TWO DAYS OF DRAMA AND TRUCKLOADS OF POLITICS LATER, THE QUESTION COMES UP: WHAT NEXT? A BUMBLING GOVERNMENT ADDED THE INGREDIENTS OF PANIC AND INEPTNESS, MAKING THE ALREADY WELL WRITTEN SCRIPT OF THE DRAMA EVEN MORE ENTERTAINING POLITICIANS OF ALL HUES AND PARTIES – REFUSING TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE MOVEMENT IS AGAINST THEM COLLECTIVELY, AND NOT JUST AGAINST THE RULING GOVERNMENT – ADDED THEIR OWN COMICAL SITUATIONS TO THE DRAMA. BUT NOW THAT ALL THIS IS ABOUT TO END, IT BRINGS US BACK TO THE STARTING POINT. HOW DO WE MOVE AHEAD ON ENSURING A GOOD ANTI-CORRUPTION LAW COMES OUT? FOR THE LAST FEW MONTHS ONE WOULD BE FORGIVEN FOR BELIEVING THAT THE LUNATICS HAVE BEEN RUNNING THE ASYLUM CALLED THE UMNO, SO INCONSISTENT AND MUDDLED THEIR ACTIONS HAVE BEEN. BUT AFTER YESTERDAY, IT IS WORTH ASKING IF EVEN THE LUNATICS ARE IN CHARGE. ENOUGH HAS BEEN SAID ABOUT THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE STRANGENESS OF THE GOVERNMENT’S ACTIONS, AND IN ANY CASE THIS LEVEL OF MISMANAGEMENT IS SO SELF-EVIDENT THAT ADDITIONAL COMMENT IS UNNECESSARY. WHAT IS INTERESTING HOWEVER IS TO ASK WHAT WOULD MAKE A GROUP OF REASONABLY SAVVY, SEASONED POLITICIANS USED TO EXERCISING AND STAYING IN POWER ACT IN SUCH A SELF-DEFEATING MANNER.
These talks about looking for winnable candidates is fast becoming into a self-righteous smug — as though mentioning it somehow distinguish the speakers from the rest and therefore, solves the actual and real problem — the search for winnable candidates is designed for what purpose?
It is first of all necessary to frame the question right — the search for winnable candidates is for what purpose — the answer that springs to mind, seems to be, search for winnable candidates is to create a winnable political party that can make this government a winnable government and therefore a winnable country. Just what are winnable candidates?
It can only mean one thing. It’s a search for leadership material which is committed to a plan into making this government into a good government with good governance.
Surely this must be the foundation of a leadership committed to transforming the country. Barely what? — 2 years into his premiership, already the PM is hailed as the father of Transformation? What has been transformed other that a copious amount of announcements that don’t seem to subside, we haven’t seen transformation yet in the fundamentals — the leadership material for example.
The transformation must begin with the search for leadership material to achieve a quality of government with equally high standard of governance. It must never be the search of winnable candidates as in the artful party operative who can work the crowd into ecstasy or emotional convulsions. We have these duds running around by the dozen — those who prey upon ethnic insecurities and emotions and those who prey open the religiosity of the masses. These are never nor can ever be winnable candidates.
The search for winnable candidates must be part of the overall strategy- positioning of leadership committed to a plan to make a high quality government with high quality governance. Hence it must necessarily involve first, the search for the ablest and most dedicated and committed to the cause of the country.
I am gratified to hear one of the latest statements by the PM who says, We want WHOEVER rules this country to be elected according to the true wishes of the people,” he told a large crowd gathered for a buka puasa function at Pangsapuri Seri Perantau, an 11-block row of low-cost flats built by the Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS).
The MCA announces also its plan to look for winnable candidates — although that announcement by the MCA president sounds like saying out loud of plans to phase out recalcitrant rivals in the party? As early as last year, the Umno president spoke of the same desire to filed winnable candidates. If he goes to the Umno ground, every incumbent ketua bahagian and sitting office bearers say, their areas are winnable provided it is they who stand as candidates.
Unless you come out with clear guidelines what the criteria of winnable candidates, the phrase just becomes an excuse for so many things by so many people not to work on the most important thing in our politics — finding the ablest and most dedicated to make this government, any government a high quality one with high quality governance.
If anyone thought the Congress would be suitably chastised after the party spokespersons’ antics on Monday with regard to Anna Hazare badly backfired, Tuesday effectively dispelled that notion. Not only did the government went ahead with Anna’s arrest but showed itself to be totally bereft of ideas as well as conviction. Yes, Manish Tewari, so breathing fire the day before, was nowhere to be seen. But then, the government presented three senior ministers to present its side of the story.
There was Kapil Sibal being his too-clever-by-half self. There was P Chidambaram, condescendingly professorial as usual. There was Ambika Soni, yes, she of Sanjay Gandhi and Emergency fame. Somebody up there obviously thought there weren’t enough reminders of the dark days of Emergency on a day when unarmed, peaceful activists were being stuffed in jails all over the country, so helpfully provided one more. Worse than their demeanor was what they were saying. Tuesday compounded Monday’s folly. When the nation looked for leadership, it got a civics lesson instead.
The ministers would have us believe that the arrest and its aftermath were purely the work of Delhi police. Sibal and PC argued how the Union government doesn’t come into the picture at all in giving permissions to or putting conditions on public meetings. Whom are they trying to kid? Can anyone in the country believe the Delhi police chief would put under arrest the principal actor of the biggest political drama in the country without a nod from highest political authority? If the arrest showed pathetic political judgment, the explanation showed there was no conviction even behind that. Or else the government would not be distancing itself from it. Worse, the explanation insulted our intelligence. It did not stop there. The ministers again played the old tunes about how laws are to be made by Parliament, not by the activists on the streets and how Anna’s agitation was subverting democracy. On Independence Day, a channel screened Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. The similarities between present situation and the response of a befuddled British government to Mahatma’s salt satyagrah are striking. The British too ended up arresting Mahatma but that made no difference to the agitation on the ground. The government spokespersons would have done better by seeing the movie. Perhaps they could have learnt something about a government completely out of its depth and out of touch with the popular mood.
What is disturbing is that both Congress party and the government seem unable to grasp that popular mood on corruption has changed after Adarsh, CWG, and 2G scams. There is a wave of revulsion with what the political class has come to represent. While Anna’s agitation seems to be riding that wave, the Government boat seems rocked by it. Congress still seems to think that it could talk its way out of the crisis without bringing about a real change. There are times when you can do little and get away with it. There are also times when genuine steps must be taken even if they hurt the status quo you have grown comfortable with.
Politics is about understanding the big picture and sensing the popular mood. It is also about taking pro-active measures and seizing the initiative. In the classic movie Ben Hur, Stephen Boyd, playing the new Governor of troubled province of Judea, is asked how does one fight an idea. His reply is, “With another idea.” Anna Hazare and all those with him have come up with an idea. Of course, it is a threat to the existing order where politicians, unethical businessmen, and criminals have worked out cozy arrangements for themselves in all spheres. That, perhaps, explains the reluctance of government to bring about a really independent and powerful Lokpal.
What will counter this is another idea, a better and more effective one. It is an opportunity for an astute leader to come up with one and win the day for himself and his party. After all, not many years ago this same system brought in the Right to Information Act. It did empower common people like never before and hurt the entrenched interests. It is time to do something similar with corruption. The perception now is that the government is trying to do the minimum necessary. It needs to show it can do the maximum possible. Too bad the wise men and women in UPA-2 don’t get it