main
lines, and it is not uncommon for a thousand houses to share one working toilet. Life here
is tenuous, as vacant spaces here go for Rs 100,000 and more, and tenants stay at the slum
lords’ pleasure. (Page 220)
You know you have been pouring evidence against misdeeds of Congress. You know that
today failure of urban infrastructure is linked to Congress ill intended governance and
yet you want to support them? But why?
My city, Bangalore, for instance, was long known as the city of lakes—which was actually
a vast network of more than two hundred manmade tanks. Over the years, the government
has slowly encroached upon and developed these waterbodies. The Shivaji Nagar bus stand
was built over such a tank, and the massive residential complex built for the National Games
in 1997, the National Games Village, was constructed over a large tank that linked into
the ecologically critical Bellandur Tank, one of the largest wetlands in Bangalore. These
developments have hurt the water table and threaten the city’s long-term, sustainable access
17Dissecting Imagining India
to water resources. (Page 221)
A large majority of environmental crisis is due to Congress rule of 60 years. We just can’t
understand how can you and intellectuals who are so much worried about environment
and sustainable development can support this party?
Many public services in cities have actually worsened in recent years, and informal, non
state solutions dominate the housing, security, water supply, health and education sectors.
While India’s urban rich and middle class are seceding from the public sector by investing in
gated communities and private guards for security, pumps and bore wells for water, private
generators for electricity and private schools and hospitals, the large groups of the urban
poor are seceding in other ways. City slums, for instance, have developed intricate local
governance that provides utility services for a fee. (Page 222)
Many of these thugs are your party workers and many people even know that some of
them are even campaigning for you at Bangalore. You want to win election from Congress
with the help of these people? God know what are the ethical standards that you follow
for yourself while you are very strict in using ethical measures for others.
The party that won the elections, the BJP, was also the one with the most coherent, well-
thought-out urban manifesto, and the party had emphasized the theme of urban development
throughout its campaigning. (Page 227)
If you think BJP is better off according to your standards, why are you with Congress?
The continued marginalization of the city will have the opposite effect—urban anger among
communities deprived of resources and an effective democratic voice can give rise to the
kind of festering politics that we are now seeing in cities like Bombay. Here, as the poor
are deprived of an urban identity that brings them any kind of benefit, they are turning
to the markers of religion, community or caste, if these can bring them resources. In fact
the rise of extremist parties in Bombay is linked with their efforts in providing medical
and educational services to the city’s poor. Broken-down urban environments give rise to
violence that prowls the narrow streets and by-lanes in overcrowded slums. (Page 230)
You know that the only root cause of your concern in Bombay is the scandal ridden
Congress party. We just can’t understand why are you trying to strengthen them rather
than curbing them.
In fact this particular bit of bureaucrat speak we use, “load-shedding,” reveals how a
growing economy has found it difficult to look its crisis in the face. Our bad roads and
power cuts are a reminder of our pre reform years—it is here that we can most clearly
see the evidence of India’s old structures, the tattered vestiges of socialism in an emerging
free market economy. As a result India now presents us with a bewildering landscape—of
vibrant, private enterprise choking up as it meets crumbling public infrastructure. Our tall,
glass-fronted office buildings are powered by private generators, entire neighborhoods
rely on private wells for water and shopping complexes, technology parks and well-run
housing communities sometimes have little more than dirt roads leading up to their gates.
(Page 233 - 234)
You know that Congress is the biggest beneficiary of this energy – infrastructure money
swindling. Why don’t you tell people that it is Congress which is responsible for this
In India, however, all these infrastructure expansions are only now taking place, and in
parallel to one another. We have had a rail network that the British passed down, but we
18 Hypocrisy & Opportunism
barely expanded it till the 1990s. Our road network was a patchy effort, with more than 80
percent of our roads narrow, unpaved tracks; our teledensity was stagnant at 0.6; and much
of the rural country was in darkness, unconnected by power lines. (Page 234)
You are suggesting that Congress did nothing as it ruled this country for more than 6
decades. Doesn’t it hurt you sir? Why don’t you leave Congress now?
But it is also impossible to ignore how the Congress party’s overwhelming, almost suffocating
dominance in these years—Myron Weiner once remarked that the fondness among voters for
the Congress amounted to “veneration”—affected its infrastructure investments. Spending
on bridges, roads and railways is usually a big way for parties to build popular support—
they are political investments and great voter-bait. But in the first two decades the Congress
party could instead coast on its organizational prowess and its links to the independence
movement. This in turn allowed the government to prioritize the projects that appealed to
it ideologically, which were mainly more industrial investments and new city development.
Infrastructure for villages and rural India in general also suffered from the antimodernity
views of some of India’s leaders. (Page 237)
Here is the point. You have shown now how Congress is responsible for this misery. Why
don’t you be little vocal about it and tell the people in this country about Congress’s
The looting of raw materials, disappearing funds and bureaucratic apathy meant that flats
that the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), the government body meant to manage the
city’s development, built would crumble a few years after construction. Large-scale rural
infrastructure schemes such as the “million wells project” saw across districts the same well
being dug in the same spot over and over as the funds flowed in. The Rajiv Gandhi drinking
water scheme, after twenty years and billions of rupees spent, had the same percentage of
villages as before—twenty—unconnected to drinking water supplies. (Page 239)
Now we know why Congress Party and its members are so rich. We believe you had
enough money and why do you want to join them. Isn’t Rs. 7700 Crore not enough sir
Land shortages and the rapid rise of illegal settlements also dragged proposed infrastructure
projects into quarrels over property. The fallout of this was that in 1983 the DDA was
receiving land for development that the government had notified for acquisition in 1956.
The illegal, mass settlements on public lands gave immense leverage to politicians with a
taste and talent for populism. Arjun Singh, the Madhya Pradesh chief minister in the early
1980s, manipulated the politics of illegal housing by handing out “pattas” or land rights to
illegal settlements, giving his political image a pro-poor patina. Other governments, such as
A. R. Antulay’s in Maharashtra in 1991, dived off the opposite end, executing “Operation
Eviction,” which transported thousands of slum dwellers in trucks and dumped them in
places far off from their homes. Such cycles of pandering and eviction from one election to
the other have been visible across our cities and towns. (Page 240)
You know how your fellow travelers in Congress Party are.Aren’t you ashamed of joining
hands with them?
This makes both independent regulators and clear, transparent guidelines around public-
private partnerships critical pieces in infrastructure reform, both of which were missing
in our post reform economy. Their absence led to the unmitigated mess in the private
infrastructure projects that were signed in the early 1990s, such as the independent power
19Dissecting Imagining India
projects of Enron in Maharashtra and Cogentrix in Karnataka, all of which got mired in
problems of transparency, costs and, as one infrastructure expert delicately put it, “ministerial
preferences.” (Page 243)
If people hadn’t mobilized an opposition, your party would have made these project
happen. Good that you are recognizing the mistakes. That is not enough sir, you must
leave congress to come clean in public.
It was the 1999 reforms that gave a shot in the arm for telecom—the new policy that the
NDA government pushed through broke down the fences, allowing carriers to embark on
national coverage and compete across regional circles. It triggered a fever of building—of
new transmission towers and the laying of fiber cables across the country. The telecom
expenditure per person in rural areas alone was Rs 44 in 1999, up from Rs 14 in 1993.
The explosion of private players has led to what has become the most rapid and sustained
expansion in teledensity in the world, and we have a network that now covers close to half
of India’s population. (Page 244)
You have so much appreciation for BJP and NDA and still you want them not to come to
power. Why is this double standard sir? Is someone in Congress blackmailing you?
“In the villages, people would call up the market and get an excellent price for their produce,
but the lack of a road meant that fruits and vegetables would spoil, and delays hurt their
ability to bargain. These issues have created a big spike in demand for roads, telephones and
better connectivity from the villages and the rural areas.” (Page 245)
You must answer here sir, why did UPA stopped all that people friendly projects? Was
this the only achievement of UPA?
This same demand for infrastructure from two audiences, rural and urban, that rarely
echoed each other, gathered steam through the 1990s. It made politicians sit up and take
notice. The political support for infrastructure got a boost under the NDA government,
whose prime minister, Vajpayee, had a penchant for announcing infrastructure projects with
poetic flourishes at Independence Day events. “Vajpayee made infrastructure politically
fashionable, something that it had never been before,” (Page 245)
With this appreciation you want to stop NDA coming to power. I just don’t understand
Vajpayee was fascinated with what infrastructure development could symbolize for the
government. The prime minister announced his Golden Quadrilateral project in 1998 and
portrayed it as a way to “join the four corners of India” by widening and laying thirteen
thousand kilometers of highways in a planned span of fifteen years. The addition to road
length since the initiation of the project has been almost equal to what India achieved in the
first forty-four years of independence. (Page 246)
Still you think BJP and NDA is bad thing? Why? Your appreciation in the book and the
actions in public life show your double standards.
“It becameVajpayee’s signature style to pump up each major speech with a new infrastructure
project,” Vinayak says. The government’s focus on infrastructure continued with the National
Telecom Policy, the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (the prime minister’s village road
scheme) to connect villages with rural roads, the “garland of ports” or a “Sagar Mala” to
improve port infrastructure, and a scheme for interlinking India’s rivers to resolve regional
droughts.bw A 1997 law also transferred the management of all surface irrigation systems to
local farmers, who found themselves included in water users’ associations for the first time
20 Hypocrisy & Opportunism
ever. The Electricity Act—which had long languished in the Parliamentary Committee, the
place where unfavored bills went to die—was finally passed in 2003. This was a landmark for
power infrastructure, bringing competition in distribution, issuing standards of performance,
including financial penalties payable to customers. (Page 246 - 247)
It is amazing to see how your dreams were materialized by BJP and NDA. Are you keen
on killing your dreams?
That infrastructure has become one of those concerns that is both rural and urban has not just
made it impossible for politicians to ignore it but is also making the connections between
the city and the village far more apparent. It is becoming less fashionable, and it does not
work as well politically, to dismiss urban India in favor of the village, and to frame the
country’s identity as a mainly rural one. It is increasingly obvious that what we need instead
are well-connected states that diminish the distance between the two—the vitality of both
the city and the village hinges on our infrastructure. Productivity in rural India will only
improve with stronger supply chains and multiple ways to connect people, both within
rural India and with urban areas. So far, India, and particularly the countryside, has not yet
experienced the immense productivity gains that will emerge from the “network effect” of
being well connected to markets through telecom, roads and rail. To date, our policy makers
have underestimated the impact of building these connections. But as India’s fishermen
who use mobile phones and farmers who use Internet kiosks have shown, giving people
multiple means of connectivity can trigger a level of economic growth that we have so far
underplayed. (Page 250)
You know that NDAcreated this imagination amongst people. UPAis bent upon destroying
this dream and yet you want UPA to come to power? I don’t understand your logic sir.
“We make our plans and announce our schemes,” Montek says, “but the potential of our
plans and their real successes have been very different.” (Page 252)
This is the same Montek Singh Ahluwalia that you are highly appreciative of. How could
even some one think of appreciating such a person?
“Farmers in Kashmir tell me that if they could send their flower harvests into Indian markets
by air, it would massively cut their losses from decay, and expand their reach across India.”
Telecom and road networks also mean the chance for farmers and fishermen to negotiate
prices in markets directly and discover market trends as opposed to depending on support
price mechanisms and middlemen networks. Better irrigation networks mean not having to
rely on a fickle-minded monsoon or free electricity for pumps—and this has a big effect.
Sixty-nine percent of people in non irrigated areas are poor, while in irrigated areas this
figure falls to 2 percent. Similarly, a million rupees on roads lifts an estimated 123 people out
of poverty. In other words, a million rupees spent on roads can reduce poverty seven times
more effectively than the same spends on antipoverty programs. (Page 254 - 255)
Why your Congress has not done anything to address this issue. Your party is keen on
keeping people in poverty by giving them free food but not by giving employment. You
want to continue this legacy by joining hands with Congress?
The final result was a complicated, hydra-headed tax regime, which would unleash a
cascading array of taxes as material moved from state to state into a finished product. The
myriad state taxes on goods made interstate transport and production incredibly difficult.
NDA was bringing reforms in tax. Why didn’t your UPA continue that? Despite this
21Dissecting Imagining India
attitude of UPA, you want to be part of the same group?
Personal interests of ministers have also counted for a lot when it came to receiving funds—
the Amethi constituency in Uttar Pradesh, for instance, has prospered due to its Nehru-
Gandhi connection and Haryana could snap up the Maruti project thanks to “the personal
intervention of Sanjay Gandhi. (Page 266)
Our Kings in the past were not biased like this. Your party is a full fledged Raj. You want
to be in the Asthana and Darabar of Nehru family? May be that is why you have joined
But center-state power equations were not going to change easily. Indira was no pushover,
and she saw these suggestions as villainous attempts to undermine her position. She made
her objections to this clear—through a rapid centralization of power within the Congress
organization that left her state ministers barely hanging on to their chairs. (Page 267)
You know how anti-democartic and autocratic is your party? But still you prefer
“Connecting India—both in the physical and economic sense—was a big policy concern
for Vajpayee,” Sudheendra Kulkarni tells me, and the NDA government began to aim its
policies toward removing the many barriers to the growth of a uniform market. Their efforts
toward making more markets accessible included the new openness in telecom policy, the
Golden Quadrilateral Project and the reforms in ports. And perhaps the most remarkable
achievements for Vajpayee’s government were its directives to abolish the much-loathed
octroi and dismantle administered prices and the middlemen haven that was the Agriculture
Produce Marketing Committee (APMC). The government also directed states to get rid of
the Urban Land Ceiling Act (ULCA) and appointed the Kelkar committee to work toward a
unified tax system. (Page 270)
You are higly appreciative of NDA and BJP and yet you hate them. Are you not keen on
seeing India being prosperous happy nation?
“The NDA government did something really smart,” Dr. Shome tells me. “It put the
responsibility of the tax reforms directly into the hands of the states.” The central finance
ministerYashwant Sinha took a step that was a masterstroke in reducing dissent. He appointed
the West Bengal finance minister AsimDasgupta to head the empowered committee of
finance ministers for the VAT, thus making the minister of one of the states more ambivalent
to VAT the man in charge of steering the reforms through. (Page 272)
I can understand your happiness towards this decentralization. But why don’t you be the
part of NDA to help this process grow fast?
Our slowness in implementing these ideas remains our greatest challenge. And our shuffling
and backtracking around the reforms here is especially painful to watch considering the
speed with which we implemented other policies. We brought in free markets at a single
stroke in 1991, incentivized our IT and knowledge industries, and opened up to global trade.
Now the economic successes enabled by those policies are coming up short against our
slow progress in this second set of ideas, and we cannot stall any longer. Else, the reality
of India will remain a strangely bipolar one. We are a country that is now fast growing yet
constricted, with entrepreneurs who eye the global market yet find the infrastructure and
regulatory barriers to expanding their business into, say, Uttar Pradesh difficult to overcome.
Our surging reputation as a knowledge power is threatened by our weak and crumbling
primary schools. Our cities struggle for better governance even as they expand outward and
22 Hypocrisy & Opportunism
millions of people pour in.And in the world’s seventh largest country, we seem to be running
out of space to grow. (Page 282)
You are right is using phrase “our”. It is only your Congress Party which is responsible
for these mis-deeds. People will understand your intensions, double standards and
dishonesty very soon sir.
In essence, while the Indian economy has changed over the past twenty-five years, the state
has not. Our public institutions function under the same rules and incentives as they did
in 1980 and under standards that date back to colonial India. What is required is a fight to
remove long-rooted interest groups and bring about fundamental changes to our governance.
This is where our most passionate disagreements now lie. (Page 284)
We know sir, this most passionate disagreement is with Congress and its allies. We also
know that you are part of this bandwagon. What double standards?
Across the world, there is a familiar line that divides people in terms of our economic opinion,
which places us on either the left or the right. But India is far different from most countries
when it comes to such partisanship. Our arguments at the left and the right are not really
ideological, in part because of how young our economy is. Outside our unions, for instance,
there is no large bloc of voters that has formed to demand social security, or are arguing in
favor of comprehensive health care, education, energy solutions or infrastructure. India’s
fragmented caste system has instead redefined partisanship mainly around caste lines. The
pet issues of the Indian left and right focus on affirmative action and caste reservation; these
have forced the debates on broader reforms in, say, labor education deep into the sidelines
We know you are unhappy with caste based reservation. It is your party which pushed
these OBC reservations on caste lines despite supreme courts unhappiness. You can’t say
that this is left right problem. It is your party problem.
“It’s been difficult for many Indian politicians to let go of our history,” Raghuram Rajan tells
me. “Many of them remain nostalgic for the idea of the state that dominated our prereform
years—as the provider, the mai-baap.” Raghuram has spent several years outside India in
his role as the chief economist of the IMF and his long stints of teaching in U.S. universities.
He tells me that every time he returned to India, he was impressed by the changes since
the 1980s but was also surprised at the things that have stayed the same—especially the
reluctance in our politics to publicly let go of our socialist ideals. (Page 292)
Raghuram Rajan is a close friend of UPA regime. You are also. Either both of you have
converted to socialism as Congress claims itself a socialist’s party or Congress is lying.
What is the truth sir? Let us know before we vote.
But then, India’s quasi-socialist policies were closely intertwined with both the freedom
movement and the early hopes of a newly independent country. This lumping together of
Indian socialism with our triumphant political years has left us with plenty of emotional
baggage and created a weird hall of mirrors in our debates. Our arguments run high on
passion, and we linger with the socialist rhetoric that connects us with the hope and idealism
of the Nehru years. Our politicians still argue for “swadeshi” principles and publicly decry
reforms as “prorich.” The Constitution still defines India as a sovereign, democratic, secular
and socialist republic. Every political party has to, at least on paper, identify itself as socialist
if it wants to contest elections—a rule that was recently challenged in the Supreme Court,
which proved to be too queasy to strike it down. (Page 292)
23Dissecting Imagining India
So you are anti-Socialism. Is Congress also in the same line? Let us know. Is that told
to our intellectuals who support you? May be intellectuals are also following double
For National Knowledge Commission, we took a stand on the debates over increasing
reservations for backward castes in India’s central education institutions. We came out
publicly against instance, during my time with the it, voting 6-2.c Leftist politicians—
especially the communists—and academicians descended on us, calling us “elitists,” a
favorite pejorative. In the same vein, India’s reformers have been painted as “capitalist
stooges” and “puppets of the IMF.” (Page 292)
So you are against OBC reservation or in favour of reservation, as per your recent
statements? Is your party too in the same line? I guess both you and your party are saying
something and doing something. Is this the ethical politics that you spoke of sir?
Despite such a marked shift,West Bengal’s ruling party has often retreated behind ideological,
communist-line rhetoric, especially in its former, scrappy role as supporting partner to the
UPA coalition government in Delhi. One issue that roused its opposition was the India-U.S.
nuclear deal that Manmohan Singh signed with George Bush in 2008. The resistance was
despite the fact that the deal would bring significant energy benefits to India, and without it
India’s nuclear plants are set to run out of fuel. The left opposed it on the rationale that such
a deal with the United States would bring American influence over India’s foreign policy, a
closeness that would be akin to “dining with Satan.” In West Bengal, on the other hand, the
left government invites “any investment, be it Tata, Birla or American investment . . . as long
as they generate jobs and benefit the state.” (Page 293)
Isn’t it true that 123 is a shady deal? Do Karnad and Ananta Murthy still support you on
this line? I thought most of the progressive intellectuals are against the nuclear deal. May
be because of you they are all converted now!!!
Somewhat closer to the margins of India’s left movement are the “new left” leaders such as
MedhaPatkar and Aruna Roy, whose beliefs overlap somewhat with the global Green Left
movement. These leaders have condemned the rise of “global imperialism” in India—they
regard multinational corporations as corrosive—and instead stress the need for community
institutions and rule from the grassroots. The new left in India are, however, not linked to a
large, popular base, and they have limited themselves to civil activism. (Page 294)
We thought these NGOs are not margins but you are saying that they are fringe. You also
do not like these NGOs, but how come they have been canvassing for you? I have not seen
anybody insulting them the way you have done to them.
One problem is that populism may just sound better while stumping to a crowd. It is a
message Indian voters have long become used to, and it is easy for a politician to distill
a populist pitch for election. Indira Gandhi did this in style in 1971 when she coasted to a
massive electoral win on her pledge to “abolish poverty,” and in 2004 in Andhra Pradesh
Rajasekhara Reddy rode his promise for “free power for farmers” all the way to victory.
You will have a serious problem in Congress sir. Congress only knows how to create cheap
populist programs and win elections.
This has been especially the case since the NDA government put its reform achievements at
the forefront of its political message and got voted out in 2004. The last few years also saw
dramatic reversals in fortune for India’s most prominent politician-reformers, which forced
them back to populism—the former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu,
24 Hypocrisy & Opportunism
who was once against free handouts, promised voters “free power” in his 2008 campaign.
Now we know why Congress is against reform and ready for free populism. This time our
voters will prove you wrong.
The perception among the Dalits and OBCs that the upper castes have unfair advantages
in markets only gained ground with the rise of the BJP since the 1990s. This party has
historically had the support of the “Brahmin-Bania” vote (India’s upper and merchant
castes), and the BJP-led government’s promarket policies confirmed the impression
among backward caste leaders that market reforms benefited these groups and no one else.
What are you saying? People know today market benefits everybody not only the upper
caste. Where did you get these crazy ideas sir?
I can see the need for corrections for groups that were both abused and sidelined. But I think
that this is a dangerous road we are on—there are big downsides to the government taking
up the rules of a feudal system, only to turn it around o that advantages go the other way.
Divvying up economic rights on the basis of caste—and using government-mandated quotas
to do it—effectively kills “the civic genius” of a people; it transforms us from a society into
partisans of caste and minority. And it truly destroys the secular nature of our institutions by
keeping an ancient discriminatory system alive while turning it on its head. Once it sets in,
reservation politics is also incredibly difficult to uproot as it becomes the gift that keeps on
giving, a case of never-ending hairsplitting (Page 301)
It is exactly the politics of your party sir. You must think whether or not be with Congress
“approaching full employment,” the majority of our labor force is reaching this goal along
a path based on low-income, insecure work. As our cities crumble, people are cordoning
themselves off in gated housing communities with private supplies of electricity, water and
security. And our higher education systems are creating thousands of graduates every year
who cannot string a coherent paragraph together—“educated illiterates” whose degrees
literally are not worth the paper they were printed on. (Page 306)
You must know that it is the gift of your party to this nation.
The dynamism that helped transform services and manufacturing in India has yet to take
off in agriculture, which has languished under meaningless and largely corrupt subsidies.
Constraints in getting reasonable loans have limited the rise of rural entrepreneurs and
prevented farmers from expanding their farms and investing in new cropping strategies and
technologies. Government price guarantees that encourage farmers across India to grow
wheat and rice crops, regardless of soil and climate, have put a ceiling on their incomes,
while the resulting overdependence on groundwater and fertilizer has degraded their land.
You know who is responsible for this. Why are you still with them?
There is also a “policy schizophrenia” present in agriculture that has left reforms in limbo.
Obviously, the best way to improve the lot of our farmers is to allow them to get better prices
for their produce. But that creates higher costs for Indian consumers and also inflation. In
a country where there are many poor people and where food eats up a large part of their
income, such inflation can lead to deprivation and unrest, and usually results in incumbent
25Dissecting Imagining India
governments losing elections handily. So what is good for the farmer is not good for the
consumer and vice versa, and this means that our governments are constantly tinkering with
their agripolicies to meet irreconcilable goals. For instance, the state procures wheat and rice
and then distributes it to the poor, and in that process they have built the mammoth, porous
and notorious public distribution system (PDS). (Page 307)
Sir, you know all of them are created, managed and sustained by Congress. You are one
of the best critiques of Congress and we must congratulate you for this effort. You are
better than the opposition parties.
This has happened in India across subsidized and price-controlled products from kerosene
to petrol to wheat. And the distribution system for subsidies is itself hopelessly broken. “The
losses in the public distribution system across subsidized products,” Chidambaram tells me,
“are at thirty-eight percent.” (Page 308)
What did UPAdo to control this? Nothing. In fact their party member all over the country
What we need to do for rural India and agriculture is, first and foremost, carry out the
“great unwind” of subsidies and move to a direct-benefit system. Right now, the subsidies on
food, fertilizer, fuel and power are mounting by the day. “In 2007,” Chidambaram tells me,
“we spent more than ten trillion rupees on subsidies alone.” That’s Rs 10,000,000,000,000
funding some very bad ideas. And the bill will most likely be much higher in 2008 from
rising fuel costs. (Page 308)
Sir, it is not subsidy problem. It is money swindling by your party.
Building such a direct and transparent benefit system is not difficult (besides getting the
political buy-in we need, of course). One way to do it is to put money into citizen accounts
for the poor, either as a negative income tax or as a copayment within a universal insurance
system. This could use accounts linked to smart ID cards, which would cut out the clutter
and chaos of the middlemen. (Page 308 - 309)
We know where did this idea of Aadhar card came? It was your business.
But it is possible that economic reform may not be as unpopular as our politicians think.
More recently, populism’s appeal has begun to show some cracks, as in Gujarat where
Narendra Modi mocked Congress’s electoral promise of free electricity in front of voters—
to loud applause. Despite all his baggage and his unappealing Hindutva triumphalism, Modi
may have been the first politician to demonstrate to his voters how markets could work
better than any corrupt subsidy system in accessing electricity, water and roads. Before this,
reformer politicians have not had a very good track record in implementing direct, market-
aided schemes for the poor. (Page 310)
Why are you upset with Modi then? Why don’t you join hands with him?
Even the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), the much-touted
employment guarantee scheme that the present government has pushed instead of labor
reforms, is marked by all the weaknesses of the Indian state. One report recently noted that
the target of a hundred families receiving jobs has been met in very few districts—and in
some districts the scheme has not reached a single poor family. (Page 311)
You know MNREGS is the populist program of UPA and it has provided opportunity for
Congressmen to make money.
26 Hypocrisy & Opportunism
The numerous labor protests and the massive railway strike in 1974 also led Indira Gandhi to
announce the Emergency. She had been watching these strikes with growing irritation, and
the first thing she did with her newfound power was throw labor leaders into jail. In those
years, as India’s economy tottered and unemployment grew, the government automatically
responded by tightening labor laws and promising to expand government employment. By
the 1980s, the list of central labor laws on the books in India ran to forty-six, and at the state
level to more than two hundred. (Page 315)
You know how cruel your party on labor is. Yet you think Congress is the hope for
changing India’s future?
It is a little disconcerting that in his speech Manmohan Singh also compared this slogan
to Indira Gandhi’s famous, failed slogan of “Garibi Hatao,” which was more successful in
garnering votes than achieving results. (Page 316)
How do you expect Manmohan Singh to be different from Congress? You can’t also be
different there sir.
Congress leaders, however, were less focused on class conflicts. During the time Nehru
was president of the All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), he remarked, “Of course,
everyone knows that the Congress is not a labor organization . . . to expect it to act as
[one] is a mistake.” And Gandhi suggested that while workers ought to be able to air their
grievances, it had to be “according to the financial condition of their industry.” (Page 318)
Interesting. You are narrating the story of betrayal of labour class by Congress. You
know how bad it is sir and yet you want to be with Congress? Is someone blackmailing
But since independence, union interests also rapidly diverged from the realities of the factory
floor and millwork. The unions that emerged prominently after 1947 were sponsored and
nursed by political leaders, and the prominent labor union post independence, the Indian
National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), as the writer Myron Weiner observed, pledged
their loyalty first “to the Congress Party, then to the present (Congress) government, to the
nation and last of all to the workers. (Page 320)
Some more evidence to show the betrayal story of Congress. Poor labor class still believe
that Congress is their hope.
The Emergency in particular hollowed out the popular idea of the state as a source of
sustenance, and as protector and provider of jobs. Indira had banned labor strikes and
filled up the jails with striking workers and their leaders. These Emergency-era policies to
curb labor resistance have also left us with an unfortunate legacy—any effort toward labor
reforms since then has evoked memories of that dictatorial period. (Page 322)
After all that you say, you still think that Congress can create more jobs!! We are baffled
For example, in Uttar Pradesh, inspectors can enter factories only after the consent of a
senior bureaucrat. Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh have also reduced the scope of
such inspections, and Gujarat’s efforts in particular to simplify labor laws have led to a
sustained rise in investments into the state. (Page 327)
It shows your appreciation for Modi’s Gujarat and you hate him? Why this double
“If we were to follow the letter of the law in our labor regulations,” one employer tells me
27Dissecting Imagining India
about the more than one hundred different regulations he has to keep track of, “we wouldn’t
be able to hire anyone. Both the government and private companies exploit the loopholes.”
The NREGA itself violates thirty-seven laws, and much of Indian industry has been able
to grow only because entrepreneurs have decided to ignore many of the more draconian
regulations, while the state chooses to look the other way. This makes corruption the rule,
and as one textile exporter told me, “We bribe the union leaders to stay away and pay the
inspectors to not close us down.” (Page 327 - 328)
You know your party has curbed any reform and always lived on popular rhetoric. Come
on, realize the mistake now and leave Congress.
On the other hand, solutions such as the NREGA will in the long term not only suck away
at the exchequer but also become a political hobbyhorse, and are at best weak alternatives
to the kind of employment that triggers both economic growth and industrial productivity.
You know MNREGS is Congress government’s pet project. 10 Janapath might not like
“My worry is that programs such as the NREGAwill have a toxic effect, thanks to our typical
election-time fondness for adding sop over sop.” The employment-guarantee scheme might
as a result be expanded, remuneration increased and so on, until it becomes the symbolic,
hugely gargantuan and monstrously inefficient solution to more jobs. (Page 331)
You are criticizing MNREGS and still want to contest from Congress. There is a problem
sir. Be careful.
There are two big questions that lie at the center of this crisis around our universities: How
much should universities reflect the agenda of the government? And to what extent should
it focus on social justice and equal access—an institution that in its selection processes is at
its heart, after all, an undemocratic one? (Page 333)
You know what your party’s answer is and because of that our universities have collapsed
The high level of rancor and disagreement on these questions has allowed our universities
to continue the slow collapse that began in the 1970s. The former vice chancellor of
Delhi University Upendra Baxi described the unfolding tragedy when he wrote that our
universities are in their “death throes.” Our higher education system has become inert and
incapable of adapting to a rapidly evolving economy, and even its best central institutes—
arguably Nehru’s most enduring legacy to India—are in danger. Their weaknesses have
become particularly critical with the rise of the knowledge economy, and as India’s legions
of youngsters enter institutions that seem less and less capable of giving them what they
need. (Page 333)
Sir, you know who is responsible for this situation. There cannot be any other big culprit
than your Congress for this crisis.
“We are a country propelled forward by crisis,” one minister tells me. “We make tough
policy changes only when faced with emergencies.” As a consequence, in issues where it
has taken a relatively long time for the danger signs to hit, bad ideas were left standing long
past their sell-by dates. (Page 335)
Obviously, Congress only manages crisis and then loots the nation in the name of social
justice. You are so excited to be in their gang. I hope you will start thinking at least now.
28 Hypocrisy & Opportunism
“The desire I see among people today to study beyond high school,” S. Sadagopan, director
of the Indian Institute of Information Technology Bangalore, tells me, “is quite massive and
unprecedented. But it’s a whole other story when we look at the quality of higher education
available. Our capacities and capabilities are falling fast.” (Page 335)
You must ask yourself a question, who is responsible for this crisis? For a brilliant mind
of yours, probably Congress appears as an answer.
The government had several stumbles in its efforts to define a good policy and regulatory
framework for its universities. While India focused on new institutions around technology
and science, there was little progress on university reforms and the overhaul of the old systems
of affiliation and regulation. Pressure from interest groups and drawn-out negotiations
with university administrators muddled proposed legislation and regulatory standards
for colleges. For instance, in the 1950s the minister Humayun Kabir introduced a major
regulatory bill for universities, which among other things gave India’s central government
sole authority for university recognition. But Kabir quickly found himself in the midst of
a heated argument around the bill’s provisions—vice chancellors overwhelmingly did not
want much regulation or new standards. Kabir felt like “a culprit in the dock” during these
conferences, targeted by groups whose vehemence against the bill was clear and unsubtle.
(Page 336 - 337)
Your party laid the foundation stones to curb autonomy of the higher education
institution. Thanks for making us aware of history of politicization of university by your
party in India.
“The academicians in our universities,” Pratap Bhanu Mehta tells me, “have fought against
any regulation with real teeth. They’ve demanded protections and job safeguards of the
worst sort—the kind without accountability.” The eventual legislation was as a result weak
and ineffective—universities could choose to forgo recognition from the center as well as
the UGC—and the UGC was reduced to a regulatory body standing helplessly by as India’s
public university system crumbled. (Page 337)
The leaders of such struggle of that day are beneficiaries of your party today. Your party
created a series of defenders of your past mistakes and you must at least realize now in
what kind of a company you are in.
We were lucky that during our time the rot had not yet set in. In fact Dr. Nayyar notes
that when he arrived at Oxford for his doctorate from the DSE, the Indian institute was so
reputed that the economist John Hicks asked him why he was at Oxford at all. Our standards
since then have been in free fall—while the DSE remains respectable, one cannot possibly
imagine comparing it with Oxford today. (Page 337)
You know this decline is the gift of your party to our nation.
Our growth in higher education hides more than it shows. There has been a rapid expansion
of Indian institutes since 1947, from 20 universities and 636 colleges to 214 universities,
38 additional deemed universities and 9,703 colleges today. But it is an empty victory. “An
immobile colossus . . . insensitive, unresponsive and absorbed so completely in trying to
preserve its structural form that it does not have the time to consider its own larger purpose,”
was what S. C. Dube wrote, as he mercilessly summed up the state of India’s universities in
the government’s 1985 State of Higher Education report. Others were even more cutting in
their assessment—one vice chancellor recently suggested that morethan half the expanding
network of Indian colleges were “intellectual and social slums.” (Page 337 - 338)