It’s Up To Us Now
The Path to Reclaim India
1 also had the necessary ingredients for overcoming those:
adequate natural resource base, the goodwill of foreign nations
A year ago in May, Indians gave a definitive verdict to the (consequently aid from them for development), large labour
Congress delivering it more seats than any single party had got force, a large number of sufficiently educated citizens to create
in a long time. The hope was that we would finally have a the hard and soft infrastructure, etc.
government that works. The 100-day agenda outlined by the
new government offered promise. But even after 63 years, India is in many senses worse off than it
was in 1947. We have to understand the whys and hows of
That was all a year ago. India’s failure to develop. That’s the unavoidable first step to
putting India on a path to recovery. We cannot fix problems that
What a difference a year makes.
we don’t understand the causes of, or worse yet, if we don’t
even admit that we have problems.
Last Friday night, I opted to watch some of the news channels
instead of India getting clobbered by Australia in the T20 match.
Here are a few questions we have to answer to get an
Headlines Today was playing the Raja-Radia tapes and focusing
understanding of what went wrong and why.
on the umpteenth expose of the spectrum scandal. That Raja
continues to be our telecom minister is a telling tale on the state Why is India still poor?
of affairs of the nation. That Our ‘Honourable’ Prime Minister Why have the numbers of Indians below the poverty
continues to let him continue to be in the cabinet is an even line doubled to more than 500 million since 1947?
sorrier story. But the sorriest part is how we – the educated Why doesn’t India have a decent education system?
Indians – have become immune to corruption and the misdeeds
Why are 70 percent of Indians still stuck in tiny villages
of the politicians. The casualty, as we stumble from one crisis to st
in the 21 century?
another scam, is governance and much-needed development of
Why is 60 percent of the labor force involved in
I will, in this note, discuss my frustrations with what I see Why is India’s industrial base so small?
happening around us. I have my biases – having helped co-found Why doesn’t India generate sufficient electrical
the Friends of BJP last year, and working through this year to power?
revive the movement. For a moment, leave the political Why doesn’t India have a modern rail network?
affiliation aside. Focus on the future of the country and our Why doesn’t India have a serviceable road network?
children. We are watching what is happening. If 10-15 years Why is India so unfriendly to business and
from now, your then grown-up child were to ask you, “You saw entrepreneurship?
what was happening. Why didn’t you do something about it?”
The search for these answers is the start for the path to
What will be your answer? That answer – and the action we take
reclaim India. Our so-called leaders have failed us. It is up to us
(or choose not to take) now – will determine the fate of this
now to change the course of our nation.
Till Jan 2009, I was only peripherally interested in politics, just
When India became politically independent in 1947, it started
like many other educated Indians. I was an entrepreneur first
off with major handicaps such as high poverty, low literacy,
and a citizen of India later. I would read newspapers, watch TV
inadequate infrastructure, and indifferent leadership. But India
[It’s Up To Us Now – Rajesh Jain – May 2010] Page 1
news once in a while, discuss politics and politicians in drawing 5
room conversations, and move on with life. My view of Indian
history was filled with the greatness of Mahatma Gandhi, For the first fifteen years after my return from the US, I was busy
Jawaharlal Nehru, and the rest of them. Names like Swami in my companies. There were times when I considered what a
Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo were only of passing interest. person like me could do to make India great. Somewhere along
the line, I started writing. But that was about it. India needed to
I have had a privileged education – being one of the few to get be transformed and I thought that the answer to everything was
into IIT-Bombay. Then, I went to Columbia University. I had technology.
promised my father that I would do what he did in the 1960s.
After 4 years in the US, I was among the handful to return to In Jan 2009, a quirky set of circumstances led to me to meet a
India in 1992. Working in India for another company was out of senior person from the BJP. I spoke to him about the lack of
the question as the only path I wanted to follow was that of an ‘disruptive thinking’ in the party. Coming just after the tragic
entrepreneur. incident of 26/11 in Mumbai and Obama’s election in the US, I
was frustrated by what I was seeing in the country. Elections
After many failed efforts, I finally made it big with the launch of were near, and there was an opportunity to change India’s
India’s first Internet portals. The hard work paid off when future.
IndiaWorld was bought by Sify in one of the biggest Internet
deals in Asia. I was then all of 32 years. After much thought, I Out of that one accidental meeting arose a group – the Friends
went back to being an entrepreneur trying to create things that of BJP – with the objective of getting Middle India politically
hadn’t been done before. The path since then was been a mix of engaged. Elections were just around the corner. In February-
a few ups and a lot of downs. But the important thing is I chose March of 2009, it appeared that the BJP had an opportunity to
that path. win and perhaps put India on a different track from the
Congress. For the few of us who worked through those months
4 before the elections, travelling across India trying to get more
people engaged to think about the country, it was a mission of
In Jan 2009, as the economy slowed, my company was not doing Change. We were a start-up, heedless of the impossibility of the
that great. I had started the process of making some changes mission.
within the company, but they would take time to play out. I was
not disheartened – the life of an entrepreneur is about long 6
periods of struggles punctuated with some moments of
delightful successes. I wrote these passages during the first half of 2009. They capture
the essence of my thinking. You may not all agree with the
Even though I had a privileged education, my upbringing was as choice of the party I decided to support, but what is inescapable
modest as one could imagine in the India of the 1970s. My early is the need for each of us to get involved and take sides.
days were spent in Chinchpokli in Mumbai in a 100 sq ft room,
shared by my parents, along with my father’s four siblings and Jan 29, 2009: I am one of us. Till some time ago, I assumed that
mother. Travel was in buses with my mother – where every 5 my contribution to the 2009 elections and the future of India
paise saved was valuable. My father worked hard through would be my one vote. But, somewhere along the line, things
multiple ventures as an entrepreneur and tasted success in changed. Maybe it was 26/11 and seeing some of us out on the
some of them. By the time I was 7, we had moved to Nepean streets demanding action. Maybe it was seeing Obama become
Sea Road, and I joined St. Xavier’s High School. President, and see politics really change in America, bottom-up.
Whatever it was, I have woken up to the fact that we have to do
I mention this because we so often forget our past. (As a more - much more - if we are going to rewrite our future and
collective, we have indeed forgotten our national past.) It is only rebuild our India into the glorious country that it once was….We
from the crucible of our experiences that we can mold the are India’s educated civil society. If we cannot act individually
future. I am a product of Middle-class India, of parents who and as a team, then we forfeit the right to complain. Democracy
worked hard to ensure good education for my sister and me, comes with responsibilities and duties. It also comes with a
and then gave us the freedom to chart our own course. Luck generation having to make some sacrifices so the Tomorrow for
obviously plays a role in what we become, but its foundation is our children can be better than our Today…. We have to become
built on Hard Work. the Voice of India. For 60 years, we have been led. And for
[It’s Up To Us Now – Rajesh Jain – May 2010] Page 2
many of those years, led down a wrong path. The time has now I have decided to do something about this. I am ready with an
come for us to Lead. answer when Abhishek asks me that question. The answer is
“Yes, I did the best I could.” I hope you too will be able to give
May 14, 2009: If there is one feeling that I am left with it, it is the same answer. Because if we do, then millions of us can
that India needs more like us to become engaged at different indeed change the future of India to be something more
levels in the political process. It requires a tremendous wholesome and better than what has been the past.
commitment from us to help bring change in India. We cannot
remain disengaged. And we have to engage with one of the 9
national parties to help bring about this change. India deserves
better. And we have a duty to make that future happen. To change the course of India, we have to first inform and
educate ourselves. I have put together a Reading List. These are
7 books I came across in the past year, and they help in different
ways – from learning an accurate – or at the least a less biased—
Then came the Election results on May 16, 2009. I spent the day history of India (the one they never teach us in history books in
with a group from the Friends of BJP at my home. As the results schools) to organising ourselves to understanding how the
were announced on TV, it became clear what had happened. psychology of crowds work to learning about how to make ideas
The BJP had been beaten by a resurgent Congress. It was a harsh sticky and change people’s thinking.
verdict for the BJP.
The first three books provide insights into Indian and American
The next few months were even harsher for BJP sympathisers. history.
As the party leadership imploded, so also disappeared any
semblance of opposition to the Congress. But still there was a A New History of India by Francois Gautier: A very
feeling that the country could now look forward to a progressive different (and more honest) take on India’s history.
government and positive governance for the next five years. From the book’s description: “We see more and more
today that Indian History has to be rewritten according
A year later, that idea lies in shambles. Even though the BJP to the latest linguistic and archaeological discoveries, if
perhaps is in only a marginally better situation than it was a few Indian children are to understand who they are and
months ago, the current state the Congress-led UPA government where they come from. We know now that not only
is something no one could have scripted or predicted. Non- the history of India's beginnings were written by
performing ministers, scandals and scams coming out of every European colonizers, with an intention to downsize,
closet, internal and external security threats rising, central downgrade and postdate Indian civilization, but that
institutions being completely misused – it is a state of affairs unfortunately, generation after generation of Indian
that Indians should find disgusting and repulsive. historians, for their own selfish purposes, endorsed
and perpetuated these wrong theories, such as the
But we don’t. Like ostriches, we in Middle India have buried our
Aryan invasion, which divided India like nothing else,
heads in the sand. We don’t care.
pitting South against North, Aryan against Dravidian,
8 Untouchables against Brahmins. Hence this book,
which we hope will lay the foundations for the next
We in Middle India don’t care. As long as we get the money we generation of Indian historians.”
need, we use that to create insulation around us from the
perpetually planned poverty that lies around. All that ails the India: The Emerging Giant by Arvind Panagariya: This
nation can be made to vanish in the cocoon we have created book traces the economic history of India since
around ourselves. The feeling is, “We have an honest PM, a Independence through the policies of the various
woman President, a sacrificing Mother India, an economy governments. This understanding will help us hold our
starting to grow at 8% again, what more can we ask for?” past leaders accountable for diminishing the Indian
star. From the book’s description: “Why did the early
Our children, thankfully, will not be as callous. They will hold our promise of the Indian economy not materialize and
feet to the fire. And one day, we will have to answer that what led to its eventual turnaround? What policy
question, “You saw what was happening. Did you do something initiatives have been undertaken in the last twenty
about it?” years and how do they relate to the upward shift in
the growth rate? What must be done to push the
[It’s Up To Us Now – Rajesh Jain – May 2010] Page 3
growth rate to double-digit levels? To answer these Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on
crucial questions, Arvind Panagariya offers a brilliant how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the
analysis of India's economy over the last fifty years-- Have-Nots on how to take it away.”
from the promising start in the 1950s, to the near
debacle of the 1970s (when India came to be regarded The Crowd by Gustave le bon: Published nearly a
as a "basket case"), to the phenomenal about face of hundred years ago, the lessons from the book still ring
the last two decades. The author illuminates the ways true. From its description: “One of the greatest and
that government policies have promoted economic most influential books of social psychology ever
growth (or, in the case of Indira Gandhi's policies, written, brilliantly instructive on the general
economic stagnation), and offers insightful discussions characteristics and mental unity of a crowd, its
of such key topics as poverty and inequality, tax sentiments and morality, ideas, reasoning power,
reform, telecommunications (perhaps the single most imagination, opinions and much more. A must-read
important success story), agriculture and volume not only for students of history, sociology, law
transportation, and the government's role in health, and psychology, but for every politician, statesman,
education, and sanitation.” investor, and marketing manager.”
Upstream: The Ascendance of American The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the
Conservatism by Alfred Regnery: This track traces the Theory of Groups by Mancur Olson: This books
rise of the Right in the US through the second half of discusses the theory of groups (which will be central to
th what we will discuss later). From the book’s
the 20 century providing us with learnings on what
we need to do in India. A quote from Paul Johnson description: “This book develops an original theory of
about the book: “The rise of conservatism in the group and organizational behavior that cuts across
United States over the past half-century has been one disciplinary lines and illustrates the theory with
of the most important political developments of the empirical and historical studies of particular
age -- not only for America, but for the world. Much organizations. Applying economic analysis to the
has been written about it, most of it under-researched subjects of the political scientist, sociologist, and
and inaccurate. Alfred S. Regnery has now performed economist, Mr. Olson examines the extent to which
the invaluable task of writing a first-class and fully the individuals that share a common interest find it in
documented history of the movement. He describes its their individual interest to bear the costs of the
political and intellectual origins, its inventors, its organizational effort.”
leaders, its high and low points, and its achievements.
He has a lot to say about the books and journals, the 11
columnists and media commentators who drove it
forward, and not least about the wealthy people and The final three books give us inputs on the “how” – how to make
the foundations that supplied the financial means. In ideas sticky, how to bring about change, and how to leverage
all, this is a valuable addition to our understanding of the power of social networks.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others
10 Die by Chip and Dan Heath: In the coming battle of
ideas, how do we ensure our ideas win? The book’s
The next three books from the past give insights into grassroot SUCCES formula shows us the way. From the book’s
organisation, and understanding how crowds and groups work. description: “Made to Stick is a book that will
transform the way you communicate ideas. It’s a fast-
Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky: This book from the paced tour of success stories (and failures)–the Nobel
1970s is a primer on how to organize at the grassroots Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to
level. Even though the book was written in the US, prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who
many of the ideas are what we can apply in the Indian make use of “the Mother Teresa Effect”; the
context. From the book’s opening paragraph: “What elementary-school teacher whose simulation actually
follows is for those who want to change the world prevented racial prejudice. Provocative, eye-opening,
from what it is to what they believe it should be. The and often surprisingly funny, Made to Stick shows us
[It’s Up To Us Now – Rajesh Jain – May 2010] Page 4
the vital principles of winning ideas–and tells us how In any country, the only segment of the population that can
we can apply these rules to making our own messages bring about radical change is the middle class. The people at the
stick.” top of the heap are too invested in the status quo and too
comfortable where they are to risk upsetting the great deal they
Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard have by trying to change things. They correctly do not want to fix
by Chip and Dan Heath: The second book by the Heath something that they don’t believe is broken.
brothers is about how to bring about change – which is
what we will have to do going ahead. From the review Those at the bottom of the heap, the unwashed huddled
in Publisher’s Weekly: “Change is not inherently masses, are too busy keeping body and soul together. All their
frightening, but our ability to alter our habits can be energies are focused on getting two meals a day.
complicated by the disjunction between our rational
and irrational minds: the self that wants to be That leaves only the middle class.
swimsuit-season ready and the self that acquiesces to
The middle class in India has been historically disinclined to help
another slice of cake anyway. The trick is to find the
bring about change. That’s one of the reasons why it took so
balance between our powerful drives and our reason.
long for India to rid of a few thousand Britishers ruling the
The authors' lessons are backed up by anecdotes that
country. It was not some great revolutionary action that made
deal with such things as new methods used to reform
the British to leave. They left because they had finished with
abusive parents, the revitalization of a dying South
looting the country and it was time for them to leave. (However,
Dakota town, and the rebranding of megastore Target.
that is not what we were taught in school.)
Through these lively examples, the Heaths speak
energetically and encouragingly on how to modify our 13
behaviors and businesses. This clever discussion is an
entertaining and educational must-read for executives Middle class India can be safely assumed to not be agents of
and for ordinary citizens looking to get out of a rut.” change. But as history has shown repeatedly, change usually
comes from a few. In the words of Margaret Mead, “A small
Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's
Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas the only thing that ever has.“
Christakis and James Fowler: We are connected with
many others in many different ways. If we are going to Middle class India has many more people than the few required
bring about change in the next few years, we will have for change. These are the people who are frustrated with the
to use our social networks to diffuse ideas and drive state of affairs, and are willing to do something about it. They
action. This books gives many examples of how it can genuinely want to see a successful India, an India that they and
be done. From the book’s description: “In their descendants would be proud of.
CONNECTED, the authors explain why emotions are
contagious, how health behaviors spread, why the rich But these few feel disheartened. They feel isolated and alone.
get richer, even how we find and choose our partners. The task appears to be too immense compared to their
Intriguing and entertaining, CONNECTED overturns the numbers. They are forced to accept that the change they want is
notion of the individual and provides a revolutionary beyond their reach. They accept the unpalatable reality much
paradigm-that social networks influence our ideas, like the poor accept poverty because constantly fighting to get
emotions, health, relationships, behavior, politics, and out of poverty and failing is worse.
much more. It will change the way we think about
every aspect of our lives. With a clear direction, the right leadership and a deeper
understanding of the change that is needed, a small group of us
There are many other books. But armed with this starting can indeed change the country’s future.
library, we will have the motivation and the approach to start
working towards bringing about political and policy change in 14
India – by 2014.
Let us first think about the change India needs.
India needs political leadership of the likes of Abraham Lincoln
and Lee Kuan Yew. From that leadership will flow policy changes
[It’s Up To Us Now – Rajesh Jain – May 2010] Page 5
that we need as a country. The hard and soft foundations of a the politicians rich. This is an India that 60 years after the British
nation has to be engineered. The soft foundation encompasses left is still ruled.
national interest, the elimination of corruption, the elimination
of artificially created divisions of castes and communities (which Then, there is the other India. This is an India that our
are today being used as ‘vote banks’), the creation of a truly government and politicians broadly ignore. This is an India that
modern education system, real economic, personal and political doesn’t vote based on promises - because there are none. (In
freedom, efficient markets, and so on. fact, this is an India that barely votes.) This is an India whose
voice is not heard because it doesn’t talk. This is an India that
The hard foundation is about infrastructure that will ensure the can be found in the cities, but is lost because it has no
urbanisation of India: modern high-speed nationwide rail leadership. This is an India that has dreams, but finds obstacles
network, sufficient power generation capacity to meet the put at every step. This is the India we live in. This is Middle India
needs of an industrializing economy, ubiquitous affordable - an India that can be the engine for growth but is denied power,
broadband access, efficient ports and airports, etc. an India that can be the workhorse for the world but is denied
proper education, an India that can be the entrepreneurial
15 capital of the world but is denied connectivity. This is an India
that was born free, but is still held captive by a government that
The hard and soft foundations will not only eliminate poverty
knows no better. This is an India that 60 years after the British
but actually propel India to become a truly important participant
left is still seeking not to be ruled but be led.
in the global scene. To bring that about, India needs foresighted,
intelligent, and dedicated leaders. Every five years, there comes an opportunity for both Indias to
speak up. Meddle India casts its vote based on transactional
This kind political leadership exists in India. Such leaders are
arrangements (free rice, free TV, and now free cash) because
born once in a lifetime. India is fortunate to have a few such
that has been the norm. Middle India either doesn’t cast its vote
leaders. But they are not where they need to be.
or is forced to choose the lesser of the evils at the ballot box,
knowing fully well that it is an exercise in futility.
Just to be clear: this leadership is not about photo-ops, but
about getting things done. It is about working against the odds
…Middle India can make a difference. We are 400 million of us.
and delivering results. India has had many such leaders – but
We may not have one voice, but we have a common dream - of
somehow they have been lost in the maze of cut-throat politics.
an India with more economic freedom, of an India with more
personal freedom, of an India where education matters, of an
That is what Middle India’s change agents need to change. We
India where good governance is the norm rather than the
need to ensure that these leaders can get to the top. We need
exception. This time, our continued silence will not help us. We
to give them an environment for them to succeed. This is where
need to come together and make a choice that takes us forward
the passionate few need to come together.
and makes our dreams come true.
Here is what I wrote on March 9, 2009 in a post entitled “Middle
India has 543 Lok Sabha (Member of Parliament, or MP)
India needs to come Together”:
constituencies. Out of them, about 150 can be considered as
Politicians and therefore the governments they form divide India urban (with about 50% or more urbanisation). Each constituency
into two distinct fragments. On one of them, governments and has about 1 million voters. In the general elections, the average
politicians lavish an amazing amount of attention, with the victory margin is about 70,000. Only about 50-60% of eligible
interest rising as the elections draw nearer. They feed this India voters cast their votes. A significant proportion of middle class
to feed themselves. This is the India they are immersed in Indians don’t bother to vote. They have essentially
because it benefits them. This is an India they interfere with disenfranchised themselves.
because it gives them their power. This is the India whose value
To bring about change, one has to work within the boundaries of
lies in the votes that it offers. This is Meddle India - an India that
the political system. We have two national parties. It is well near
the people in power love to meddle with, an India that cannot
impossible to create a new national party in the country in
survive on its own, an India that is constantly on dole from one
anything less than 25-30 years. And our deadline for change is
government scheme or another. This is an India that even after
60 years of our own government is kept poor because it keeps
[It’s Up To Us Now – Rajesh Jain – May 2010] Page 6
four years from now – 2014, in the next Lok Sabha elections. to vote. Second, each member agrees to vote for the candidate
Because we do not have more time to lose. selected by the group in that constituency – a candidate who
stands for the ‘pretty good principles’ as outlined previously.
Imagine, if we can get 100+ ‘good’ people elected into Finally, each member agrees to be counted.
Parliament in the next elections. These candidates would have
to be from one of the two national political parties. Assuming Now look at the scenario. There will be in every constituency a
that party can win another 100 seats in rural India, it would have Middle India group consisting of 1-2 lakh voters, all agreeing to
200+ seats in the Lok Sabha – and we in Middle India would have vote for the candidate from one of the two national parties who
influence on half of them. is committed to upholding the “pretty good principles.” Given
that each of the parties has an existing support base and most of
For this to happen, Middle India needs to vote. It not only has to this Middle India haven’t been bothering to vote in the past, this
vote but it has to vote for good candidates. And most important 1-2 lakh voting population is the swing vote that can transform
of all, it has to vote as a block and become a “vote bank.” the election in an irreversible way.
18 No longer will people be able to say that their vote does not
First, Middle India needs to agree on a set of principles that it
believes in and which lie at the foundation of good governance. 20
Think of these as “Pretty Good Principles.” (Thanks to my
colleague, Atanu Dey, for this phrase.) What I have outlined may seem quite simplistic. But it is a start,
and there is much more to it. What I wanted to do is get us start
So, what can these “Pretty Good Principles” be? Here is a thinking about change. And that change is not about a
starting recommendation. generational shift from one member of a dynasty to another. It
is about doing away with dynasties altogether since India’s
Equality and non-discrimination: All citizens have equal
troubles can be traced back to policies set by members of the
rights and the government must treat all citizens
dynasty. And those who have got us into the mess are not the
ones who can get us out of it.
Minimal government: Government must be restricted
to matters related to judiciary, central monetary What we need to start doing is to stand up and be counted.
authority, law and order, external affairs, and defence. Stand up and say, Yes, I am willing to do by bit to help change
Market economy: Government must not be in any India’s political and policy climate by 2014. And then, look
business producing goods or services which the private around. You will be amazed by how many people you will see
sector can produce. standing. Today, we sit and think – and so do many others. And
The Funding of Public Goods: Where justified, public so, we don’t see anyone else.
goods may be subsidized through public funding. This
includes some public utilities, education up to the high Middle India is waiting for real leadership. We can either
school level, and some science and technology related continue on the dismal path that India’s past leaders have set
R&D. India upon, or we can create a different path that leads India to
An efficient and incorruptible justice system its true destiny. It will not be an easy path – it is a road that will
have many twists and turn, and obstacles at every turn. We have
19 do take this new path if for nothing else but to be able to look
our children in the eye and say, “Yes, my dear, we did what we
Second, Middle India needs to create a base in every had to do and we did it well.”
constituency that does three things. First, each member agrees
[It’s Up To Us Now – Rajesh Jain – May 2010] Page 7