Cultivating authority, evading responsibility

“Those who are politically strong are constantly running away from political responsibility,” writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta

You should read his piece in the Indian Express in full. Excerpts:

The prime minister will take you only up to a point. The Centre does not carry any credibility, because there it has no genuine interlocutors. There is no other leader who can carry the imprimatur that they are acting on behalf of the nation, who can provide a healing touch when needed. More and more of our conflicts will require this kind of constant political engagement. Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, in political terms, carry that mantle as much as anyone does; but they steadfastly refuse to risk it on anything other than politically easy welfare schemes. The scandal of Indian politics is not simply that the prime minister is politically weak; it is that those who are politically strong are constantly running away from political responsibility.

And it has sent a message: the purpose of politics is not solving problems; it is the evasion of responsibility. [IE]

My op-ed in Mint: The lines of nuclear succession

The nuclear factor renders unacceptable practices that stem from the compulsions of coalition politics

In today’s Mint, I argue that “the nuclear factor thus calls for both the declaration of a line of succession as well as ensuring that key cabinet portfolios are entrusted to separate individuals. It renders unacceptable practices that have either become norms or are compulsions of coalition politics. Parties preparing for the coming general election, therefore, would do well to go beyond announcing their prime ministerial candidates. They should announce their leadership succession strategy and the line-up for key cabinet positions.”

Read the entire article over at LiveMint.

The answer is good governance, not lily livers

Defeatism spreads under ineffective leadership

It is nice to see the Indian Express correctly hold the the nincompoops in the UPA government responsible for allowing the situation to come to such a sorry pass.

Discussions on Kashmir always bring up history. Here’s a little bit of history to help contextualise the current state of state response: probably not since the early 18th-century ruler Muhammad Shah Rangila, who wrote the book on awesomely ineffective security governance, has India had administrators who have been so brilliantly incapable of discharging their basic remit. Needless to say 21st-century India can’t afford Rangilas in government. And all responses to the Kashmir crisis must start with this recognition. Also, let’s ask ourselves: is India to cut and run because of some weeks of violence when years of patient diplomacy, dogged army work and good politics had blunted the hard edges in Kashmir? The country has dealt with violence within before. It has dealt with groups calling loudly for a divorce with the Union. If we decide to take a particular course on Kashmir, what will we do when politicised violence erupts elsewhere? Drawing-room solutions can look pretty and neat. Nation-building, sadly, isn’t always pretty and neat. It calls for clarity and determination. That’s what Delhi — and Srinagar — need. [IE]

Indians should concern themselves with asking who can provide this leadership—and how their current leaders might be persuaded to provide it—rather than boosting the morale of India’s enemies at this time.

Leadership by absence

L K Advani’s ultimate challenge

You don’t need to read L K Advani’s autobiography to know that he is the tallest leader in active politics today. You don’t even need to note the thickness and weight of the bestselling My Country, My Life to get that point. There is no doubt that he is a great leader.

But there is also no doubt that at eighty, he is too old to lead India into the twenty-first century.

It is not about Mr Advani’s mental and physical fitness. It’s about representation. The median age of India is around 25. By 2025, the median Indian will only be 30. At a time when technology, globalisation, social mobility and economic development are reducing the generation gap to a handful of years, Mr Advani could well be from another country.

All this is not to say that Mr Advani shouldn’t be the BJP’s next prime ministerial candidate. He probably should, especially if that party thinks he could lead it back into power. Rather, it is about what he should do now, and if the BJP were to return to power, what he should do when he ascends to the prime-ministership. The single most important task for Mr Advani is also the hardest one in Indian politics: succession planning. For man who has dedicated his adult life for the nation, the ultimate challenge is to ensure that the nation has good, stable leadership after is no longer on the political stage. As both an ardent nationalist and an astute politician, Mr Advani should know that.

We don’t need no indecisive slobs

India may be forced to suffer poor leaders. But there’s no need to celebrate them

You don’t expect this kind of extra-ordinary ordinariness from a column called National Interest by the chief editor of one of India’s top newspapers.

Now, think, who finally won. The indecisive, inarticulate, ineffective slob (Vajpayee) who did not seem to have an answer to anything, or the macho, confident, smart, decisive, modern smartie (Musharraf) who seemed to have an answer to everything?

There are many interesting, and important conclusions to be drawn from this complex argument. But the most significant is this: a modern nation needs democracy and so it needs its politicians, however clumsy, corrupt, effete and power-crazed they may be. Because a military dictator can also be all of these things. The difference is, the political leader draws his power from the democratic process, so he has a stake in preserving that system, howsoever cynical he may be. The general draws his power by throttling the democratic system and its institutions and you can see the results of that in Pakistan. [IE]

Not only is the conclusion ordinary but also mistaken. That a Pakistani dictator would collapse under the weight of the systemic and his own contradictions was never in doubt. The fact is that a doddering Musharraf would have been as much in trouble as the dashing one is in. The Chinese leadership realised this in time. The Soviets realised it too late.

The failure of a dashing Musharraf doesn’t mean all dashing heads of state will fail. Nor does it mean that India should put up with “indecisive, inarticulate and ineffective slobs”. (Vajpayee can’t be accused of being ineffective, but leave that aside.)

There’s a collective failure in the Indian political class in its inability to throw up decisive, articulate and effective leaders with a national appeal—an aspect of which Ravikiran Rao deals with in this month’s issue of Pragati.

For every dashing failed dictator, you can find many more dashing successful democratic politicians. Mr Gupta’s National Interest column should perhaps have asked why is it that modern democracies are able to throw up a Bill Clinton, a Tony Blair, a Junichiro Koizumi, a Nicolas Sarkozy and an Angela Merkel while India is throwing up I K Gujrals, Deve Gowdas and Manmohan Singhs. And it now presents us with an octogenarian Advani.