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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 13, March 20, 2010

Real Threat of Civil War

Saturday 20 March 2010, by Alka Tyagi

BOOK REVIEW

Making India Work by William Nanda Bissel; Penguin,Viking, New Delhi; 2009.

William Nanda Bissell’s illustrious work, Making India Work, is the work of a diligent intellectual, a corporate head, a social thinker and, above all, a visionary.

William Bissell is talking about the present socio-political situation, the poverty and environmental hazards that are threatening India. He invokes every Indian to wake up and work for an immediate change in the current situation.

Making India Work begins by opening our eyes to the poverty: “The dark side of India is the poverty of her people. The country accounts for 36 per cent of the world’s poor—more than the whole of Africa—living on less than a dollar a day.” Ironically India is not poor in natural or human resources. As William says, “India is not a poor country. It is a poorly managed country.” He gives an elaborate sketch of the changes that should be brought about to save the people and the country. Caste and class tensions, which seem to absorb so much of our social and political energy and are often the cause of criminal violence, mainly arise due to poverty, says William. Removal of poverty can resolve age-old conflicts inherent in the caste system. William believes that we can achieve a new India which will be a Citizens’ Republic and where people will participate closely in making decisions that directly affect their lives. The book gives a transformative model for the system of governance, law, poverty eradication and environmental regeneration. New model or models work in tandem and automatically help in bringing about health and prosperity to each and every citizen of the Indian subcontinent.

While rejecting the Nehruvian governing policies based on Fabian Socialism as completely outdated even when they were adopted for India, William Nanda Bissell applauds Gandhi’s ideas on governance and sustainable growth. William recounts that we downplay Gandhi’s ideas as old-fashioned and dated but Gandhi was the only leader who understood the challenges that India faced at the time of independence. India has not achieved much in the matter of improving the lot of its poor. William pulls out three important principles from Gandhian philosophy which can be adopted in the modern situation. The first principle is that ‘need’, and not ‘greed’, should be the basis of all consumption. If we start consuming at the same rate as the West, the planet will collapse immediately as the natural resources of the earth cannot support this kind of consumerism if huge populations of, say, India and China also join in the fray of mindless consumption. William says: “In the twentyfirst century, the world’s environment is increasingly stressed by the addition of millions of new consumers aspiring to ape the Western levels of consumption”; however we must understand that we can’t simply find our way out of poverty through consumption.

The second Gandhian principle that we can adopt is that of decentralising power by downsizing the centralised institutions and by empowering the local governing bodies.

According to William Nanda Bissel, “This creates a democracy driven by real and constant participation of people and is hence more responsive to their needs.” The third principle is a suggestion that we should not imitate the West mindlessly.

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William builds his model based on these premises by adding on to them his highly analytical and studied acumen in the fields of social sciences, environmental sciences and contemporary Indian as well as world economy and politics. Among other major transformations in the fields of economy, law, government and administration like tax reforms, downsizing of Parliament, waste disposal etc., William introduces two very interesting concepts called Environment per capita Quota (EPCQ) and Targeted Catalyst (TC) to stop environmental degradation and to achieve, what he calls, true markets respectively. A true market is a market which reveals hidden costs and assets and thereby leaves no scope for corruption. TCs are the main tools of exchange in such a market. They create an economy where cash is dematerialised and replaced by a smart card that holds the allocated value which has been earned by a citizen.

William puts strong arguments in favour of decentralisation of the Indian state. He says: “As is the case with most monopolies, over time the Indian Government has become increasingly inefficient. It is both over-centralised and over-extended. It centralises power and patronage, nurturing the privileged political and corporate elite. By extending itself into all realms of public life it has spread its inefficiency far and wide. The Government of India is an amorphous beast sucking up huge resources and achieving little for its citizens.”

In the chapter “Justice for All”, William tells the horrifying mess that our judiciary is wallowing in and how we can actually change and gear our legal system into more transparent, more efficient and more rapid functioning.

The book has a very significant chapter on Sustainable Living towards the end. It outlines in detail how the catastrophic divide between the constant increase in urban population and lack of infrastructural support can be bridged by better planning so that every citizen has access to clean water, fresh air, proper sewage and waste disposal, good housing and quality education.

To sum up in William’s own words, “The challenges we face today are too big, our current models of government and economics too ineffective and our time too short to continue with a piecemeal approach to reform. This book provides an integrated framework covering key areas of society and economy in order to address these challenges now.” What makes this book different from other books on Indian polity and governance is its eye-opening revelation of corroborating corruption in society which will soon lead to civil war. In fact what we witness as separatist violence from various subaltern groups is nothing but a prelude to civil war. The threat is very real and close at hand. The book calls for immediate action on the part of every Indian. It is a must read for all who live in India and love to live here. The next step should be creating a task force that should engage in bringing about the change through the tools suggested by William Bissell in Making India Work.

Alka Tyagi teaches English Literature at Dyal Singh (Evening) College, University of Delhi.

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