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THE SOCIAL-economy multiplier effect of improved literacy levels has not at all been understood by India’s planners. Bapu’s words “Teach us how to fish so we may feed ourselves” have a resonance today, more than ever. Sadly, India’s rulers have hardly bestirred themselves to understand or implement a self-perpetuating vision for India.
For failing to make every Indian comprehensively literate 63 years on, I have no reservation in holding both India’s bureaucracy and political leadership guilty of willful ignorance and willful subversion. With universal literacy, we would have been living in a century with India written all over it. Time waits for India, but it will not wait indefinitely: we must urgently bring universal literacy front and centre above all else before the union is blown into smithereens. With 74.04 per cent as its mean literacy rate, education should have imaginably been India’s core political focus.India would happily accept a gift of politics that talked of literacy as its singular mission. And yet politics in India has never milked educational equality for votes. Tragically, our politics promises this, that and the other to people but not universal education. Now unless there is a conspiracy to keep India poor, hopeless and out of schools, India’s resolve to make itself 100 per cent literate must turn into India’s singular focus. With literacy and education dealt out with an even hand, everything else will work itself out automatically. Politician must outbid each other to sell universal education for votes: that is when India will win. Strangely and sadly, saksharta (the sarkari Hindi word for literacy) continues to be a non-priority issue for Indian politics. Because it does not carry with it any upfront political or money power — at least that is how our intellectually impoverished politicians think.Anyway, that is the politician’s problem. Once the public discourse aggressively takes up universal education, the voter population will not care to elect a party without a literacy strategy. Our politicians are known to risk entire careers over brick-and-mortar ministries like home, mining, power and petroleum gleefully. Any politician with the sense not to participate in this dogfight should step up to herald the cause of universal education. Do this and you can have it all. All ‘A’ category politicians and bureaucrats will henceforth be differentiated on their commitment to universal literacy. Although way overdue, the universal literacy dialogue will start very soon.There is phenomenal attention appeal in this. For a public servant, there can be no easier way to embed in the hearts and minds of people. A smart public servant must eat, sleep, drink and deliver on literacy and he will forever be gifted political power. By dis-recognising the socio-economic power of universal education, India’s political class has made its own jobs extremely difficult. Rath yatras for universal education, for example, would have won those who undertake them favour across the socio-economic and religious divides a very long time ago. The weapon of universal education is both powerful and secular. India could have used this powerful weapon and we would all be sitting in a wildly more civilised country. Anyway, what’s done is done. However, for any future politicians wanting to capture people’s imagination instantly, there can be no issue more universally appealing than the issue of universal education. Promise livelihoods, roads and industry but you can’t deliver them without first empowering people through literacy. People know this and so should the politician. Arm people with education and all the rest will fall into place miraculously. At a deeper level, it’s about time for India’s politics to stop being used as a commission- gathering enterprise.In another five years, it would be impossible to be a traditional politician and still be outside jail. Any politicians who nurse ambitions of creating undefeatable political empires must realise that 2012 is not the time or place for such romance. Syria’s Assad will soon realise who the world has changed. People power is getting awfully good at rooting out enemies of humanity. THE MESSAGE to India’s rulers is that they can’t escape by providing so alarmingly little in reply to the public service jobs they have fought so hard to undertake.They have absolutely no option except embracing programs that accomplish sustainable individual opulence for all. India’s politicians must make India’s two crore government employees put in back-to-back honest developmental workdays. We may have run India in a certain way until now but that time is past. India’s administrative system is in need of a reboot. Mahatma Gandhi and our founding fathers worked hard to create an egalitarian India.They liberated India from her social ills and gifted us a nation. Our erring modern day-politicians must appreciate that these pioneers had exceedingly more genius than any politicians have possessed ever since. And yet they did not fall for the allure of creating their personal empires where free India now stands. Their social liberation strategy took the chicken-and-egg confusion out of human development.They knew that for India to be free, Indians need to be personally free first. Seventy years on, universal literacy posses the single largest threat to any aspirations India has for healthy nation development. For India to develop healthily, Indians must individually experience educational awakening. A situation worth creating will itself create a win-win situation. Universal literacy is a strategic imperative that India must first conquer. The poorest among us understand the merits of education. The poorest among us do not understand caste: the only thing they know is that they must work like mules to make the evenings dinner. They are alleged to have been hijacked with divisive politics. The truth is that these hopefuls have been misled by aberrations with political forces that are one worse than the other. Universal literacy talks directly to every Indian’s personal need of ambition. This is our personal focus. Poor or rich, an Indian needs to be able to survive. To survive in India’s future politically, make sure you are able to. There are no free lunches in India.
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