Times of India

Status Anxiety

The only discordant note in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's otherwise triumphant trip to the United States was his pleading for a permanent seat in the Security Council. I have never been comfortable with this unseemly campaign. Hankering after superpower status is a sign of our status anxiety and lack of self-confidence. Besides, a seat should never be a national goal. It is like a medal in a race; the goal is to win the race; the medal is only a by-product. So, let us focus on genuine achievements like building a prosperous and compassionate society.

When masks fell off

The sad story of how our callous regulators lost us a world-class university, which I narrated two Sundays ago, has resulted in new discoveries. One of the happier ones is a metamorphosis in the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE). Not only have corrupt officials gone, but it is committed to regulate non-intrusively via the power of information. Last month it posted its initial findings on its website, and all hell broke loose as the masks of important men fell off. Students could now cheerfully begin to distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly.

Let minds fly

It is with anguish that I sit down to write this column. Two years ago I met a distinguished friend in Delhi, who is the president of a prestigious American university that has produced several Nobel laureates. He loves India and he told me with some pride that India is increasingly perceived as a future knowledge capital of the world. He thought he would contribute to this future by setting up a branch campus here so that Indians could acquire his university's degree at a fourth of the cost in America. I was delighted.

A flat world?

“When I was growing up, my parents told me, 'Finish your dinner. People in China and India are starving. I now tell my daughters, 'Finish your homework. People in India and China are starving for your job.'” Tom Friedman, the influential columnist of the New York Times recounts this in his new book, The World is Flat: a Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. He argues that technology and market reforms are fast flattening the playing field in the global economy, where India and China have emerged as early winners.

It's in the attitude, my dear

Good news comes quietly, and it did two weeks ago on a typical May evening as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a new system to evaluate the IAS officer. Our real failures, I have always believed, are managerial and not political. Laloo may grab the headlines but good governance lies in the ubiquitous daily interface between the lowest babu and the public.

Pursuit of happiness

We would be pretty sceptical if Laloo Prasad happened to promise us happiness. Most of us sensibly believe that human unhappiness is a private matter, and is the result of things like unhappy marriages, ungrateful children, losing a promotion, or even the lack of faith. We know too well what would happen if our government got into the act: Chidambaram would tax ungrateful children, Sonia Gandhi would ban divorces, Manmohan Singh would create a promotions commission, Arjun Singh would detoxify faith, making atheism illegal.


We have had an unusually long spring this year. It is over now, and so is the frenzy of board exams. It is not surprising that thoughts of the young have turned to romance. But not for long for one has to think of a career and making a life. Millions of young Indians as they leave school and head for college, ask: should I study science, arts or commerce?

India has law, China has order

The Chinese premier's visit to India is a good thing because it takes our minds off Pakistan. We really have to learn to ignore Pakistan and heed China. Pakistan pulls us down into an abyss of religious fundamentalism, terrorism, and identity politics. China will lift us up, firing our ambition for better roads, schools and health centres.

Now, Turn to Governance

The Budget has come and gone, and it is time now to turn to governance. It was a good Budget, overall–it should continue our growth momentum. It lowered tariffs, reduced corporate tax rate, raised infrastructure spending via public-private partnerships, and simplified personal income tax.

Making India One

There is really one paramount issue that concerns us all, and we should remember it tomorrow when the Finance Minister gets up to announce the nation's Budget. Fifty-seven years after Independence India is sadly not a common market where goods and services move smoothly. If Bollywood, cricket and Hinglish unite us, our irrational system of indirect taxes divides us.