February 22, 2005

Five years to greatness

I've waited five years for this. Well, not quite: the five years are actually up only at the end of this week; but given that I'm off travelling in a few hours and I'm not sure where I'll be on the precise anniversary, this goes on air now.

The scene: Lucknow. The date: February 26, 2000. The person concerned: a then Prime Minister, name of Atal Behari Vajpayee. He gave a speech there, to the "State Convention of the Secondary Teachers Association." And when I found a report about this in the next day's paper, I cut it out, telling myself I had to keep it five years and refer to it again then.

Meaning now.

The report is titled "Defence budget needs to be increased: Vajpayee", and it is from The Hindu, February 27 2000. According to it, Vajpayee said that "despite constraints, allocations for the defence of the country had to be adequately increased. The way people, including children, donated money in the wake of Kargil conflict, showed that the nation was willing to bear the additional burden."

So far, so good.

Then he reacted to Amartya Sen's "observation that primary education was a prerequisite for economic development." Yes, and how did he react? By saying that "the lack of education could be attributed to discernible underdevelopment in many parts of the country."

Teasing out the logic in that, I shall leave as an exercise to you. Five years, and I haven't managed it.

Vajpayee went on. "He said presently he was not in a position to announce compulsory primary education in view of the stiff resource constraints." You see? Defence spending must be increased "despite constraints", but primary education must be left by the wayside "in view of the stiff resource constraints." Those troublesome constraints!

Besides, regarding compulsory primary education, Vajpayee offered this: "It was easier ... when the country had attained Independence."

Teasing out the logic in that ... yes, you go do it.

But Vajpayee did show that he is nothing if not an optimist. "He expressed hope that within a period of five years, [compulsory primary education] would become a reality."

Now you know why I kept that clipping these five long years. So now, five years later, four of which saw the same Mr Vajpayee running this country, may we assume that compulsory primary education has in fact "become a reality" in this country?

Funny funny. But gorge yourself on then-Prime Minister Vajpayee's final pronouncement from the podium at the convention. He "urged NRIs, particularly those in the US, to explain to the Senators about the greatness of our country, its heritage and democratic traditions."

Of course. If we can't have primary education, give us greatness.

23 comments:

Abhi said...

By saying that "the lack of education could be attributed to discernible underdevelopment in many parts of the country." That does make sense. I think it was Chidambaram who quoted some research which pointed out how lack of drinking water was main reason for female illiteracy. Girls/Women have to travel for hours just to fetch two pots of water. When do they get the time for education?
Thus if the region is low on development, surely, you would have more illiteracy. (Or are you mocking the obviouness of it?)
Of course, with the rest of Mr. Vajpayee's statements, I am with you.

Vasanth said...

Dilip - I am sure that you must be having paper cuttings of same kind of speeches by almost all the leaders who ruled this country for more than 50 years.

So what’s big deal about this one? I have anyways written off our politicians long time back. They promise a lot but will not deliver (to be fair, I should say, deliver less), that’s known to even a unborn child.

There is a fundamental flaw in the Indian political system. Just sit back and think of it; why should a politician serve you first of all. Just because you voted for him? What is that he gets serving you (in the sense, legally)? Peanuts actually!! So where is the incentive for him to serve? Do they get bonuses for the wonderful work(!!) they have done to the society (again legally)? Nothing at all. We talk about corruption this that in politics, but come to think of it, it obviously will be there… If not for the illegal sums he gets where will he get his livelihood from? I am not absolving the politicians by any means, but we always fail to understand the root cause like for that matter the demolition of the slums you are vigorously against.

Some time back for one of my comments in your blog you have said that “it's no use simply reviling politics and politicians….. The middle-class, people like you and me who loathe our politicians, will have to get involved in politics, and electoral politics”. Why would I accept that offer? What is that I get out of it? People may say politics isn’t commercial activity for you to derive benefits from it but its a service to the community, bull shit!!

In this world there is always a price to be paid for anything and everything… Why is that we fail to understand that when comes to politics and politicians??

Vasanth said...

BTW Dilip sorry for that long one!!

sudeep said...

ahh... this is vintage dsouza stuff. The vitriol, 'such as you might have', literally oozes out from every sentence and word :-D I wonder why I found you so restrained in your blogs about the demolitions of certain slums by your Congress Govt. in Mah.

Anyhow, as for the relative amounts spent on defense and education, the outlay for education AFAIK increased tremendously during NDA rule, lets see if your Congress govt can keep up the momentum. Instead we hear rumours that this year the defense budget is set to go beyond 1 trillion Rs. I hope you will be as scathing towards Sonia and Manmohan if this figure is crossed. I mean, if Vajapayee was wrong in allocating 72,000 Crores (and taking back 7-8,000 Crores) to the defense budget, surely Pranabda, Sonia et al are even more wrong in allocatin a trillion Rs to the same budget. no ?

I am keeping a copy of this blog with me, and Ill check what you say after the budget is out :-P

Anirudh Karnick said...

Excellent post.

I'm currently teaching some children in primary school in my free time. This is one of the better schools. Kids aren't beaten, there are quite a few activities, the children have their own BAL-SABHA, where they take their own decisions on the problems facing them. Yet the academic level isn't very high, and as I teach them, I realize that it is extremely important to teach everybody basic skills like English, Hindi, Maths, and then, Music, Art and Sports. Education can't be ignored if we want to progress. Defense be damned!

Anirudh Karnick said...

But I also agree to a certain extent with what Vasanth says.

Dilip D'Souza said...

I should have known: criticise someone and his fans immediately find only one response: why didn't you criticise those other guys? Case in point: Sudeep. Not that I feel any good about being less or more restrained, whatever, but referring to the demolitions, I did write a short piece here suggesting that Deshmukh and his Maharashtra Govt should be prosecuted for being cheats. I even published another version of that in the Express.

But oh yes. That's being restrained.

Vasanth: I see no escape. The middle class will have to get into electoral politics in a greater way than they have so far. Why should you accept that offer (if it is an offer)? Because for any reform to happen, there is no choice.

Actually I don't think I have any other clippings like this one. I see these airy-fairy five and ten year promises so often that I look through them. I don't know why, but I just thought I'd hold on to this one to see if the man would indeed do anything about it, or be like all the rest of his political brethren. (As if I really had any doubt).

I don't loathe our politicians. I recognize that they have their compulsions. As it should be. I look forward to the day when those compulsions will include taking note of things like primary education. For now, all of us let them get away with the focus on defence.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Abhi, that's exactly the point about what Vajpayee said. It's a meaningless thing to say, especially in response to what Sen said. That's Vajpayee for you.

Quizman said...

I'm afraid that though we would like to live in a peaceful world, we do not have a choice. We are burdened with volatile borders (China, Pak, Nepal, SL) causing us to keep our powder dry.

Most of the outlays go into spending on personnel (~75%). R&D accounts for 3.5% only. We spend close to Rs. 100 million a day at the LOC.

In other words, our defense spending is not efficient. We need to upgrade our armed forces with less reliance on personnel and more on technology. [It will also save lives]

During Vajpayee's regime, defense spending actually declined as a % of GDP (from 3.6% to 2.6%) - a combination of the (failed) peace efforts as well as the growth in GDP.

Our budget in other areas need to be trimmed drastically. Our current educational system is in disarray and it needs new solutions. Here, in the US, a vast majority of the population sends their kids to public schools. Would we dare go to municipal schools in India? Throwing more money, into such schools as you recommend, is not the solution.

sudeep said...

I am not a Vajapayee fan :-D but this post was too tempting a target. ;-D

As for Vajapayees speech being meaningless, so is your post that points out something known to all ! Its just a lot of sound, but nothing much besides.

Tell us dilip, what is this post about really ? :-P What new perspective did you want to open our eyes to.. :-/

>> I did write a short piece here suggesting that Deshmukh and his Maharashtra Govt should be prosecuted for being cheats.

Dilip, dont even *try* to pretend that your opinion pieces are objective. Ill split my sides laughing.

>> I see these airy-fairy five and ten year promises so often that I look through them.

Exactly what promise did Vajapayee make in the speech ? If anything, the old man said it was compulsory primary education was impractical due to resource constraints.

>> I don't know why, but I just thought I'd hold on to this one to see if the man would indeed do anything about it, or be like all the rest of his political brethren.

Wasnt it the NDA govt which launched the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan ? something that has been very successful in bringing children to school (if not keeping them there) per world bank reports ?

Tanuj said...

dilip,

i think your criticism is unfair:

did you really interpret ABV's "expressed hope..." statement as a promise to make education a fundamental right? i hope not.

did you really expect any PM in 2000 (after kargil) not to increase defence spending? is it really that inexplicable?

do you really think ABV's incremental defence spend came from education? for that matter, is it defence spend that's keeping half of us illiterate?

should we really be going ballistic over a PM trying to get NRIs to market India?

i have to agree it wasn't the brightest piece of speechwriting, but i found your reaction (including saving the clip for 5 years) to be extreme.

t

Anonymous said...

I dont know whether to laugh or cry at ABV's speech. Really ridiculous stuff. As for Sudeep, maybe Dilip should post a warning that ABV fanboys might find the post offensive because its (gasps) criticizes ABV. Dilip has been covering the demolitions perhaps in more detail than any other blogger out there. But sudeep wants more "objectivity" aka ABV fanboyism. Sudeep, keep laughing until your side splits.

Srinadh said...

Five years ago - that might have been about the time Vajpayee's senility had reached a point of no return. i.e. when the pauses between sentences had just about become longer than the sentences themselves.

And given that, I am not too sure I would react too much to anything he said or did.

sudeep said...

Dilip, no need to post anonymous comments on your own blog.. :-)

Just point out what promises did Vajapayee make in that speech (that he did not keep later on) and if possible try to compare the performance of the NDA govt. with others on the primary education front.

If the only goal of this post was to point out that Vajapayee was a senile old man, and we should all have a laugh at his expense, well, you sure waited a long time to do this, you could have had your laughs five years ago.

Anonymous said...

Sudeep, Call me Hardeep if you dont like calling me Anon. But I am not Dileep. So now if you are harebrained enough to try and defend ABV for this ridiculous speech I guess trying to foist statements on Dileep is not uncharted territory for you. I am not going to get a blogger login for you, so Hardeep it is for now. Now you are asking Dilip what promises did ABV make in the speech. Oh Great !! Go read the text again. Its not about ABV's election promises. Its the misleading crap that he deliberately spouts even though he knows it is false and his obvious disregard for primary education inspite of speaking in support of it. Its not about his senility but his forked tongue and it is no laughing matter. But HEY !!! Dilip hasnt provided an "objective" comparison with the NDA (too bad he covered the slum demolitions DAMN !!!). If he points out that ABV is just another rascal politician he should point out each and everyone before he gets to ABV. Really now - does no one care about "objectivity".

Thank you for the "debate". I like making fun of fools.

Hardeep

sudeep said...

>> Its the misleading crap that he deliberately spouts even though he knows it is false and his obvious disregard for primary education inspite of speaking in support of it.

I thought expanded budgetary allocations for primary education and the support given to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (and its consequent success) would have been more obvious. But hey, Dilip said it, so it must be true :-P

>> But HEY !!! Dilip hasnt provided an "objective" comparison with the NDA (too bad he covered the slum demolitions DAMN !!!). If he points out that ABV is just another rascal politician he should point out each and everyone before he gets to ABV.

So now we get to the real point of the post, it was to show ABV as yet another rascally politician (YARP). But then, the post isnt about education or the lact of it, or the purported imbalance between defence and education anymore, is it ? I give a rats arse about anyones opinions about ABV, but then, to twist facts to suit yourself is a little irritating.

>> Thank you for the "debate". I like making fun of fools.

The jokes on you pal, really :-D

>> trying to foist statements on Dileep is not uncharted territory for you.

and btw, I (unlike certain others) do not "foist" statements on others, read the 7th comment (by Dileep) on the post.

>> I am not going to get a blogger login for you, so Hardeep it is for now.

Oh but do get one dar ji.. Blogging is fun !! :-D

Buchu said...

hi dilip, a couple of quick things. first, congrats on winning the outlook competition. next, this is about primary education in india. i know very little abt it (stats that is), but the one thing we keep forgetting is that it actually falls within the domain of the state list, so in fact the central government is not supposed to get involved with it. the concurrent list has higher education under it...but primary education is the responsibility of the state govt. so the money that was going into defence could only very tangentially have been diverted into primary education. this is not to detract from ur central argument that there's this serious discrepancy between how much we pay our top generals and how much we pay our teachers...but just thought I'd add my two cents.
and congrats again.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Quizman:

> During Vajpayee's regime, defense
> spending actually declined as a %
> of GDP (from 3.6% to 2.6%)

Really? In the first year of Vajpayee's regime, 1998, Yashwant Sinha presented a defence budget of Rs 412 billion. In 2001, that figure was at 620 billion. Last year, it touched (as Sudeep kindly points out) 720 billion. If the rupee figure for defence spending nearly doubled (factor of 1.75), but as a % of GDP it declined by 30 % (3.6 to 2.6), that means the GDP itself increased by a factor of 2.5 in Vajpayee's time.

Is this true? Please let me know.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Sudeep:

> Dilip, dont even *try* to pretend
> that your opinion pieces are
> objective. Ill split my sides
> laughing.

Split all you like, but I am not pretending, nor even trying, anything of the sort. I have not the slightest desire to be objective.

But I do find this sequence interesting. You start by complaining that I have been "restrained" in criticising the Mah Govt for its slum demolitions. When I point out that I have actually suggested that they are cheats, you change your complaint to one of a lack of objectivity. Which is it to be, old man?

> the old man said it was
> compulsory primary education was
> impractical due to resource
> constraints.

Exactly the point of my article, and thank you for homing in on it: Vajpayee said increases in defence spending must happen despite resource constraints, but primary education is impractical due to resource constraints.

That's precisely the juxtaposition I wanted to offer as food for thought. Thanks for thinking.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Tanuj:

> did you really interpret ABV's
> "expressed hope..." statement as
> a promise to make education a
> fundamental right? i hope not.

No, but because I have a hard time believing any politician's promises or hopes or whatever. I only wanted to show how low on the agenda primary education figures in our thinking: some of the comments here only bear that out.

> did you really expect any PM in
> 2000 (after kargil) not to
> increase defence spending?

Actually, why not? Why not some new thinking on the issue? Why not say: "Hmm, fifty yeras of increaseing defence spending has not managed to buy us peace and security, perhaps there's another way?"

> for that matter, is it defence
> spend that's keeping half of us
> illiterate?

Perhaps, perhaps not. It hardly matters WHAT keeps half of us illiterate, the fact is that half of us are illiterate. And one reason is the attitude exemplified in Vajpayee's speech: the bit about constraints that I explained in my earlier comments.

> i found your reaction (including
> saving the clip for 5 years) to
> be extreme.

So be it. If being extreme got this little debate going, then I'm happy to be extreme.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Buchu, thanks for your congrats! I appreciate that. The essay I wrote will be in the next Outlook.

But so what if education is a state subject? The Centre is also concerned with it (after all, to take just one manifestation of that concern, the Centre runs a network of Govt schools, some pretty damned good). Vajpayee himself is concerned with it -- after all, to his credit, at least he didn't respond to the question of education at that Lucknow meet by saying "Sorry, I can't say anything here, it's a state subject".

My point isn't even about the salaries. Pay the generals and soldiers well, fine. My point is about attitudes: the one that says we must attend to defence "at all costs", but education only when resources permit. And of course, with that attitude, resources never do permit, which is why half of us are illiterate today.

Let me put it this way: during Kargil, our politicians and any number of others said things like "we will not rest until the last inch of Indian soil is freed of intruders." Remember?

Well, I long for the day when our politicians and any number of others say something like "we will not rest until the last Indian gets educated."

It's not such an improbable dream. Cuba went about educating its people in pretty much that way, 40 years ago.

Anonymous said...

> I thought expanded budgetary allocations for primary education and the support given to Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (and its consequent success) would have been more obvious. But hey, Dilip said it, so it must be true :-P

Dilip, you liar !!! I am losing the argument because of you !!! So we actually do have compulsory primary education for all Indians now. ABV wasnt mouthing inanities at all !!

> I give a rats arse about anyones opinions about ABV, but then, to twist facts to suit yourself is a little irritating.

Dilip !!! You twisted facts to suit yourself !!! How awful !! BTW, sudeep, you seem to have plenty of rats arses that you keep handing out every time ABV craps through his mouth.

> So now we get to the real point of the post, it was to show ABV as yet another rascally politician (YARP).

Thank you for agreeing.

Hardeep.

Vasanth said...

This is now taking a different twist all together. Instead of the primary education and the politicians apathy towards it, this is more of a personal attack on Dilip and also AVB which I think everybody should stop.