I write this letter with almost 99.9% certainty that it will never reach you, or even if by some chance it does, then it might not be enough in sync with your own ideas to actually consider even a single point in it. Then why am I devoting the last 24 hours in mentally drafting this, and then penning it down? Time which was better spent on my fledgling businesses which need every moment that I can spare? It is because of that eternal hope to reach out and share my ideas with someone who seems to have the power to change the life of citizens of India for the better. So even for that 0.01% probability I will do my bit instead of going and standing with a candle to support Anna Hazare, whose efforts I so admire, but the impact of whose successful campaign will take 2 or more generations on the ground. I want results now, in my lifetime, I want to see improvement today in my country, and I know that you are one person who can do it, as no other politician can.
Today is your dad’s birth anniversary; 4 days ago it was my dad’s birth anniversary. When your dad became the Prime Minister of India in 1984, my father used to tell everyone that they flew together as employees, in India’s only Airline at that time, he was so proud of personally knowing the great man and also mentioned that he was 4 days younger than him! I met your dad in 1990 in your house in Delhi, it was an electrifying feeling, and I still keep that photograph of the 3 of us standing in a lawn, as one of my most cherished memories since both are no longer with us. I still remember his famous quote, “I am young and I too have a dream!”. Well, I was all of 12 years old when he became PM, and just 17 when I met him, I had not seen the real India, its corruption or its position relative to what the developed countries were enjoying, and what we were lacking, my parents took care of my needs and I lived a protected life. But what I do remember is that Rajiv Gandhi brought a whiff of fresh air for all middle class Indians, he had ideas, plans, wanted to do something and tried his best. I also believe that the congress party in 1991 only implemented the liberalization policy that he had prepared in anticipation of coming back to power. The policy which ensured I don’t grow up in the same India that my parents grew up in, the policy which changed India and where we are counted as one of the most promising blocks of BRIC, what a change from having to wait 10 years to get a Scooter or a telephone connection!
Why am I giving this background? Because his actions touched my life, now almost ready to touch 40 years of age, I have lived through the last 2 decades in one of the most exciting times that my 64 year old country has gone through. Several years ago, standing outside a queue of American consulate, hoping to get a visa to go on a family vacation and getting unfairly getting rejected even though I never had any intention to settle there, I fervently prayed that one day Americans should also be wanting to come to India and we should screen them out. Atleast, half has happened and for all professionals who want to grow in their career, now an India or China experience is becoming a cutting edge, good for us! Similarly, during my short stay in the US in 1998 I observed so many TV channels, very active media, several new technologies on telecom side; I wished that my country to get that, viola, that came to India too! But as Richard Gere says in the movie Pretty Woman, “Don’t tell me about wanting more, I invented the concept!”. I too have always wanted more than I got, because I know I can get more, I know that India can be better, and I want it to have that chance. When my children are exposed to the outside world 10 years from now, I don’t want them to struggle for the basics in daily life. Things which should come as a matter of right, things which I know people like you can just step in and make a difference, without upsetting the apple cart, without having to change the system, without risking your own life. Simple things such as;
1) Driving License: When we go for a fresh driving license or renewal, give us a fair computerized system with field test, where I don’t need to hire an agent, don’t need to pay a bribe. Ask the CBI and ACB of various states to take it as a challenge to make those offices at Zero Tolerance level of corruption. 20 yrs ago when RTA was said to be corrupt the number of pending files were negligible, today it is said to be free of corruption and look at the pending files, it is just that the bribe amount has multiplied several fold, and those who cannot afford higher amounts get stuck. Any officer with a file pending for more than 30 days should be penalized. When I am showing that I can drive, and know the rules, why should I pay money to get my license? Why should I drive on the road with millions of ill trained drivers who managed licenses with just a bribe, why should my country’s accident rate be so high?
2) Birth, Death or Marriage Certificate: Institute a process to issue these certificates seamlessly, without the need for any greasing of palms, if that needs privatization, if that needs an online system, ask someone to build a fool proof system. Why should I pay bribe for a document which proves whether I am alive, whether a loved one has passed away or whether I am married? If the process is supposed to stop rogues, well it does not, it just stops the common man and makes us go and stand with a candle with people like Anna when they raise a voice.
3) Property Registration: When we buy or sell a property, why do we need to pay handling charges to a broker? Brokers claim that from the clerk onwards, till the Minister of that department, money needs to be shared. So we have to give our 5000 to 25000 Rs depending on the size of the deal, and that the procedure is so complicated that we cannot do it on our own. When I have already stretched to my last penny to get my dream house, why should I shell out a bribe and not instead use that amount for a new item that my wife wants in that house?
4) Passport: I fondly remember earlier days when Passport office was said to be corrupt, fresh issuance, renewals etc were never a problem. I now hear that it is corruption free, but the only thing which has changed for me is the fee my broker charges, it is now 5x of what I used to pay earlier because he says the system is now more strict. The waiting list is again now 8 months or more in my city, so if I want to ensure I don’t get stuck, I better shell out? This proof of my being a citizen of India should be a basic right, why are the Passport offices having a backlog? You can just wipe it out in one stroke if you so desire.
5) Civic Sense: We don’t maintain our roads clean, we throw dirt outside our house, we spit on roads, we don’t drive in lanes, if traffic cops are not there we create a gridlock at every junction trying to get ahead even if it is not our turn etc, the list goes on and on. But when we go to Singapore, in fear of a 500S$ fine we don’t dare drop a paper, we don’t chew gum. You can make that extra effort at ensuring that rules like banning of smoking in public places, fine for spitting or urinating in public places and the like is strictly implemented, just rules are not enough. If we flout, don’t spare us or spare the cops who catch us and take 50 or 100 Rs to let us off, let defaulters be made to clean it up, and then sit in jail for a day to repent for it.
6) Safety & Security: RTI is said to have made life easier for thousands of people across the country, it’s a great thing your government has done. I too benefited when my passport was stuck and I threatened to file an RTI application to know why they were taking weeks to renew a 5 year old passport, viola, it came to my house in 48 hrs, no idea how! But it is also a fact that RTI activists are being brutally killed in broad daylight by corrupt elements, an officer in Maharashtra was burnt alive when he tried to do his duty. It is disheartening to read that whistle blowers are harassed, you can easily send a strong message in such cases by ensuring that those cases are fast tracked, punishment is so harsh and quick on anyone found even remotely guilty, that it sends out a strong message to others and ensures Safety and Security of those who speak out. You can ensure a witness protection program like the US and really safeguard the identity of those who want to come forward and help the country improve.
7) Roads and Transportation: It seems like ages since the golden quadrilateral project was started and some progress is there. Places which used to take 3 hrs to reach, now take 2 hrs, the amount of efficiency improvement is just fantastic on those stretches. But why is the pace of the road building so slow, can they not act like China and execute on war footing? That too when most of the recent projects are going to lead to positive cash for the government as royalty? Give them stricter deadlines, not dates which are chosen comfortably by contractors, and those which can even be flouted easily. Also, why is transportation efficiency not ensured through mandatory installation of GPS devices in all commercial vehicles? Technology allows it, an iron hand is what is takes to make commercial transportation more efficient and safe in India, saved millions of man-hours and benefit our country.
8) Power and Water Supply: Ensuring uninterrupted power and getting drinking water in our homes is fast becoming a challenge, we need to implement policies today which ensure that atleast in next 10 years we will be self sufficient and the system will not collapse. The pace of power projects and the importance given to them, the priority given to ensuring drinking water availability is quite low, we need to figure out ways how to make these as bigger priorities for all concerned departments, or private players. Why are basics such as Power and Water not having a guaranteed plan to ensure that in 2020 we don’t face what we are facing today?
9) Sanitation: Can every Indian get a clean place to freshen up in the morning, and be assured that his trash is disposed off in the best possible manner? Why are we so primitive as a country on both these counts? Offering incentives for building of millions of Shauchalayas in the country and building a municipal backbone with better planning on waste disposal can be such a big service to the country. It cannot be very difficult when thousands of crores are available for other schemes in the name of backward and forward classes or some religious group, to divert some of the leakage from a well funded scheme to some money for these?
10) PSUs: Get Government time, money and mindshare out of all useless businesses like airlines, railways, other PSUs which are just in their control so that every politician’s constituency is kept alive, jobs are doled out at will, money is made like crazy and no accountability is there when losses pile up. By listing the profitable entities on the stock exchange you have realized value, got some funds for the government, take it further. Implement a stance that while government needs to retain 51% for political reasons, don’t retain more than that, and while diluting will give you good chunk of cash, also hand over day to day management to professionals without interference from the ministry concerned. For loss making ones, just wield the axe and find a buyer please, this is not really too much to ask for.
The above is all it takes Rahul, to change the life of our generation and the next. These issues don’t need you to strike at the root of corruption, affect the fund flow to our entire ecosystem which is so necessary for both bureaucrats and politicians, will not affect illicit mining for ore or coal or whatever, not effect bribes paid by businessmen to seek favors in licensing and to define rules that help only them, tenders which needs to be given to a Mr. 20% in between, those things you cannot change easily. Let those go on till the country changes with the real impact of RTI, Cash Transfer Schemes, UID, and Lok Pal all start giving the true fruits of their intended original plan. During this period the country should hopefully transition from being so thoroughly corrupt to being less corrupt and we will live our life with the hope that atleast our children will not undergo what we had to.
But today, please don’t lose this golden chance that life has given you, to really make a big difference and not just be content that your family anyway is immortal in this country’s history, you can make a mark too. Pick up the broom and clean small things today, don’t waste your time in deciding how long Anna should fast, whether we need to respond to Pakistan in a certain manner, whether a political lady is right or wrong and spending time countering them. Else even when you become the PM tomorrow, history and citizens like me will write you off as just a cog in the wheel of politics, which came and went, without being able to help his fellow countrymen even when he had the opportunity. Hope that does not happen!
Amit Kishore Prasad
A Proud Citizen of India
Founder & MD, The SatNav Group