Yonder Peaks Beckon

Hello to All & Sundry, Thank you for viewing my blog. I am an itinerant purveyor of good cheer and I dare say, a little bit of erudition. This space is primarily an outlet for me to jot down my rambling thoughts and give my brain a little bit of airing, which it really does need!:) I hope you have a good read! Tallyho!

Monday, July 17, 2006

India - A Crisis of Governance

India – A Crisis of Governance

At the outset, I must confess that this piece is written in despair. Despair brought on by the relentless misfortune that continues to befall India and her helpless citizens. I was bold enough to predict in ‘Does India Really Have A Bright Future?’ that life in India would continue to go on as it had been since the ages – a series of droughts, floods, riots, bombs, terrorism and a dishonest & week-kneed polity hell bent on keeping the country and its constituents as their personal fiefdom, interspersed with the occasional good news about the individual achievements of its indefatigable citizenry. Nevertheless, I was earnestly hoping that India’s luck would turn the corner and her people would find a set of conditions wherein they could fulfill their individual destinies. I was hoping that she would be blessed with a reasonably honest set of politicos that would, most of the time, put her interests above their own. I was hoping that life in India would settle in to a stable, peaceful and prosperous routine that would afford her people at least a fleeting glimpse of Camelot! Alas! My hopes and prayers were in vain! Recalling the tragedies and misfortunes – both major and minor - in the last couple of years is a very disheartening exercise so I shall refrain from doing so. It is incredible however, to see how pessimism disappears in India as soon as the Sensex touches a new high! Anyone pointing out the millions living in gut-wrenching poverty is seen as a spoilsport or heaven forbid a communist!

Why are we unable to get out of this rut? Why do Indians invariably do better overseas? I believe, this conundrum is an amalgam of how the Indian ‘system’ (politicos, bureaucrats etc.) views the role of the government and the presence (or absence in our case!) of visionary leaders. The lack of even one these conditions is a recipe for underachievement or worse! The ‘system’ and tools of government should be configured in such a way as to enable the citizens to go about their lives without hindrance and insecurity and allow them to fulfill their potential. The state should restrict itself to providing physical security, broad macro-economic management and other functions of government such as education, healthcare and a policy framework to enable the creation of physical infrastructure. The people should be free to lead their lives as they deem fit with the knowledge that breaking the law will invite censure and punishment. The ‘developed’ world follows this model of governance and Indians, with their amazing intellect and hard work, naturally flourish in such a system. India herself, on the other hand, has a ‘mai-baap sarkar’. The government till recently used to dictate almost every aspect of our daily lives. People with pre-1991 memories would still remember the lines for the monthly ration, cooking gas, desperation to get in to a good school & college, long waiting lists to buy automobiles & scooters, the distress caused by lack of hospitals and communication, the ‘hollering’ to get themselves heard during a ‘trunk-call’ that had to be booked in advance through our blessed telephone system! I would venture to say that India achieved political freedom as a nation but that freedom was not passed on to her citizens. They remained chained to a brutal, heartless state apparatus that dictated their daily lives. They suffered under a system and a set of people that behaved as medieval feudal rulers, lording it over their hapless subjects. It is only since 1991, that the first stirrings of freedom and the daring to dream could be seen and heard in the hearts and minds of the average Indian. Their performance since then has been stellar and exemplary despite being continuously let down and discouraged by the Indian state.

As an aside, the nature of the Indian state should also be a point to ponder for thinking citizens. India as a political entity is an entirely British construction welded together in her early years by Sardar Patel! Before 1947, we did not exist as a single country. Therefore, despite the depredations they unleashed on us, we should be thankful to the British for forcing the various peoples of India to live together under one political entity, for better or for worse – just like a marriage!

Nations and empires reach their zenith, regardless of the nature of their political system, by a set of visionary, honest and upright leaders that have the courage and fortitude to see their vision through with unflinching zeal and unwavering commitment. History shows us numerous examples to illustrate this point. Rome achieved her greatest glory not on the backs of a squabbling senate but through the genius of Caesar and his charisma, leadership and loyal legions. The Mughal Empire was at the height of power as long as it had strong central authority to drive it but after Aurangzeb’s death it was sacrificed in the squabbles between his sons. The absence of a strong ruler in Delhi eventually drew in more invaders keen on the riches of India. South of the Vindhyas, the Maratha Empire saw its greatest days through the drive & vision of the Peshwas. With Nanasaheb’s death after the disaster at the third battle of Panipat, the confederacy could never quite recover despite attempts to resurrect its power by Madhavrao Peshwa. History is replete with similar of examples of a people achieving greatness through visionary and courageous leadership in sync with good governance. As soon as either one of these two factors disappears, the nation begins to sink in to a quicksand.

A post-independence India has never had these two factors in consonance with each other. When we had a PM with absolute authority & a certain amount of vision, our system of governance was a hostage to a romantic left-wing ideology. This preponderance of ideology in our politics is truly puzzling. Blind and unflinching belief in ideology gives even the incompetent a framework to construct arguments and conveniently allows logic and enlightened national interest to be flushed down the tubes. Both sides of the political spectrum are enamoured of ideology. Their adherence to ideology continues even in the face of election defeats. I find it incredible that an anti-incumbency factor is a given in all Indian elections, almost as if every ruling party concedes that it cannot but do a shoddy job of governing and that their time in power is going to end at the next election. With this logic, is it any wonder that every party in power seeks to maximise its rent-seeking behaviour while it can?

The post-1991 freedom experienced by the Indian people is by its very nature threatening to the ‘powers-that-be’. Even this little freedom, was given to our citizens not by an enlightened government but in desperation caused by extra-ordinary economic circumstances. Is it any wonder therefore that the ‘state’ will fight every inch of the way to arrogate unto itself a prominent role in the daily life of its citizens. This overbearing tendency of the Indian state is now aided in its diabolic efforts by an absence of visionary leadership, political opposition that has imploded and logjam in reforming our system. The factor that makes matters even worse is the nature of political coalitions that are now the only means of governing the country.

The greatness of India and her people will never be achieved by hotchpotch coalitions. Political coalitions are of interest only to sociologists and political theorists. The damage they will do to our prospects is impossible to measure but scary nevertheless, to imagine. Each member of the coalition regresses to its own narrow, frequently divisive agenda totally oblivious to the larger stakes at play. Compare this with the relentlessness with which our two main adversaries on the northern and western borders pursue their agenda vis-à-vis India!

Will future generations of Indians see the unravelling of their nation in to a number of fragmentary states with a weak centre? I hope not but history has seen this happen. The end of the Peshwai caused the fragmentation of the Maratha confederacy. The end of the Mughal Empire caused its individual elements to rise up and claim sovereignty over their fiefs. Even the long-subjugated Rajputs became independent. A weak locus had its inevitable result of inviting invaders, first from the northeast and then finally the sea-faring British who subjugated India and her people more comprehensively than any conqueror before. History teaches India, her government and her people many valuable lessons should we be willing to study them. If we ignore them however, we do so at our own peril and subject our future generations to the effects of our ignorance and our hubris.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hola ye and tally ho! A brilliant article. I wholeheartedly agree with your central arguments. Good prose too. Speak soon,

Chris B

Wednesday, July 19, 2006 11:20:00 pm  

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