July 25, 2010 3:04:16 am
India is adrift. Worrisomely adrift. This is not because of any widespread social unrest or destabilising economic problems. Discontent in society there certainly is. Grievances due to the countrys unbalanced economic growth there certainly are and they are mounting. But the lack of direction is primarily due to the stagnant state of Indian politics. There is no soaring sense of purpose,fresh vitality and inspirational energy visible in any segment of the political spectrum,including in the two main national parties Congress and BJP. Making matters worse for the country is their growing mutual antagonism,which is set to create a storm in the monsoon session of Parliament.
Discussing the state of regional parties is unnecessary in this context because,significant though they are in their respective states,they do not critically determine the health of national politics. Discussing the state of the two communist parties is also not pertinent here. Their national footprint and influence have both shrunk enormously,mainly due to the fossilisation of their ideology. Their future looks bleaker than the present. The socialist movement,once a persuasive voice and a powerful factor in Indian politics,has all but vanished. Can there be a sadder commentary on its disappearance than the near-total absence of a suitable commemoration,in 2010,of the birth centenary of its greatest leader,Dr Rammanohar Lohia? How effortlessly we have forgotten one of the most original political thinkers in independent India.
What is truly worrisome is the state of the two national parties. Outwardly all seems well with the Congress and the government it heads. UPA II is stable. Dr Manmohan Singh has become the third longest occupant of the office of Prime Minister. Not a small achievement. It is also a tribute to the quickly acquired political expertise of Sonia Gandhi. Her authority is unlikely to be challenged by anybody within her own party,something which was not true even in the case of Nehru,Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. However,in spite of all these pluses,the calm in the Congress and its government is suggestive of stagnation,not the strength,self-confidence and sagacity needed to take the nation forward,rapidly and in the right direction.
Efforts of UPA II to normalise relations with Pakistan are leading nowhere,mainly because of Indias overdependence on American mediators. Pakistans shrewd rulers are trying to strike their own anti-India bargain with the US,stuck as the latter is with its needless and hopeless military occupation of Afghanistan. Indias gains in normalising the situation in the Kashmir valley,which were the outcome of the farsighted efforts of both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr Singh (in UPA I),have been largely frittered away by UPA II due to inattention. There is lack of consensus within the Congress and the government on how to deal with the menace of Maoism. And there is no big and enthusiasm-creating action to walk the governments laudable talk on inclusive development. This cannot be done,as ample examples from history caution us,merely by launching yet another poverty alleviation programme by spending thousands of crores of rupees. What is needed is firm and sustained action against corruption,inefficiency,unaccountability and bureaucratic insensitivity,which are responsible for the abysmal failure of most government-funded anti-poverty schemes. Besides distorting Indias development,corruption is also poisoning the very lifeblood of Indias democratic institutions,including the judiciary. Sadly,there is no real and credible outrage over corruption in Political India. The BJPs recent conduct in Karnataka and Jharkhand shows that it has no energy or intent left to retrieve what was once its biggest USP: its attempts at probity in public life.
There is a dichotomy today between Indias stagnant politics and vibrant society. The vibrancy and vitality are most visible in Indias young population not only the rich but also the poor,not only in urban areas but also in villages. However,the political and governance establishment seems woefully unresponsive to their aspirations and ambitions. This is evident from the fact that no political party is articulating the agenda of thorough-going political and governance reforms,without which all talk of inclusive development,social justice,education and health for all,zero tolerance towards terrorism and Maoism,etc. are meaningless. The only party that is talking about political reforms,with specific ideas,is Lok Satta in Andhra Pradesh,led by Dr Jayaprakash Narayan. It is still small and struggling,but nevertheless a ray of hope.
India today needs not just new leadership,but new morality-based politics. This new politics will have to discard old habits of conduct and old ways of thinking,which have compelled even the good people in our parties to become prisoners of myopic and sectional considerations. It should muster the courage and understanding needed to fight corruption,and thereby reinvigorate all the institutions of democratic governance. It must eschew misuse of government agencies for partisan ends. It should also be committed to creating national consensus on all major national challenges,including the two inherited from history disputes with Pakistan and China which are sapping Indias energies and hindering its rise in Asia and the world.
Is new politics possible? Remember,stagnation is always an invitation to start new attempts.
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