In the movie "The Weatherman", Michael Caine who plays the role of a meteorologist's father once tells his son, played by Nicholas Cage, "Do you know that the harder thing to do, and the right thing to do, are usually the same thing?". Indeed, in life, there is no easy lunch. And the right choice is usually the difficult one.
As with Governance. Our country faces a multitude of problems. In fact, we are uniquely positioned to face both 'sub-Saharan problems' of tropical diseases, poverty and illiteracy as well as 'developed-country' problems of environment and social security. And every problem faced by our country today has at least two solutions, an easy one and a hard one. And usually the hard one is the correct one. For example:
Problem: People in rural areas are dissatisfied because they see that urban areas have some semblance of infrastructure, and they have none.
The right (and therefore difficult) solution: Revamp governance structures to give more responsibility and power to local corporations. Reduce corruption in government works. Curb wasteful spending and spend more money on infrastructure.
The easy solution: Starve urban areas of funding so that the infrastructure levels deteriorate. Raise emotive issues like renaming cities. Keep the urban population 'satisfied' by making regular announcements about infrastructure projects. Pretend to care for the poor while lining your and your followers' pockets.
Problem: Many disadvantaged people in the country don't even have an opportunity to dream the "Indian Dream"
The right solution: Empower individuals by focusing on education, health-care and infrastructure. Improve governance and reduce corruption. Give quotas to select individuals who are financially disadvantaged. Encourage corporates to adopt village schools for improving their infrastructure and standards. Create a meritocracy while not ignoring the truly disadvantaged sections.
The easy solution: Provide caste and community-based reservations, while ignoring the fact that most reservations are grabbed by the privileged amongst the backward communities. Raise the bogey of private-sector reservations. Ignore calls for a meritocracy by dubbing those calls as "imperialist".
Problem: Multinational companies operating in the country are mocking our food safety laws by selling pesticide-ridden soft drinks
The right solution: Strengthen enforcement of food-safety laws. Fine the companies for their negligence. Ensure that no one passes the buck by insisting on quality controls at all levels of distribution.
The easy solution: Create a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the matter. Ignore most of its recommendations. For the rest, pass the buck onto other ministries and statutory bodies.
Problem: Farmers in the country commit suicide because they are not able to repay the debt they incurred in buying fertilizers and pesticides.
The right solution: Change the food procurement policy. Improve storage and transport facilities for food grain. Encourage farmers to grow commercially-viable crops. Provide lines of credit for the farming community. Encourage the spread of organic fertilizers.
The easy solution: Declare publicly your affinity for the farming community. Arrange a photo-shoot with starving farmers, where you proudly announce your farming roots. Rant against MNCs, against the WTO and against the US government for 'commercializing' farming or for ignoring the plight of the farmers in the developing countries. Remember to place all the blame on the governments in power.
Problem: A third of the world's poor live in our country
The right solution: Recognize that there is no way poverty can be eliminated without unleashing the enterpreneurial energies of the people. Empower the 'last man' of Gandhi's vision to realize his dream with improved education, healthcare and infrastructure. Promote private investment, and encourage companies to invest (and create jobs) in remote areas by improving physical and social infrastructure. Act with a vision, and act with speed.
The easy solution: Make announcements about a rebuilding programme without even having to worry about its implementation. Ignore all sane economic advice and initiate impractical job-guarantee schemes. Talk, talk like there is no tomorrow, but never lift a finger in action.
Problem: Energy demand is rising while supply fails to keep up with demand. Also, the country has insufficient hydrocarbon reserves.
The right solution: Implement a fast-track program to exploit alternative energy resources like solar and biomass power. Implement a programme to reduce the dependency of villages on the main grid by supplying them with power from local sources. Provide for research in future fuels, including but not limited to hydrogen, while reducing dependency on imported petroleum by switching to natural oils.
The easy solution: Increase government control on oil PSUs. Make deals with despotic countries to buy petroleum. Make the country dependent on malicious neighbours by signing petroleum pipeline deals with them.
Problem: Environmental concerns are rising with cities facing unprecedented levels of air, water and noise pollution
The right solution: Create water and garbage recycling units while utilizing the natural recycling instincts of the public. Enforce pollution control laws and clean up polluted rivers and lakes. Punish fuel adulterators and vehicles that don't confirm to pollution norms.
The easy solution: Celebrate a "Vanamahotsava" every year. Give speeches in schools and other venues. Ignore pollution control laws and implement court verdicts in word, not spirit.
No prizes for guessing which choice our governments make.