By Shantanu Nandan Sharma
Profession: Retired IAS officer
Place: Delhi & Kochi
My Idea for India: Necessary to have a mechanism that brings government and citizens closer
In the summer of 2010, M Ramachandran was unhappy with the way he had to retire from the Indian Administrative Service after serving the nation for 38 long years. Being the senior-most officer of the day, he was seen as the obvious choice to be the next cabinet secretary — the apex slot for any career bureaucrat. But the government chose to extend the incumbent’s tenure, aborting Ramachandran’s career.
“Yes, I was upset then. But I moved on. I have written nine books since then,” says Ramachandran, who was born in Kochi in 1950, the year India proclaimed itself a republic. “Every nation has its highs and lows too. But it moves on. I would like to see India emerging as one of the top three economic powerhouses in the world during my lifetime.”
He adds that India must fulfil two of its key promises — a house for all by 2022 when the nation will turn 75, and piped water connectivity to every household by 2025, when India will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution. Ramachandran says that one of the biggest gifts the Constitution has bestowed upon Indians is a provision for an all-India services that helps the nation bind itself better.
He reminisces how he began his IAS career in 1973 in Uttar Pradesh’s Hardoi, a Hindispeaking small town far away both from his hometown and from his cultural and linguistic comfort zone. By 1975, when he took salute in the Republic Day parade in Uttarkashi as an additional district magistrate, he had already mastered Hindi and got himself acquainted with north India’s sociocultural ethos. “All-India services are always a challenge. But I feel younger civil servants must rise to those challenges and never become victims of circumstances,” he adds.
By Shantanu Nandan Sharma
Nomal Chandra Borah
My Idea for India: Everyone should have access to affordable healthcare
Becoming a medical entrepreneur in Guwahati was no mean feat back in 1984. But Nomal Chandra Borah bit the bullet, quit his permanent job and applied for a bank loan to start a small hospital. He was armed with a neurology science degree from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, and a dream to do something on his own. Today, Borah’s Guwahati Neurological Research Centre is a premium private hospital in the Northeast. It employs 300 doctors and 600 nurses.
Born to a family of marginal farmers in north Assam in 1950, the year the Constitution came into effect, Borah has journeyed alongside the nation’s march for survival and excellence. He is candid as he articulates his views on India today. “With India at 70, my real concern is the way our public institutions are degenerating. This needs immediate attention to regain common people’s trust,” Borah says, asserting that the mixing of political ambitions with religious polarisation is not what the founders of the nation had anticipated while writing the Constitution.
Another national menace, Borah says, is bribery. “Political parties come and go, but corruption remains in the system. It is sad that we have failed to eradicate bribery from public life.” Despite the challenges, Borah is hopeful of a bright future for the nation. He would like India to strive for affordable healthcare, arguing that good hospitals are now beyond the reach of common citizens. With an army of volunteers, Borah is on a mission mode to sensitise people on preventive healthcare. He says healthcare costs could be brought down to a fourth if the government and the medical fraternity join hands. “I, however, pin my hope on India’s younger lot who are better judges and faster decision-makers,” he adds.
By Shephali Bhatt
My Idea for India: A nation free of corruption
Like most Indian homemakers, Swati Bose thinks being a housewife is nothing to write home about. “You would laugh if I told you I got my bachelor’s degree in physics honours,” says the New Delhi-born and Kolkata-bred Mumbaikar, who is now as old as the Constitution of India. It took a woman from the next generation, her daughter-in-law, to empower her. “She tells me you taught your son, made him capable enough so he could pursue a job in the US,” says Bose. She then allows herself to feel good about the fact that her son never required a private tutor. When Bose was studying in a college in Kolkata, Naxalism was rampant, she recalls. “I stayed away from politics then.” But as the nation evolved and aged, so did her politics. Now, she likes to keep herself abreast with what is happening on the political front in India as well as Maharashtra.
She notices how things have changed since her college days. “Back then, we listened to the political leaders of our time. Now, we are questioning their words. We are comparing our nation’s growth with that of China. People are becoming more aware,” she says. Bose, too, has begun to question. “I’ve been a Modi fan but a lot of things are coming up now that one doesn’t like too much.” She questions why the country has become more threatening for women nowadays. “We felt safer while going to school and college.” She questions why corruption is still so rife that she needs to pay a bribe for everything from getting her driving licence to processing the papers while selling an apartment.
She questions because she loves her country. Decades ago, her brother moved to New York and her son relocated to Los Angeles. “My husband and I tell them we are never leaving India because in spite of everything, we love the culture here. We won’t find it anywhere else.” Bose dreams of a corruption-free nation, a nation that will bridge the gap between the rich and the poor instead of widening it. She hopes her dreams may still come true in her lifetime.
By Indulekha Aravind
Profession: Founding director, International Centre for Theoretical Sciences
My Idea for India: Invest in education as a national mission
Freedom to pursue what he wanted was always a priority for Spenta Wadia, the founding director of the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences (ICTS) in Bengaluru. It was a resolve built by watching his father give his lifetime to a company yet get poor returns, in the Bombay of the 1950s and ’60s. “I felt that I should not be working this way — and if you do science at a certain level, you can be truly independent,” says Wadia, a physicist who has won global acclaim for his work, particularly in String Theory. If a BSc in St Xaviers instilled a love for learning and a master’s from IITKanpur brought about greater awareness about India, it was his time in the US doing his PhD and post-doctoral work that Wadia considers transformative. “I grew up mentally, emotionally, culturally and intellectually. There began a certain calling to fight for justice and to reduce the deep inequalities in society.”
He was always certain about returning to India and when he did, he found the freedom he was yearning for at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research — where he spent over three decades — and later at the inter-disciplinary ICTS, which he helped set up in 2007. The decision to live a life of science, he says, is also a form of service as he has been able to impact research, train students and spread the word of science.
Looking back at the last 70 years, Wadia says India still has a long way to go in almost every respect. “We need to work hard to eliminate poverty, we need to provide basic amenities to our people and we need to really invest in education and research at all levels.” The scientist points to China: “China invested in education right after the revolution in 1960. It is not an accident that they are an economic superpower today.”
By Prerna Katiyar
Profession: Singing & dancing at auspicious occasions
My Idea for India: A nation that accepts third gender as equals
Do you feel CAA [Citizenship (Amendment) Act] was necessary?” asks Nisha even before this reporter could take a seat in her small home in Shahdara in Delhi. The visitor’s section in the oneroom residence is furnished with a mattress that doubles up as sofa for guests. A TV in one corner shows a debate on the CAA on a news channel. Nisha and her “disciples” Raveena, Naira, Naina and Juhi watched it earnestly.
“The sun, the moon, the wind and other elements of nature are considered akin to god. Do they discriminate between the courtyards of a Hindu and a Muslim, a man and a eunuch? Then why do we?” asks Nisha, who hails from West Bengal. “I don’t even remember whether I belong to a Hindu or a Muslim family? But we broadly know who is from Kashmir, Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh or Uttarakhand,” she says referring to the people around her. “This is our family. Only humanity binds us. Is it very difficult for everyone in India to follow that?” Taking a break from throwing up questions, Nisha recalls that the Indira Gandhi era was the best phase of the seven decades of her. There was “less loot-maar, communalism or crime back then”.
“Yes, we have today been recognised as a third gender. The Constitution says there should be no discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex etc. But we are scoffed at, jeered, called hinjra-chhakka and looked at as objects of part-hatred, part-lust ridicule.” She says the situation has to change and so that people like her can even stand up. Most channels keep talking about Pakistan. But everything okay in Hindustan? All we want is a nation that stands tall in the eyes of the world. And for that, the values of the Constitution should be practised and not just preached,” she adds.
By Indulekha Aravind
Profession: Chairperson, Infosys Foundation
My Idea for India: Rural areas should be better connected, villages should have better health and education facilities
Infosys Foundation Chairperson Sudha Murty recalls growing up in an India of paucity. “I remember my father booking a car and waiting for 17 years to get it. And it was so much trouble to get a landline telephone connection,” says Murty, who holds a 0.8% stake in Infosys, the software services giant cofounded by her husband, NR Narayana Murthy.
A job in the government or the public sector was the most sought after career option then. For women, options were mostly limited to teaching, medicine or joining a bank. But Murty chose to do engineering and went on to become the first woman engineer to join TELCO (now Tata Motors). She was hired after she sent an impassioned missive to JRD Tata asking why the company advertised only for male employees. “Growing up, I dreamt of being economically independent because I always believed women should be so,” she says. At TELCO, she was earning about two-and-a-half times what her father was at the time of his retirement. “He used to be amazed that I was getting so much money at such a young age.” Despite the shortages, she says it was also an idyllic time when competition was not so fierce, life was more peaceful and there was less pollution.
In the past 70 years, she says, India has made great strides in reducing poverty, improving gender equality and producing a generation that is much more confident than its predecessors. “I feel life has become much better,” says Murty, who has written several books in English and Kannada. In the days ahead, she would like to see rural India better connected to cities and is hopeful that villages get better healthcare and education facilities.
By Prerna Katiyar
My Idea for India: Preserve India’s multicultural ethos
ahitya Akademi Award winner Gyanendrapati still remembers the student march of 1974 against the “oppressive regime of Indira Gandhi”, which culminated into the declaration of Emergency. As a student of English honours at Patna University, he took part in the agitation by penning poems on those dark days. “There were protests, attacks, lathicharges,” he recalls.
The student unrest was what transformed into the movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan that called for “Sampoorna Kranti” and shook the conscience of the ruling dispensation back then. “Emergency was thrust upon us. Those black days left an indelible impression on the kavi-chetna (conscience of a poet) as it did on Indian democracy.
There is a need to empower all those forces that can keep democracy alive. “It is a reminder for any pluralistic society like India to keep those voices alive.” India has come a long way in these 70 years, Gyanendrapati says, but not enough is being done to respect and maintain the social fabric of the country. “If democractic values are getting destroyed, forces that oppose this should be kept alive.”
The absence of a strong opposition is one of the biggest problem in India now. “We badly need a strong alternative political leadership. India has always been a multicultural nation and it must always be. A onedimensional rashtra will only enfeeble our social fabric.
No singular ideology should be thrust upon the entire nation,” he adds before reciting a quartet he has penned: “Kavi karm hee na karo, kavi-dharm bhi nibhao Satta ko sir na teko, jhoothe gun na gaon jan ko joh, mann ko toh, hiya bharo hiyao Gurbatt mein garv mile, kuchh pao na pao.”
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