I recently met up with some old school friends and our post-dinner conversation brought back many high school memories. One particular memory stood out. The year was 1986 and we were in Class 10. Our class teacher who knew how to bring her subject to life asked us to write an essay titled, "If I Were Prime Minister."
The topic caught our imagination like nothing had in a while and gave us our moment to play PM. We wrote our essays and then read them out to the rest of the class. Much discussion and lively debate followed our presentations and to this day, I clearly remember how, for a few days that week, a class of high school students actually managed to look beyond our immediate adolescent concerns and became part of the larger Indian polity. Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India at the time and our own short-lived prime ministerial ambitions ranged from turning the Non-Aligned movement into a NATO-like alliance to bringing Coca Cola back into India. It was a lot of fun! But it also gave us the opportunity to think seriously about the country.
Back to the present.
Our reunion dinner conversation shifted to other topics, but I couldn't get that essay out of my head. I found myself wondering ... thirty-three years and twelve Prime Ministers later, how would I rewrite that essay? I found a paper napkin and started jotting down thoughts. I soon ran out of napkin and had to ask the waiter for a sheet of paper.
What would I do if I were the Prime Minister of India? Here's my list:
- Invite my mother to come and live with me.
- Open up my nice, spacious garden every morning to people from all over the country in order to meet them and understand their problems firsthand.
- Give most of 7 Race Course Road space to children with special needs and let them study there all day. (Why not? What an example of inclusivity that would set at the highest levels of government!)
- Ask politicians living in palatial government accommodations in Lutyen's Delhi to kindly vacate the premises and convert those mansions into centers of learning and culture. (Woohoo!!)
- Travel economy class.
- Spend much more time traveling around India and interact with as many people as I possibly could.
- Impose a hefty wealth tax on the ultra rich and slash taxes drastically for the middle class.
- Drive around in a Maruti or a Mahindra, thus encouraging the use of goods made in India.
- Take fewer selfies.
- Give forest land back to tribals.
- Resist the ordinance route.
- Hire those with unimpeachable integrity to be part of my cabinet. (Tall order, but not impossible.)
- Help Pakistan boost their economy. Encourage trade, educational exchange programmes, and dialogue at all levels of society with our neighbors.
- Apologize to Nepal and help them build roads, bridges, hospitals, and schools.
- Allocate much more money in the Union Budget towards education, nutrition, and basic health services.
- Make the care, education and nutrition of children my highest priority. (There are over 400 million children in India who desperately need a better quality of life. We won't have a future if we don't look after them.)
- Set up a great number of decent homes for the elderly around India, manned and staffed by trained, caring and well-paid personnel.
- Speak out against eruptions of communal violence immediately and strongly.
- Regularly and unequivocally reaffirm the secular nature of the Indian state!
- And most certainly initiate and sustain a Swachh Bharat campaign.
Yes, I realize the complexities of political power. I understand how things work in the real world. I am aware of the murk and mire of politics. (I am nearing fifty and I don't live under a rock.)
And yes, I also realize that my list sounds like an idealistic, unrealistic teenager's high school essay. But here's my question to you...
Is it, really?
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