The next PM could bring in 25 best global educators to run HRD operations and specialists to head youth-linked organisations. That would help us reap dividends
Dear Modi ji, Rahul ji, Pawar ji, Mamata di, Akhilesh ji, Babu Garu, Rao Garu, Naveen ji, Stalin ji, Thackeray ji, Gowda ji and all the leaders of parties contesting the 2019 general elections: In a few days’ time, India will choose its new government. This means one among you has a chance to become the next Prime Minister of India. For each one of you, including the incumbent Prime Minister, it will be a new beginning to lead the country.
Having served as the director in the Prime Minister’s Office, I have seen how leaders evolve. The moment a leader becomes the Prime Minister, one sheds the political colour and makes “development of the nation” as the priority. When Narendra Modi held his first meeting with senior officers in the PMO, he said, “I want to achieve development like never before. Please suggest the policies I should focus on. You don’t need to bother about what I said during the election campaign, that’s for elections. Now that I am the Prime Minister, I would like to take forward the good policies of previous governments and remove the wrong ones. Your job is to suggest the best policies to take the country forward.” It was audacious of him to say this. Similar was the approach of all past Prime Ministers, from Pandit Nehru to Dr Manmohan Singh.
As one of the participants of this meeting in the PMO, I suggested the importance of focusing on the youth and PM Modi was very interested. However, there was little follow-up to this. Though I have had multiple careers since, my work with the youth has remained constant. It is with this experience that I am putting forward a few policy ideas that could help you become the best Prime Minister. A country’s potential for growth is determined by its policies for its youth. About 75 per cent of India is below 40 years of age, and in the next quarter century, India will have this envious demographic advantage with a majority young population. The business community may project oil, land or data as the greatest resources for growth but none of them can match the invaluable power of the youth. If nurtured properly, the youth can become the greatest game changer for the next government. But don’t forget that having 75 per cent of the population as youth is as much an advantage as it is a danger. If not nurtured and treated well, this segment could also become the greatest threat to India. In Kashmir, marginalised youth turn to terrorism and in other areas, where they are disadvantaged, they turn to anti-social activities. With the advent of mobile, digital and media technologies, the youth are now living in a globalised world. Access to any information or any place in the world is just a click away. It has made them ambitious and they are aware that they could make their dreams into reality. If utilised well, “information” could become the greatest empowering tool because it is key to development in a democracy. If planned and executed well, you could turn this threat into your greatest resource.
The first step to nurture the youth is to provide high-quality education to catapult them into employable and empowered citizens. Unfortunately, budget allocation for education does not match the talk. While the direct tax collection has been increasing consistently, the allocation for education has only decreased dangerously. If this trend continues, the next generation will not forgive you. In 2013-14, when the direct tax collection was over Rs 6 lakh crore, the budget for education was over Rs 63,000 crore, at 6.15 per cent of the budget. And this year, when the direct tax collection has crossed Rs 12 lakh crore, the budget allocation for education has been reduced to 50 per cent at over Rs 90,000 crore, which is just over 3.3 per cent of the budget.
If you are sincere in your intention of developing the people and the country, allocate at least 10 per cent of the budget to the education segment in the first year and increase it by two per cent every year. A part of this may be earmarked for technological intervention. The world of education is changing and it could become inclusive with the use of digital, mobile and internet technologies. Nehru had started adult education but classes for seniors are still using the conventional methods or doing almost nothing. Transform these departments with tech-interventions. Classroom teaching, by the best IIT professors, could be made available to anyone in the world at a very low cost. Harvard, MIT and so on are using these ways to make education inclusive.
The AAP government in Delhi has shown how a good budget could transform education and empower the next generation. By consistently allocating 25 per cent of its budget to education, it has brought visible changes. This has empowered educators, enhanced infrastructure and transformed the students. As the 13th child born to a farmer and brought up in a village, that is not connected by roads even today, I endorse this as it is education and reading that have transformed me from a village boy to a social innovator.
Second, focus should be on skill development. Though Modi is the one who started a Ministry for Skill Development, eventually the PM had to remove even the Minister! The entire allocation meant for skilling the youth and providing them with a job became a bogus affair as the businesses could take money on the pretext of “re-skilling” the already employed. Simply put, the business houses, especially in the manufacturing industries like textiles, could take away the money meant for the unskilled and unemployed youth. And a well-intended dream was again wasted.
The third area that needs focus is equipping youth for innovations and entrepreneurship because it is through these that jobs can be created. For an emerging economy and a developing nation, there should be adequate policies and budget allocation for innovations and entrepreneurship. Rajiv Gandhi started the IT/telecom revolution, which powered India to create the highest number of professionals, industry, education institutions and FDI. The IIMs are the top management institutes in the country and their flagship programmes are on Agriculture Management. But 99 per cent of the students don’t work in agriculture anymore. However, if the next government could allocate substantial funding for agri-startups to tap into these bright MBAs, it could be another game changer for India. What is pulling back the rural economy is lack of innovations in agriculture. Similarly, there should be focus on the manufacturing and the service sector.
Another area to lay emphasis on could be policy initiatives for preventive healthcare. Most of the healthcare spending is on hospitals. By adding a subject in school curriculum on preventive healthcare for 12 years of school education, it could instill a culture of prevention. Like budget allocation for education, the allocation for healthcare has also been reduced to half this year. Among the start-up initiatives, the greatest possibilities for growth are for healthcare and hence the government should start a special scheme to support entrepreneurial initiatives by medical professionals. Engage youth for community service. Projects like ‘Swachh Bharat’ could have easily involved the youth groups like National Service Scheme (NSS), NYKS among others. If these institutions are headed by people with no connection with volunteerism or headed by secretariat service officers, they are bound to fail. The NYKS was started as a department for engagement of the rural non-student youth. It remains headless for almost two years, after the ex-Army officer, who after heading it for two years was asked to leave since he failed to connect with the youth and work with his colleagues cohesively. Youth development cannot be achieved with an ornamental event; they should be engaged consistently. The long-standing programme of the NSS has not been able to attract the youth organically. Since the colleges have a compulsory programme, the students join NSS as it fetches grace marks for participating in an annual event and one campus event. If the next government could do so, not only would the goal of nation-building be achieved, it could also inculcate the culture of service.
The future of governance will be based on a hybrid model, where youth are engaged in policy formulation along with the executive. This will have a greater impact, as they will come up with policy ideas that work for all and are more futuristic. In any case, it is the legislature, the representatives of the people, who will have the final say on this.
Continuing with policies like GST, Aadhaar and strengthening them with legislative reforms was a good step forward. Not only the policies, even the professionals hired for the Digital Multi-media Centre that I had started during my tenure in the PMO are completing another full-term. But the executive may not advise this. The babus ensured that an effective specialist heading NSDC was shown the door. Eventually, when the skills programme started showing negative effect, Modi had to replace the officers and even the Minister. Always remember, nobody in the executive will know the pulse of the people the way the political class would know. Specialist leaders and not generalists are the need of the hour. The way reputed economists are brought in by every PM to run the finance and economic departments, the next PM could bring in 25 best educators from across the world to run the Human Resource Development (HRD), and youth specialists to head youth-linked organisations. They will ensure that set goals are achieved, targets are met and the mission is accomplished. Remember, it is Kurien, Swaminathan and Homi Bhabha who led the white revolution, green revolution and the nuclear revolution respectively.
Kerala sets an example of how education and engagement of their youth could transform a society. It was in 1846, when a Christian priest from my village of Kainakary, Fr Kuriakose Elias Chavara, insisted on “pallikoppam pallikoodam”, meaning “a school with every church.” As he universalised education, there was opposition from the elite as they felt education was their fiefdom. His schools were open for everyone irrespective of caste, creed and economic status. Inspired by his work, every religious/caste group started schools: SD/NSS schools by upper caste Hindus, SNDP by the Ezhavas and the MES by the Muslims. Today, Kerala has an educated, developed and vibrant society. The Keralites are able to find jobs in India and abroad. Most importantly, they remain the symbol of peace and progress.
If you as the next Prime Minister could take a leaf out of his example and initiate a ‘Mandir ke saath Shiksha-Mandir’, you could transform India. No youth aspires to remain unemployed. They want to make progress; economically and socially. Education and engagement are the only route to attain this. With this youth focussed manifesto and policy interventions, I am confident that you will become the best Prime Minister that India has produced.
(The author is a young global leader of the World Economic Forum and founder of many initiatives for the youth. He was director in PMO)