Opinion and Editorial

A fast track to good governance

Suresh Kumar (Issues)
Filed on November 15, 2011

At a MENA CEO Forum luncheon recently, a local dignitary remarked, “We are feasting but Anna Hazare has to ‘fast’ in India”.

The discussions at the table lingered on; with the mood turning sombre as we reflected upon the applicability of Anna’s model to global protest movements. A few contradictions came to the fore. Anna’s role model was the Father of the Indian Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who predicated his protests on Ahimsa (non-violence) and Satyagraha (a quest for truth). By using “fasting unto death” as a weapon to highlight issues, Mahatma (a la David v/s Goliath) tactic proved highly evocative and effective to achieve Indian independence from a colonial power. He was wily enough to pick and choose winning battle(s) and stake for moral high ground—by appealing to the British sense of ‘fair play’.

Would he or his tactics be successful elsewhere is arguable. As a colonial power, the British were benign and fair-minded. The British Labour Party declared exit from the colonies east of Suez; not having the stomach or the heart or indeed the military resources to stamp out the brewing mass movements for independence.

Today, mass movements in knowledge-based democratic societies require to appeal on high moral grounds. On the other hand, MENA autocrats are in no mood to oblige non-violent protests. Protests there may produce some Nobel Prize winners, as in Yemen and Iran but, arguably, the Libyans, Palestinians or Yemenis can hardly hope to accomplish their objectives for a change of government by silent ‘Marches’ or ‘fasting unto death’. They may shame the conscience of the intelligentsia in the West. But the dictators historically have survived by cosying up to and bank-rolling many Western leaders. Therefore, Gandhism and the ‘fasting‘ methodologies and peaceful protests may not be enough to displace the well-entrenched military and civil services’ might. Systematic bureaucratic tentacles go hand in hand with huge vested interests. Nevertheless, over a period of time, political dialogue and non-violent approaches can wear down the leaders as we saw in Egypt and Tunisia.

Since the days of the Independence movement, Indian leaders gain greater credibility if they are not seen to be hankering after power. As a leader unblemished by the trappings or the yearnings for power and positions, Anna could galvanise mass discontent. But even he is stuck on his version of a Lok Pal (Ombudsman) Bill, which in itself is good but not enough.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s credibility is diminishing rapidly. He is cited as having ushered economic reforms in 1991. Some argue that he is a mediocre economist – bureaucrat and that the real change leader was the self-effacing, Narasimha Rao, who brought in Manmohan Singh to implement reforms.

Manmohan’s cabinet colleagues comprise die-hard stalwarts—adept at stalling and diluting the best of well-intentioned reforms. They will wear down any mass movement through endless deliberations and delay, enveloping the same in eloquent but empty rhetoric! They are masters with their invisible hands close to (if not in) the proverbial till. Mercifully, India has a vigorous media to sustain public interest in mass movements for political reforms. But even the media tends to latch on to whatever is newsworthy/noisy and discard what is no longer the latest stimuli.

As the luncheon table discussions on ‘fast track’ meandered, some felt a little guilty gobbling down a sumptuous meal. Some assuaged their guilt by opting for coffee; instead of dessert! As they say, finally, the proof of the pudding lies in the eating or otherwise! Lesser men than Anna Hazare end up having the cake and eating it, too. But national transformation (or reformation — an evocative term; albeit tinged with legacy religious connotation) calls for exceptional moral fibre and self-sacrificing timbre, if we have to revere them as Mahatmas!

Suresh Kumar is the CEO and Board member of Emirates Financial Services (EFS) PSC. The views expressed in this article are personal

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