Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lee Kuan Yew

I was re-reading one of the Time magazine's - "The Year in Review" and it had a post on Global Warming. There was a picture of floods in Assam; two young kids - around 10 years - paddling their boat , trying to survive nature's onslaught. The huts around them were all but submerged completely in the water.

It is possible that those two kids may not have survived or may have, depending on how soon the response came in from the Government. The picture was poignant, to put it mildly.

It's a given that this year again Assam will have floods. Scores and scores will perish and Indians will have no response to nature's fury. Assam will continue the way it has been.. and it will take decades or even centuries before it comes out of this vicious cycle. It can be said without much thought, that this generation will at least never see Assam as a prosperous state.

That brings me to Lee Kuan Yew. I have seldom if ever been impressed by an authoritarian regime or a person who runs such regime. But there are two iconic exceptions, I feel we should see in positive lights; although in some sense both were considered dictators and authoritarian in some people's lexicon.

One being Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and other being Lee Kuan Yew.

What is so remarkable about this old man of Singapore? Was it that he had a vision to convert a once swamped-with-mosquito-and-disease place into a First Asian Tiger Economy or was it his extremely tight fisted approach to fiscal discipline and hardline towards corruption? Was it his dictatorial ways of dealing with opposition keeping the big picture in mind or was it his drive to convert Singapore's disadvantage into advantage. (It may be noted that like huge population, small population is also a disadvantage)

We Indians have now conditioned our selves to hide all our failures behind our population. "Our systems don't work because we have such a huge population" is the regular cliche that has now become the de-facto explanation for all our failures. It's almost an alibi for our crime, if I may say so.

One person did not believe in such alibis. Lee Kuan Yew was that man. The grand old man of Singapore, a tiny city-country that has witnessed one of the most remarkable turn around in history. A once 'good for nothing place' that became a hot-bed of Asian trade or for that matter world economy. And what's remarkable is that this change happened in One Generation flat and on Lee Kuan Yew's watch.

Lee Kuan Yew was so focused in getting Singapore out of the rut, no hurdles big or small seemed like an excuse to him. For him it was a mission. Change the way the poor think. Change their mind set. Make strategic partnerships with West and East that suits his people the best. He couldn't care less. For him big picture was that city. He had to get that city out of the catch-22 of politics and socio-economic puzzle.

He based his ideas on three principle pillars - national security, law and order and economics. For anyone who is remotely interested in socio-economic science and financial history of the world, Singapore is a great case study. And Lee Kuan Yew, is a great hero who helped script a fascinating story.

While Lee Kuan Yew was spinning the prosperity wheel for three decades, our leaders were inventing new and better ways to rationalize poverty. Almost to a point of making a virtue of being poor. We became some kinds of expert in multiplying poverty year on year, bringing home same rulers who would enjoy the lever of powers from Delhi, who would then find excuses year after year, blaming everyone in the world but themselves. Blame game mechanism was the most convenient charade our leaders could play to justify a failed system that took us on a "high" growth rate of 2% per annum for four decades. (We still consider those PMs as heroes by the way)

And as for those kids in Assam... I can only say, "you guyz be patient, for another 100 years before we figure it out"!

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