Vidhana Soudha, the Karnataka Legislative Assembly building in Bangalore, was designed by Sir M Visvesvaraya, and is by far the most beautiful State Assembly building in all of India. On its façade, you will find written in bold words – “Government’s Work is God’s Work”. When you go inside, you will see dark, damp, dank, dull and depressing rooms that have decades-old files and papers piled up in and on decades-old furniture. As stated upfront, apparently no work gets done in this building because everyone is waiting for God. Government’s work is not for mere mortals to do.
At a short distance of 500 metres from home, we have a century-old water body that has served as the rain water storage reservoir for this part of the city. One well-meaning bureaucrat joined hands with a few caring citizens, and about 8 years ago, we got a mile-long walkway built around this beautiful tank. We could neither believe our eyes nor our luck, and crowds flocked there to enjoy the ambience.
Our joy lasted about 8 months. The City Corporation put up beautiful boards declaring this to be their property, and enumerating various rules and regulations for using the ‘public’ place. That was an ominous development. From then, until today, the Corporation has systematically ruined the place. About 400 metres of the walkway is perennially being dug up (for 7 years!) and the walkway tiles are all in bad shape. If you jog there, you will get hurt.
The biggest group of entrepreneurs in India for a few centuries now has been our farmers. They till their own land or lend their labour to others’ lands. They get paid for time or results or both. All these are exemplary definitions of entrepreneurship. Every Government, at every level, has stepped in to ‘help’ this farmer-entrepreneur for decades now. Look at where that has brought the Indian farmer to. Look at what our Governments have done to the individual farmer-driven ‘start-ups’ in our agriculture sector. Do we need any more damning evidence for the malignant nature of Government intervention and/or participation?
In schools, banks, airlines, railways, airports, telecom and hospitals, we have equated the adjective ‘government’ to mean sloth and inefficiency. We have seen this movie with the Government in the lead role, many times before.
As a counter-point, look at India’s IT industry. The Governments have gained by way of taxes, exports and employment generated by marginally participating in this sector. Maybe because the Government does not comprehend the business, the IT Services business has been largely left to grow by itself, and has been the only one to have an unbroken golden run of over 20 years of consistent growth. We have had no other industry with such an enviable success record that has also garnered fame and respect for India globally.
The pattern is clear – with Government participation, there is a race to the bottom in both utility and efficiency. When we kept the Government out, true ingenuity of societies in India have come forth and got full play. By definition, ‘Minimum Governance’ means that Governments only do what they must, and the rest is left to others to step up and achieve. Government ‘hand-outs’ have always been the bane of good enterprise, individual initiative and market-dictated meritocracy. Governments simply do not have the talents to be good at all that they currently have their fingers in.
This is why one is horrified to see all the hoopla on StartUp India. Do Government and Entrepreneurship go together? What proof do we have from the past 60 years on our Governments’ capabilities to be enterprising, innovative or creative? The package of benefits announced for Start-ups betrays a desperation on the part of the Government to somehow get to be a part of the ‘action’.
Any farmer will tell you,
The weakest plants are those that get enough and more water easily as they grow. With measured and moderate supply, the roots grow deep to reach the water, and that leads to stronger plants.
New ventures, like saplings, need struggles to grow strong.