Thursday, Oct 02, 2014

Seven sins of hubris

The UPA committed them. The new government should avoid them.PTI The UPA committed them. The new government should avoid them.PTI
Written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta | Posted: June 5, 2014 12:08 am | Updated: June 5, 2014 12:26 am

The UPA committed them. The new government should avoid them.

The art of maintaining power is often different from the art of acquiring it. This is particularly true in a complex republic, where the people are constantly striving to overcome their present condition, changing the underlying realities in such a way that any ruling class that stands still will quickly meet its doom. The balance of considerations on the basis of which people judge their wellbeing is now less easy to discern. Governance is a subtle art, not easily reduced to abstract ideas. It is in the nature of power to corrupt those who hold it. But the most subtle form of corruption that power produces is making you lose your grip on reality: a sense of omniscience obscures the kind of knowledge needed to govern, and a sense of omnipotence does away with the need for subtle judgement. The overt corruptions of power and tyranny are easy to detect. It is the more subtle forms of hubris that have the more damaging effect. The previous government was felled by these subtler weaknesses that power can, insensibly, induce. Will the new one be able to avoid them?

First, the crisis of institutions is at the base of our discontent. In a complex society, a network of institutions is required to mediate conflict, project fairness and adjudicate truth. We had reached a point where every single institution, from Parliament to police, appeared dysfunctional, incapable of carrying out its mandate, a plaything of the powers that be. The dysfunction of institutions created a permanent sense of crisis, since there was little hope of credible resolution. Even local crime began to be pinned on larger political pathologies. Even our economic slowdown was due, in some measure, to the inability of institutions to adjudicate competing claims. It is tempting to bypass institutions for a short-term power boost. Claiming credit for personal virtue is very tempting; but when people detect vice they will also project it on you.

Second, one of the unremarked features of the previous government was the extent to which it was done in by a lawyerly approach to governance. It lost case after case on constitutional and regulatory matters, fuelled by the hubris and carelessness of the lawyers in its midst. But it is the sensibility towards governance that they represented that infected government like a virus. They fuelled the illusion that so long as you have an argument, you have a good argument. It promoted a legal culture given to casualness. In the process, due consideration of first principles, harmonisation with other parts of the law and projection of credibility rather than cleverness took a back seat. The hubris of power is that you think you can argue your case out of anything; effective governance requires not having to make a lawyerly case continued…

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