By PREM CHANDRAN
INDIA is often described as a “noisy democracy”, which many footloose politicians and freedom-loving crooks here see as a big credit for the nation. For, this is a nation that has given the licence to one and all to “indulge” — protest, demonstrate, and make a mess of national life; all in the name of the vaunted governing system called Democracy. In effect, what this has come to mean is that so many spokes are playfully put into the wheel of governance. The nation thus is gasping for breath; failing to move forward other than in matters of individual push set against the governmental resolves. This sad scenario, though, is music to the ears of many who are out to “indulge”, as if this is their life’s mission to cause misery to the nation and its hapless, billion-plus strong inhabitants.
Tragedy visits a nation in many forms; it could be in the form of pestilence, famine, war, or something as grave. Tragedy also visits a nation in the form of incompetent leaders at the helm. For instance, the latest we are made to put up with, though for a day, was the strike called by the Indian Medical Association, which saw doctors in government hospitals across the nation striking work. IMA, like many petty unions in this country and their leaders, has a habit of throwing its weight around. It is alright to say democracy allows such protests, but one requires the sense to gauge what such indulgences mean for the growth and well-being of a nation; more so in these Covid times.
What these entities on agitation mode fail also to understand is that no one has elected them to run this nation or dictate policy. In the true spirit of democracy, that job is left to the political masters. Yet, what if everyone chooses to take law into his or her hands? Or, what if these political masters are characters of a kind, a la Narendra Modi, who sits back and blinks, instead of being firmly in control of the situation? Civil servant Amitabh Kant gave the right answer to this question this week. Question is also as to whether this answer will open our eyes and ears to the realities appearing in the form of monstrosities?
The strike that virtually paralysed the health-care sector state after state for a full day is in protest against the central government decision to allow post-graduate Ayurvedic doctors do surgery in certain areas where their training and conditioning is adequate to be able to do so in a safe manner. The government accepted such a recommendation from a panel of medical experts by way of helping meet the large-scale deficit for doctors in this field of medical practice. Fact is, post-graduate Ayurvedic doctors learn much more about physiology than an MBBS doctor and India’s age-old medicine systems. Ayurvedic practices are in several respects one up to those in allopathy in diagnosing and curing diseases with an identification of the symptoms. In our frenzy for elitism, their strengths are never acknowledged. It is also that the Allopathy doctors – many of them incompetent bums – have a contempt for other fields of medical science. This is essentially a way of stressing on one’s importance and superiority; which is plainly being snobbish. As doctors struck work, Modi and his government took that too in their stride and sat back blinking.
If an elected government and an elected leader of the nation do not have the freedom to take decisions and implement them, who else has? Not the Indian Medical Association, not the farmers’ associations, and in fact not even the Opposition too. They are all well within their rights to point out what they feel are errors. They have no right to stall the life of a nation on pretext or the other. The pity is that even the elected leader of the nation, leave alone the party, does not have the courage to assert even in situations in which he feels he’s doing the right thing.
A weak-kneed Manmohan Singh could have been pardoned for his patience to allow Indian democracy go haywire in terms of indulgences by shibboleths, the nay-sayers, the men who are a pain in the neck when it comes to pushing national interests to their logical conclusions. Modi is worse. Modi lacks the erudition of a Manmohan Singh; he should have compensated it with a display of will-power and strong actions in the right direction unmindful of the protests that come in his way. Instead, by his failure to confront situations head on and win over the evil forces on the prowl, Modi cuts a sorry figure. This was understandable for his first term in office as PM, but Modi is failing to change India for the better in his second term too. Together, chances are that, for India, his era is a season of wasted years.
Every government since Independence did good things. Not just Modi by way of a strong step in Jammu and Kashmir, or marching the troops to Doklam to stop the marauding Chinese PLA in its tracks. Modi helped settle the long-pending Ram Janambhoomi temple dispute through the arm of the judiciary; he overcame stonewalling by the Congress-led Opposition in the passing of the GST bill into law – though after long dithering and then passing it as a finance bill. It sort of unified the freewheeling market taxation system across the country. The GST has its lacunae, but these could be sorted out and set right in due course of time. Modi brought forward the farm reform legislation and got it passed by both houses of Parliament; and he did so in the upper house with a firm determination. These are all good things. But, overall, Modi and his government hardly changed India for the better. He allowed things to deteriorate on several fronts including in the matter of political and bureaucratic corruption. Ordering inquiries is the easy part; punishing the guilty is the hard part. Hardly any corrupt element is punished other than Lalu Prasad. Modi, rather, is giving a long rope to one and all.
Modi’s lack of assertiveness is evident even in the way he handles the border issues with Pakistan, not to speak of China. There were over 2,000 ceasefire violations along the LoC in the western sector last year, and much more this year in a running series from Pakistan. Such offensives from the other side of the border saw a steady rise all through the over six years of the Modi governance from Delhi.
While the good side of Modi’s governance is not lost sight of, there is nothing unique about it. Modi is moving the nation forward at snail’s pace when even Bangladesh is doing better on the economic front. Sheikh Hasina has proven that she can handle her nation well; and this also includes the way she keeps the Opposition under control. Here it is more of offensives against the government by all Tom, Dick and Harry in the form of doctors, farmers and what not! Curiously, this even though the principal Opposition, the Congress party, is keeping a low profile. For a government, this is a rare opportunity; the principal opposition in deep slumber. This should have presented the right opportunity for Modi to charge ahead and give good governace to the nation in a speedier manner. His failure to perform with a sense of courage to confront situations is taken advantage of by one and all today. This is the tragedy of this nation, at a time when a behemoth like resurgent China is testing the waters for more offensives in the geopolitical region.
Niiti Aayog CEO and senior civil service bureaucrat Amitabh Kant has rightly pointed out, though with caution in order not to rub the Modi government the wrong way, as to what our real problem is. Tough reforms, he said, are difficult in India’s situations in the absence of political determination and a strong administrative will. Kant later tried to tone this down so as to avoid any embarrassment to the government. But, he stated only the obvious; something that everyone around is convinced about but no one wants to say openly for fear of retribution from the powers-that-be.
Let’s be clear. The two terms of the Modi government so far lacked a determination in setting things right on most fronts. Too much of democracy here is the real problem confronting the nation. Courts add to the problems by constant interventions at the drop of a hat. An elected leader of the nation and the elected government should have the freedom to take decisions. Instead, there are too much of licenciousness and a profusion of irresponsible acts. Things are moving round and round, and reaching nowhere because there are one too many agencies working at cross purposes. This is not the scenario in a nation that is on the growth mode. China, Russia, the fast-progressing Gulf nations, the well-shaped Singapore and Malaysia in the vicinity, for instance. Even Bangladesh is now seeing an assertive leadership changing things for the better.
India, under Modi, is progressing at a snail’s pace. This was a governance style acceptable to democracies some 40 years ago; time when Indira Gandhi ruled India. The Manmohan Singh era, known for better management of the economy in terms of GDP growth but of making the rich richer and the poor poorer, too failed the nation in matters of equipping it in its fundamentals. The defence sector, for instance. The neglect that the UPA periods showed on acquiring better armaments is now putting Modi too on the defensive. A war cannot be won without a well-equipped military. This is a long-drawn endeavour and cannot be done overnight. The eight years of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi hardly cared for this sector. The result is there for all to see.
Modi poses himself as a true democrat, though even in these free times, those like Sitaram Yechury is demanding more freedom to indulge. Yechury is not seeking a better life for India’s poor. What he seeks is the luxury of more freedom for Indians; and more of secularism in a nation that’s most-secular in its conduct. Yechury is well aware there is no iota of freedom in his own beloved nations like China and Russia. Modi is encouraging indulgences for the reason that he lacks the courage to confront situations. Where he will leave India at the end of his second term, by 2024, is worth a wait and watch.
Modi gives the impression that he is an ardent admirer of democracy; because it is this democracy that allowed him, a self-confessed chaiwala of the past, to become a Chief Minister and then the Prime Minister. Question is, whether this freewheeling freedom and democracy is worthy of taking the nation to better times; especially under the leadership of a Prime Minister like Narendra Modi. If Modi is not able to change India for the better, he must leave politics at the end of his second term and go for sanyas in the Himalayas. He is already growing a beard which he may keep growing. Truth must be told: His beard, anyway, is not proof of a healthy frame of mind to lead a nation of India size from its very apex. India requires a different kind of leadership to make it run on the fast track.
It is fine for Narendra Modi to have fashioned himself as a champion of the poor, engage in blabbering, win votes and return the BJP to power time and again. It serves his purpose and the party’s. In the last polls he posed himself as a chowkidar; the next time he will come up with a new branding. The poor, with little understanding as to how a nation is governed or misgoverned, may keep voting for him and his party again and again. Every time they do this, every time they vote with their feet, the nation takes a hit.
If not Modi, the question is also as to who else this nation of a billion and a quarter of population has to look up to for leadership? The charlatans in the form of the regional satraps, the corrupt core of India, the Pawars, the Naidus, or a pretentious Mamata Banerjee or an “immature”, indecisive and yet playful Rahul Gandhi? What India requires is a leader with the courage and conviction, the grit and determination, of a Xi Jinping; not a slow-moving freight train like Narendra Modi.
When it comes to trains, it would be curious for you to watch a video released by Indian railways to tom-tom about an innovation it brought about in the railways sector: the introduction of an additional pad for the lower side-berth. From the railway minister down, everyone is so very enthused about this “feat” – which, an ordinary car repair shop on the highway would do better. This is the India of today, and the India under Modi!
Forget about bullet trains. For sure, with Modis around, we will reach nowhere. Amitabh Kant, who put it very succinctly, deserves praise for speaking the truth, even as it is well understood that he was not targeting a Modi or Manmohan per se. Most IMA doctors might not be able to properly diagnose a disease or prescribe the right medicine to cure an illness, but this civil service officer has better diagnosed the major ill that this nation as a whole is now faced with. In a democracy, the cure is in the hands of the people. firstname.lastname@example.org
INDIA HERE AND NOW