JRD Tata Memorial Lecture_ 2008 Economic Development and Political

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					     JRD Tata Memorial Lecture, 2008


          Shri Somnath Chatterjee
         Hon’ble Speaker, Lok Sabha


Economic Development and Political Consensus

                   New Delhi
               19 September 2008.

President and Members of the Associated Chambers of
Commerce and Industry of India; Distinguished Guests; Ladies
and Gentlemen:

     I feel greatly honoured to have been invited to deliver this
Lecture in memory of JRD Tata, a pioneering industrialist and an
exceptional human being, who was indeed a Bharat Ratna. While
paying my respectful homage to the legendary patron of
entrepreneurship and individual initiative in India, I compliment
the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India for
organizing the Memorial Lecture in honour of a great Indian who
was instrumental in laying a strong foundation for Indian industry
in half a century of his distinguished stewardship of the nation’s
largest industrial house.

     Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, affectionately known as
JRD to the world, was indeed India’s most well-known
industrialist, widely respected for his enormous and pioneering
contribution to the development of Indian industry. He was not
merely an industrialist, but a business leader, a motivator, a firm
believer in innovation and perfection, and a philanthropist who
deeply felt for his countrymen and a humanist who was sensitive
to the travails of the poor and the downtrodden. He epitomized a
brand and a culture of business that commanded great respect and
was almost synonymous with India and its people.

     J.R.D. Tata’s achievements can be best measured through the
perspective of the economic and political history of the country.
He always encouraged professional expertise and entrepreneurial
talent wherever he spotted it and encouraged and harnessed the
merit of his executives, giving them full freedom for innovation
and initiatives. He succeeded because he believed that ‘to be a
leader you have got to lead human beings with affection’. To him,
the crux of any successful labour policy lay in making workers
feel wanted and he introduced several progressive labour and
human resources management practices in his companies.

     The wide array of interests that JRD had can be seen in the
range of fields in which he made his contribution and extended his
patronage. His passion for technology, for arts and the sciences
and his patriotic zeal for taking the nation forward socially and
economically motivated him to play a crucial role in advancing
India’s scientific, medical, artistic and various other branches of
knowledge. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the Tata
Memorial Hospital, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the
National Institute of Advanced Sciences and the National Centre
for the Performing Arts, to name a few, are models of excellence
in their respective fields which grew mainly due to the patronage
and the steadfast support of J.R.D. Tata. His concern at the
country’s alarming population growth impelled him to help in the
formation of International Institute for Population Sciences. In
recognition of his achievements, he was honoured with several

awards both inside and outside the country that included the
Padma Vibhushan, and the United Nations’ Population Award for
his contribution to Population Studies. A grateful nation conferred
on him the Bharat Ratna in 1992 for his remarkable services to the
Indian industry and nation-building.

     Standing here to deliver the present Lecture instituted in the
memory of JRD, I have chosen to speak on ‘Economic
Development and Political Consensus Building’, a theme that is
extremely relevant today as it was during his time also. India’s
economic development, especially in the first half-century of
Independence, was deeply entwined with the success story of JRD
and the business group which he led.

     In the wake of Freedom, our Founding Fathers adopted
parliamentary democracy as the system of governance to deal with
the social, religious and ethnic diversity of our country as also to
combat the multifarious challenges that the people had to face. A
multi-party system was one of the central components in that.

     The goal set by the Founding Fathers of our Constitution can
be achieved only through a vibrant system of            democratic
governance,    committed    to   secularism,   inclusiveness    and
egalitarianism. Today we are recognized as the largest working
democracy in the world, seeking to preserve national unity and
cohesion in a highly pluralistic society. Our people have shown
deep commitment and enthusiastic participation in the democratic
process which has so far sustained our democratic structure;

though there are many grey areas requiring the nation’s focused
attention, before we can develop and nurture a pro-people
structure of governance. Working within the framework of a
parliamentary democracy, no doubt, the country has made
significant strides in several areas of our national life, but we
cannot be complacent as we still have to address the gigantic
challenges before us in diverse spheres to ensure that the people
enjoy all their rights as our Constitution provides by achieving and
providing for sustained economic development.

      We have indeed made significant strides in achieving a
steady momentum in our economic growth and India today is
recognized the world over as an important economic power. Our
achievements through the Green and the White Revolutions, and
our advances in the field of atomic energy, in space and the
Defence-related industry, in information and communications
technologies, in the pharmaceutical and manufacturing sectors, in
bio-technology and in other areas of scientific and technological
research, are matters about which we can legitimately be proud of.
We have been witnessing consistently increasing growth rates
during the last few years which augur well for our future and for
our democracy, provided we ourselves do not create stumbling
blocks, by indulging in divisive, disruptionist and diversionary

      Over the decades, we have laid the Foundations for a modern
and progressive society through effective State intervention and

many progressive legislations to address the concerns of the
common people, particularly of the weak and the vulnerable and to
bring in an egalitarian system. We should take legitimate pride in
our achievements made so far and should continue to utilise our
vast human and natural resources for the further socio-economic
transformation of our country.

     Nonetheless, we should constantly remind ourselves that
even after sixty years of independence, different sections of our
people live in different centuries. Despite several decades of
economic planning and political maturity gained in the matter of
governance, millions of our people have still not been emancipated
from the vicious web of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, poor
health, low productivity and other economic and social infirmities,
specially so in the case of the disadvantaged and marginalized
sections, who are still to enjoy in sufficient measure the fruits of
progress made so far. We are still grappling with several complex
problems that need to be solved with sincerity, sensitivity and

     As Prof. Amartya Sen has observed in his recent Prof. Hiren
Mukherjee Memorial Lecture delivered in the Central Hall of
Parliament, “… there are momentous manifestations of severe
injustice in our own world today in India, such as appalling levels
of continued child undernourishment (almost unparalleled in the
rest of the world), continuing lack of entitlement to basic medical
attention of the poorer members of the society, and the

comprehensive absence of opportunities for basic schooling for a
significant proportion of the population.”

      Our country is still home to the largest number of illiterates
in the world today. Though we have achieved 65 per cent literacy,
we are still a long way from our target of universal literacy. It is
estimated that only 56 per cent of children in the age group of 5 to
9 years are attending schools in our country. There are even now
thousands of villages without quality educational facilities. Only
less than 10 per cent of university-eligible youth have real access
to higher education. Needless to say, it reflects very poorly on our
nation that about one-third of its population is denied even basic
education and only an insignificant minority has access to higher
and quality education.

      Marginalization of women has been a stumbling bloc in our
efforts to have a balanced and equitable development of all
sections of the society and to make our democracy fully inclusive
and   participatory. Women’s representation in          the higher
representative bodies is extremely inadequate and we are still
struggling to find a consensus on the need to provide them better
representation.    To make our development process truly
comprehensive we have to take effective steps to make our women
equal partners in the task of nation-building. I do sincerely hope
that political parties will rise above partisan politics and evolve a
consensus, during my tenure as the Speaker, to enact the Bill
introduced in Parliament during the Budget Session this year, to

ensure increased representation to women in our higher
representative bodies which is indeed one of our priorities, aprt
from ensuring educational, health care and secure living

     To quote Prof. Amartya Sen again “A government in a
democratic country has to respond to on-going priorities in public
criticism and political condemnation. … Justice demands that we
make a strong effort to identify the overwhelming priorities that
have to be confronted with total urgency. We have to ask what
should keep us awake at night”.

     Growth and investment in a liberalizing and globalizing
economy like ours where a sizeable section live on the fringes,
must lead to a better quality of life for the poor and the deprived.
There are millions of rural households living in conditions of
dehumanizing     poverty.   Repeated     crop     failures   due   to
unpredictable climatic variations, inability to meet the rising cost
of cultivation and increasing debt burden are among factors
leading our farmers to growing frustration expressed in extreme
ways. Though the Central Government has taken a very laudable
step of providing relief to a large number of farmers from their
burden of debt owed to financial institutions, meeting the
challenges of rural reconstruction becomes a priority task indeed,
for which the nation needs political consensus.

     Agriculture being the main sector which employs the largest
number of people within our economy, it is imperative to have a

comprehensive and time-bound programme of action to extricate
the sector from stagnation, if not deceleration.          It is today a
national responsibility to help lift agriculture from its subsistence
level and turn into an income generating activity so that our
farmers are not left to the vicissitudes of uncertain weather,
unstable financial resources and unreliable markets and are able to
enjoy a better quality of living.

      Vast areas of the country will have to be provided with
adequate infrastructure like good roads, sufficient power and
telecom and distribution facilities. More than 30 per cent of India’s
640,000 villages are still not connected by roads. Around 60 per
cent of rural households do not have access to electricity. Rural
tele-density is still below 2 per cent. Evolving effective policies in
these vital areas going beyond the compulsions of divisive politics,
still remain a critical challenge for the entire political class today.

      In order to realize our full economic potential, it is important
to recognize that the developmental challenges before India are not
to be reduced to one of making a choice between the imperatives
of industrial development and the compelling need for agricultural
growth. It is not realistic to assume that the development of rural
India can be achieved relying exclusively on agriculture. What we
need is an integrated development strategy which will take into
account the strengths and weaknesses of the different sectors of
our economy and one in which the agents of development would
intervene according to the need of each sector and the different

regions of the country. Apart from the need for steady industrial
development, we should take short term measures such as
providing remunerative support prices and making cheap
agricultural credit available, as well as make substantial long term
investments in irrigation, water conservation, building rural roads
and markets, electrifying villages, providing quality primary
education and health facilities in the rural areas.

     Wherever possible, we should amalgamate industry and
agriculture   taking   into   account    the    urgent   necessity   of
development and the possibilities and the resources that a
particular region can offer. Such matters cannot be decided on the
basis of partisan considerations dehors the need of a balanced
development, which will ensure a good quality of life to all
segments of the people, particularly to the rural masses. It is
essential that the political parties and others associated with the
governance process and the developmental activities should
demonstrate the willingness as also the sincerity to draw up and
implement schemes with well-chosen priorities and should devise
new paradigms, wherever necessary.             Economic development
cannot be subjected to political muscle-flexing without caring for
their destructive effect, only to suit narrow political interest. All
political parties must have a vested interest in economic
development, which alone can bring about and sustain the pace of
progress and can create comprehensive opportunities for people’s

sustenance through creation of jobs and initiation of economic

      Providing one billion Indians with the freedom to engage in a
productive life and to gain the consequent rewards as individuals
and as the members of the society is a gigantic challenge which
can be met only through the collective endeavours of all stake
holders. Whichever party or parties may be in power, the nation as
a whole must effectively deal with the problems of poverty,
unemployment      and    underemployment       on   a     war-footing,
channelising the fruits of sustained economic growth in recent
years.   Development and planning for progress should never be
the subject of mutual recrimination and attempts to weaken efforts
of industrialization on the basis of partisan approach.

      The government of the day has no doubt to take the
initiatives and adopt and implement suitable policies for solving
the nation’s urgent and outstanding problems, for which the
different segments of the people, may be owing allegiance to
different parties, must unitedly participate and contribute. Over
the years, Indian federalism has evolved various institutional
mechanisms like the National Integration Council(NIC), the
National Development Council(NDC), the Finance Commission,
etc., to discuss issues and problems together and to help evolve a
national perspective on the major challenges before the nation and
to arrive at consensus on issues of national importance.

     Socio-economic uplift of India’s masses should not be a
matter of theoretical political ideology or political rhetoric, and is
the most crucial area warranting political consensus. There must
be, nationally a broad agreement among all parties on the
imperatives of development itself, if the political parties are really
sincere about the country’s progress. What is happening today in
some States of our country for the presumed benefits of some
sections of the people, is essentially destructive of the concept and
the need for sustained and balanced development of the country
and are manifestations of the worst form of confrontational
politics, which will only take the country back to the days of
economic stagnation.

      We have to be watchful of those sections in society that are
out to distract people from the path of development. In pursuing
narrow political agenda, not only do such elements undermine the
well-conceived and important schemes of development, but hurt
the long-term interest of the same people whom they pretend to be

      To build an inclusive society, we have to create conditions
for political freedom to co-exist with economic freedom and
distributive justice. It is the nation as a whole which has to accord
priority to the issues concerning our common people, specially the
rural poor so that they become the primary beneficiaries of all our
developmental policies and programmes. In this connection, it is
pertinent to note what JRD Tata had once observed that “I don’t

want India to be an economic super power. I want India to be a
happy country.”
     Development, no doubt, cannot be sustainable if it results
basically in the continuing enrichment of the affluent and the
powerful and in the further marginalisation of the poor.
Development has to be judged in terms of the result it achieves
towards meeting the urgent needs of all sections and particularly,
the vulnerable sections of the community.
      Building a country of India’s size and diversity is no mean
job; it requires the combined and committed efforts of all people in
the common endeavour to bring lasting prosperity and happiness.
The views expressed by        the     inheritor of the Tata legacy,
Shri Ratan Tata, sometime back, is reflective of the      desire and
the demand of the business community in the country today: I
quote him:

     “This is the time for India to shift gears and for our leaders to
     view India in the global context - competing and excelling in
     the global arena. We can no longer compare ourselves with
     our own past history nor be satisfied with growth and
     improvement in small increments.”

     It is important for the overall growth of the country, to use
the opportunities offered by the new economic forces, keeping in
mind that the vast majority of our people still need the caring eye
of the government and of the society as a whole capable of

contributing to their uplift, to bring themselves to a level where
their preferences, their quality of existence also can match the
global standards. As the distinguished statesman late Shri K.R.
Narayanan said:
      “We cannot empower people unless we address the issues
      concerning equity and equality of opportunities for the vast
      masses of people who have to struggle for their daily
      existence. …”

      In a vast country like India, with discernible difference on
the   basis   of   culture,   language,   religion,   caste,   creed,
geographical location and different urges and aspirations, we
have numerous parties with divergent policies, programmes and
priorities. In such a situation it becomes difficult, in the absence
of a clear majority earned in the election by any particular party,
or a well-defined and cohesive group to realise what are the
priorities, which the people have accepted and expressed through
their verdict. Since our independence, when India became a
republic and adopted the system of Parliamentary Democracy,
we have seen gradually the weakening of the leading parties,
resulting in the formation of multiplicity of parties having
conflicting ideologies, programmes and policies.

      For the last several decades no single party nationally has
been able to get a majority of its own and the result has been that
both in the Centre and in the States, Governments have been
formed on occasions by political parties with disparate

programmes and ideologies, who combine only with the object
of acquiring power, forming unprincipled coalitions and even by
encouraging defections from one party to another which has
greatly resulted in vitiating the political morality in the country.
Value-based politics, centred around well-defined policies and
priorities, has become a casualty leading to vitiating the political
atmosphere and uncertainties in the governance structure. Often
allegations of horse-trading are made of which we have seen
recently a most sordid example. Unfortunately the spectacle of
aya rams and gaya rams still remains the bane of our political
system.    There have been many instances of post-poll
understanding or adjustments between different political parties,
only for the purpose of formation of a Government.               The
instability of such governments and adoption of questionable
methods to remain in power have seriously eroded people’s faith
in the system.

     Of course, Coalition Governments can function well and
indeed has functioned well in our country of which the most
important example has been the Left Front Government in West
Bengal where during the illuminating leadership of Shri Jyoti
Basu the same combination of parties constituting the Left Front
was in power since 1977, and now continues even after his
retirement, for over thirty years. Other combinations, so far
tried, have not given rise to any cohesive alternative.

     Further, most deplorably people have come to accept that
there is a lot of corruption in our political system (which
unfortunately cannot be disputed) and that elections are won in
many cases through the use of money power and or muscle
power affecting fair and free elections.         This has caused
cynicism amongst large sections of well-meaning citizens of the
country. Because of such cynicism and lack of respect for the
present political system even people, who are otherwise
genuinely concerned about the country’s future, are indulging in
negative criticism of the state-of-affairs without seeking to
contribute positively towards the removal of the aberrations or
imperfections in the system. Only by bringing in total
transparency in our electoral process, and in the method of
functioning of the different parties, can we restore public
confidence in the system.

     I feel that because of these infirmities, unfortunately today,
the political atmosphere in the country has got vitiated and
politics of intense confrontation, negativism and opposition at all
costs is taking the upper hand denying the space for collective
and consensual approach towards major national issues. Political
power has largely got polarized around identities of caste,
religion, and language, thereby making the system a reflection of
the existing social distortions bereft of the essential national
outlook. The proliferation of political parties and groups with
limited political or sectional agenda, has created a situation that is

in direct conflict with the need to evolve a national vision and
outlook. Marking a serious departure from the past which was
characterized by broad national consensus on issues like foreign
policy and national security, today partisan approach is applied
by different sections for petty political gains, seriously
compromising the country’s image and its long-term and vital

     Friends, in our constitutional scheme of governance,
Parliament enjoys primacy in several ways. It is the legislative
body that enjoys the power to ensure the accountability of the
Executive. Parliament provides us with the national forum to
discuss contentious issues and to collectively seek solutions to
them through dialogue. It is the ideal place for conflict resolution
and management. As the highest representative body, Parliament
occupying the pivotal position, has the responsibility to deliberate
on issues of national importance and it is expected that those
constituting it will rise above narrow sectarian interests and help in
evolving a national perspective on the issues before the country.

     The various aberrations in our political functioning are
matters that should worry all responsible and sensitive citizens.
Though the right to dissent is one of the basic features of
democracy; differences of opinion should never be equated with
hostility. The Ruling and the Opposition Parties in Parliament and
in the State Legislatures should see themselves as partners in the
consolidation of the democratic process. All our democratic

institutions need to demonstrate a greater degree of sensitivity and
responsiveness to the growing disenchantment and apathy among
our people with different aspects of our national life, particularly
our political life. Divisive and communal politics will have to give
way to a broad-based national political agenda. Consensus, not
confrontation, has to be the basic philosophy of our political

     I have been repeatedly trying to impress upon all concerned
that parliamentary democracy can be strengthened only when all
the institutions that constitute our governance structure perform at
their best keeping the interest of the people and the country in
mind and in conformity with our Constitution. To consolidate our
system of governance, all constitutional bodies and institutions
should function in harmony and in conformity with the
fundamental law of the land. The Legislature must reflect the
urges and aspirations of the people and the larger national causes
as opposed to narrow partisan and parochial issues, the Executive
should effectively and successfully address the concerns of the
people, and the Judiciary, as an independent arbiter, must dispense
speedy and inexpensive justice to every section of our society. Our
Constitution does not provide for a super-organ nor does it
contemplate encroachment by any one organ into areas
demarcated for others, under any assumed superior authority,
which only creates distortions in the system. I appeal to the media
that while trying to expose the misdeeds and corrupt practices of

public authorities, including people’s representatives, it would do
well to report their commendable initiatives and achievements as
well.     No organ or authority should place itself in a manner
undermining the collective will of people’s representative bodies.

        In spite of the numerous challenges being faced on various
fronts, democracy in our country has been exhibiting a rare degree
of resilience and adaptability. However, I feel there are times
when that resilience and adaptability are stretched a bit too far.
Everyone associated with democratic institutions at different
levels, the political leadership, bureaucracy, the Media, the
Judiciary and above all the political parties have to work together
keeping the larger interest of the nation in mind to safeguard
parliamentary democracy from the tremendous strains experienced
today and to further strengthen it in the years to come. What is of
the utmost importance is that political parties – both national and
regional – must develop a core national perspective so that
consensus can be built on issues affecting national interest. We
must have a Common National Minimum Programme, as has been
aptly suggested by Prof. M.S. Swaminathan.             Democratic
institutions have to be themselves robust enough to be able to
tackle the grave problems of poverty, backwardness, illiteracy,
lack of health-care and unemployment facing the country, and that
way justify their relevance for the people. Consensual politics, in
short, is the need of the hour.

     On the brighter side, as I said earlier, the Indian economy is
one of the largest in the world today. The 8 per cent plus GDP
growth in our economy in recent years indicates that we have
unleashed the productive energy and dynamism of our people,
forcing their way through the structural bottlenecks to integrate
with the global economy. Though globalization, even with all its
attendant ills, may be unavoidable in the short run, we have to
ensure that the process should include within it the fulfilment of
the aspirations of India’s teeming millions. Providing employment
with reasonable wages, shelter, drinking water, electricity, schools,
hospitals, roads, connectivity through communication technology
and infrastructure, among other things, to the common people
should continue to underline our governance structure. In this
noble task, private enterprises and corporate institutions must not
shy away from their social responsibility to the people and should
make substantial contribution and efforts by their active

     A time has come when all sections of the people have to
consider very seriously how a country like ours, with its great
heritage and civilization, with the magnificent history of its
freedom struggle and also with the great talent of the young
people, with constructive efforts of the working class, including
farmers, peasants and common people, should come out of the
present infirmities in the system, so that the country can achieve
all round development at a faster pace. Therefore, I appeal to all

sections of the community from this platform to seriously ponder
the future of our political set up and the extreme necessities of
building political consensus to remove the deficiencies identified
with it today, and also to take effective steps for our economic
progress and development. A developing country like ours with
great potential for development and which has already achieved
substantially should not lose the momentum due to divisive and
confrontational politics.

     I would, therefore, call upon all sections of our political
system to view the issues of development, particularly the
challenge of uplifting our rural economy, providing a balanced
development with industrial progress strengthening the human
resources and fulfilling the urgent needs of the people, like food
security, education and health-care,     as major national issues,
transcending political and geographical barriers and partisan
considerations so that the core of our national endeavour can be
the speedy, inclusive and comprehensive development of the
whole country. Various problems of national importance should
be dealt with in a spirit of cooperation and that is the only way to
serve the larger interest of the country. After all, politics is only
an instrument to serve that interest.

     Friends, JRD Tata was a corporate leader of unimpeachable
integrity and strength of character who was admired both for his
resourcefulness, dynamism and courage to take risks, and who
never lost sight of the nation’s needs while being a private

entrepreneur. He believed that the corporate world has a
responsibility to give due attention to the welfare of the people
by way of giving employment, opening schools and hospitals,
constructing    roads, supplying drinking          water,    etc.   The
philanthropist that he was, JRD was also aware of the social
responsibility of an industrial house. He once said, and I quote:

     Let industry established in the countryside adopt the villages
     in its neighbourhood; let some of the time of its managers,
     its engineers, doctors and skilled specialists be spared to help
     and advise the people of the villages and to supervise new
     developments undertaken by cooperative effort between
     them and the company. Assistance in family planning in the
     villages would be a particularly valuable form of service.
     None or little of this need be considered as charity… . The
     benefits of such a joint venture will no doubt initially flow
     chiefly to the villages, but it is also certainly in the interest of
     industry   that   surrounding      areas   should      be   healthy,
     prosperous and peaceful. (Unquote)

     The Tata Council for Community Initiatives (TCCI) which
certainly draws its inspiration from JRD Tata has prepared the
Tata Index for Sustainable Human Development, a pioneering
effort at directing, measuring and enhancing the community work
that the Group enterprises undertake. JRD wanted to see a smile
on every body’s face including those who were strangers to him.
He used to say ‘the trouble is we do not smile enough. When I

am driving in the car and a person appears to recognize me, I look
at that person and smile. This makes him happy and does not cost
me anything.’ He wanted to see India as a nation of a billion
smiling people. His vision to make India an economic and
industrial power impelled him to help evolve and support many
institutions for advancing the cause of Indian industry and
scientific and technical education. He anticipated many of the
human resource management practices much before they became
laws. I am sure his lofty vision and ideas will continue to inspire
our leaders, entrepreneurs and the younger generations to make
India a strong and prosperous country through a consensual and
national approach.

     Before I conclude, I would like to once again thank the
President and other office-bearers of the ASSOCHAM for giving
me this opportunity to share with this august gathering some of
my views on issues relating to national development and political
activities to build national consensus on issues of national interest.
I wish the members of the ASSOCHAM all success in their
various endeavours and a rightful role in our nation-building

     Thank you.