JRD Tata Memorial Lecture, 2008 By Shri Somnath Chatterjee Hon’ble Speaker, Lok Sabha On Economic Development and Political Consensus Building New Delhi 19 September 2008. 2 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. 3 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 4 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; 5 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 tactics. Over the decades, we have laid the Foundations for a modern and progressive society through effective State intervention and 6 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 commitment. 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 7 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 8 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 conditions. 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 9 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 10 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 11 sustenance through creation of jobs and initiation of economic activities. 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. 12 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 helping. 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 13 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 14 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 15 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. 16 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 17 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 interests. 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 18 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 engagement. 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 19 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. 20 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 participation. 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 21 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 22 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 23 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 enterprise. Thank you.