It was the other day when I got introduced to him through a common friend at our club. Ranga was playing Bridge with his friends. “Sir, I particularly never miss your writings,” I said initiating a conversation. “Yeah,” he said and added, “I am unable to write these days as age is catching with me. Further, the electronic media and its ability to disseminate news are phenomenal. The chat shows are the in thing – not the morose writings in morning papers by an old man. In view of the fact that this was Budget time I shifted track and asked directly “Sir, if you were the Finance Minister today how would you approach the budget. Which are the sectors where you would rise the FDI limits?” “Mr. Narada,” he began excitedly “I would not be approaching the reforms in driblets nor is raising FDI cap important. Rather, it would be a one shot approach to improving governance – the root of all our malaise.”
When pressed further he explained as to how for instance “Nokia assembles cell phones. The smallest of their factories assembles 10 million pieces and the largest ones 40 million pieces. And each piece requires a minimum of 400 parts, some as small as a speck of dust. Thus in effect the smallest factory could require 4 billion parts. Given this scenario it is important that these factories can work only under just in time concept. And for that to work we require infrastructure comparable with the best. We cannot let our infrastructure to be held to ransom by vested interests. For that, governance is crucial. And till we improve our governance, no amount of raising FDI cap is going to excite anybody.” I was impressed with his marshalling of facts. Yet I pursued the matter “Sir, but how do we surmount these issues in a democracy. Especially when the ascendancy of the Left is on the rise.” “Simple Narada,” quipped Ranga and added “Government has to liquidate itself. In these modern era there is no place for Steel, I&B, Textiles, coal, communications, culture and other such ministries. And that includes even the Planning Commission. These organisations are all parking lots. We must be the only country in the world where we have the traffic constable and traffic lights – often both working at cross-purposes. Reduction in Government would not only reduce expenditure but more importantly would reduce governmental interference. Note the phenomenal success of the Hindi film Rang De Basanti is due to the average Indian’s cynicism with the system” The bluntness of the language took me by surprise. “Are you suggesting…” before I could proceed any further, Ranga took over and declared “Narada we are messing our priorities. The issue is not the privatisation of airports, but the privatisation of the AAI itself and closure of the civil aviation ministry. The days of policies evolved through consensus is over, what we require a conviction based approach. Bad ideas flourish because of vested interests.” “But despite such a muddled approach aren’t we growing at a healthy rate,” I tried to rationalise. “On the contrary, Narada, don’t rationalise our inability to govern, we need to dismantle the monster called government and that is true reforms to me,” Ranga concluded. Was Ranga prescribing a dangerous medicine? Are we ready for a minimalist government? Would a leaner Government propel India to a higher growth rate? The moot point is will PC agree to this economic fundamental so bluntly put forth by Ranga and frame this year’s Budget accordingly.