Thursday, June 03, 2010

Do we really need a public holiday for all religious festivals? Is this the way we hope to become a developed country?

I became a fan of Mr Subroto Bagchi, who calls himself Gardner, MindTree Ltd (he founded the organisation), ever since I read his ‘Go kiss the world’ speech (refer to my earlier blog). In a recent keynote address at a conference organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (Southern Region), Mr Bagchi made a very pertinent statement – that by 2014 India would overtake the GDP of Japan and that most Indians had just no idea about it.
According to him, 2014 will be significant because for the first time India will be one of the top four richest countries in the whole world. And what will happen after 2014? It will mark the beginning of a journey towards India finally becoming a developed country. He added another profound statement: For the first time in thousands of years, to be poor in this country would not mean you did not have respectability.
Mr Bagchi said that access to a cell phone and micro-finance had changed the Indian landscape. “Give a poor person a cell phone, funds, information… and the whole negotiating platform changes. The acceleration will happen in the next 10 years. It has not been comprehended even by economists, and when that happens, patronage from government and industry will cease. In that context, the discussion about inclusive growth will shift – from caste to regions,” he said, referring to increasing amounts of national space – in Kashmir, North East, Bihar, Orissa, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu – that was becoming non-governable.
Mr Bagchi cautioned about four major things coming in the way of progress – politicians, businessmen, bureaucracy and society. The politician wants to succeed at all cost. “Then you lose a sense of appropriateness. Politicians are emperors whom CII cannot reform; only the emperor must choose to be reformed by self-regulation,” he quipped. Businessmen trivialised issues. Bureaucrats had lost the right to govern. And society? “Does society have a sense of purpose? Because society breeds the politician, businessman and government servant.
The broad subject was inclusiveness and Mr Bagchi was clear that inclusiveness was not about caste, jobs and reservation. “It simply means that you create value for people twice removed from you without a sense of quid pro quo. Society needs to understand that our future generations need to be secure, then we will do what it takes to shift from this narrow conversation to building a developed country, which for the first time is staring at you in the face, desperate to be taken, created. We have 10-15 years to make it happen and for the first time there is no foreign hand to be blamed. It’s a never-before time. India’s time has come… the clock is ticking.”
It wasn’t as moving a speech or prose as his ‘Go Kiss the world’ effort. But, yes, Mr Bagchi did set me thinking. For one, I am determined to watch out for 2014. Perhaps India’s GDP may after all cross that of Japan. But the larger question is: will India be able to deliver thereafter? Not in terms of numbers, but in terms of discipline, honesty, sincerity and commitment to achieving goals?
Look at how easily we shirk work. I had some work at the local post office the other day. When I reached, I found the wooden doors closed. There were about 20-odd people waiting. Nobody seemed to have a clue as to why the post office was closed. I looked around for a notice of any sort. But there was none. I tried to think of a possible holiday, but my head went blank. A few others came strolling in, some looked at their watches. It was well past 9am; on any other day the post office would have been open. Suddenly, a wizened old man came out at a fast pace from inside the premises. He seemed to have a hunch. There was a diary in his hand and probably he had consulted it. I looked quizzically at him. “Buddha Poornima,” he mumbled and went his way.
Now, do we really need a central government public holiday for Buddha Poornima? I can understand in regions or states where you have a large population of Buddhists. But India has no such, except perhaps Himachal Pradesh. How many people would have had some urgent work at the post office and returned disappointed? How much money would have been lost in terms of business transacted? The question is not about Buddha Poornima alone – there are several other festivals that really need no public holiday. Mahavir Jayanti is another I can think of immediately. Irrespective of religion, there are many festivals that can be celebrated by those who want to, but is there need for a public holiday? It’s time those governing our country (politicians and bureaucrats) thought about this seriously. Wasting 24 hours in the name of a public holiday declared to celebrate a religious festival is not going to aid the country’s progress.

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