Vietnam Lesson


It will come as no surprise that there is an exodus of young aspiring professionals away from the state. In a way it is good, for if and when they return, they will bring back new skills and outlooks. But there is also a fairly good chance a majority of them will not return for at this moment job prospects for them are virtually nil in the state. Nor is there a climate for them to want to return and build enterprises from scratch. It is in this sense a very critical period for the state. Push matters a little farther and things can reach a point of no return, where the best talents leave permanently to find their fortunes elsewhere. If however the state does not allow situation to drift beyond the critical point, who knows, in the years ahead, it may be time for a new renaissance, when the prodigals begin heading home. At this moment though, the picture is rather grim. As for instance, few jobs outside those offered by the government are worth today`™s wage standards, and the government job sector is super-saturated. A selection test for a few dozen state civil servants, or lecturers, once or twice a decade, cannot come as any consolation to the ever growing number of job seekers. There are no signs that the situation can improve in the near future either. The government neither has the resource to create more direct jobs, nor the will or imagination to foster the growth of employment outside itself. All it can do, and has been doing, is to blame the bad law and order situation for its failures. Nobody can deny this is a factor, but it is precisely the government`™s duty to ensure rule of law exists, and it can best begin by practicing what it preaches.

The rule of law is another story, but the immediate challenge is about creating jobs and since the capacity of the government to employ has a definite ceiling, it will have to look at the private sector. For this sector is multidimensional with practically the sky as the ceiling. It can in fact accommodate all, provided the atmosphere is right. An article some years ago, in a popular American weekly, comparing the resurgence power of Vietnam and Iraq, is interesting. And this article comes to mind in the immediate wake of world recalling the war with the 40th anniversary of its conclusion on April 30, 1975 approaching. The author of the article, Michael Hasting, who was also assigned the Iraq beat later, visited Saigon (now known as Ho Chi Minh City) for the story. Forty years after the war, Vietnam is bouncing back. Its economy is buoyant, everybody is raring to go and win his share from it, and in the process contribute his share too. Forty years later, he is not hopeful Iraq can emulate the same feat. Individual entrepreneurship was always very strong in Vietnam, unlike Iraq which was for too long hooked to easy petrodollars. Vietnam`™s economy was built around the enterprising spirit of its people, as well as the skill and discipline of its labour force. By contrast, Iraqis in general have come to be addicted to subsidies, so that in times of crises, such as wars and their aftermaths, while Iraq had nowhere else to look for resurgence, Vietnam could draw strength from within and pick itself up much sooner. Moreover, unlike Iraq which is dominated by a revenge culture, Vietnam was much more practical and outward looking. Even in the midst of the bitter war against America, it was never bitter toward Americans, so much so that Ho Chi Minh was supposed to have written a letter during the war to the then American President, Lyndon Johnson, that Americans would be welcomed back as friends after the war. And Americans are now indeed rushing back to Vietnam, not to make war but as tourists and businessmen.

The uneasy thought is, Manipur seems to be much closer to Iraq than Vietnam at this moment. It is possessed by a culture of revenge and bitterness. It is also almost completely dependent on government subsidies. Private entrepreneurship has been dwarfed, and at best it is about dishonest government contract work or else has not risen above retail trade, which promise money perhaps, but no creative contribution to the economy. There are of course now some individual brilliance beginning becoming visible, but it is still far from a widespread phenomenon. Its education system is in the pit, incapable of producing quality skills or knowledge. Parents who can afford the cost look away from the state increasingly for their children`™s education. These children may not feel inclined to return when they come of age, and they are not at all to blame. Shouldn`™t a rethinking process begin? Shouldn`™t the government be thinking of evolving policies to nurture back to health the general entrepreneurial spirit, instead of allowing its vision to be caught and limited to the percentage cuts culture of the place`™s infamous contractor-bureaucrat-politician nexus?

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam


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