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Beware the political superbug: Hubris!

By B S Raghavan
May 17, 2011 12:03 IST
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Any government that comes to power in India now and in the future will ignore at its own peril the clanging of the alarm bells of the revolution of rising expectations of the people who are in no mood anymore to tolerate nonsense from ruling circles, says B S Raghavan.

The first thing I will do as a service to the political parties and their leaders who have won the recent state elections and are set to form governments is to hand over to them a compilation of the narratives on the serial uprisings that engulfed Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Jordan and elsewhere, and the gripping visual in which scores of tribal women in Andhra Pradesh were seen chasing, pummeling and driving away a Telugu Desam MLA who had deigned to go to their village.

Barely six months ago nobody could have even imagined the all-powerful Tunisian and Egyptian presidents being thrown out and Mr and Ms Hosni Mubarak being dragged summarily to face trial on charges of mammoth corruption.

Fortunately, the people of India have an outlet in the form of elections to vent their anger against injustices and extortions by politicians in power and authority. It is interesting, though, to speculate whether Tamil Nadu and West Bengal might have gone the way of Tunisia and Egypt but for that safety valve.

Darkest blot

But elections alone do not a democracy make. Further, they come only once in five years, with little respite in between from hardships and sufferings for the aam aadmi due to the venality, arrogance and callousness of the administrative and ruling classes. What happened to the Telugu Desam MLA may then become common sight in the case of all the elected representatives and officials.

The darkest blot on the political class in India is hubris. That is what is at the root of all the ills and evils -- corruption, poor service delivery, lack of accountability and transparency, and want of sensitivity, empathy and responsiveness --that detract from the genuineness of the democracy India is credited with having.

It has become an established axiom in India that the havoc created by hubris is directly proportionate to the scale of victory in the elections. It is the one superbug in the air and on the prowl that needs to be fought by persons in politics with frequent booster shots of  humility, tolerance and spirit of service before self. So, the code of conduct I am going to suggest in my column today is meant for those who would be assuming power in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

The first and most essential ingredient of the medicine against hubris is an open door with plenty of fresh air. Unhindered accessibility to those one works with and those in public life is, of course, a must. In addition, setting apart, as Jawaharlal Nehru used to do, a couple of hours every day to mingle with the people and enable them to put forward their suggestions and complaints will help those in perches of power to identify themselves with the people and have their fingers on their pulse.

Simple and austere lifestyle (in which Mamata Banerjee scores over all politicians) will enhance their appeal in the eyes people to the power of n.

The new chief ministers of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal should refrain from the common Indian failing of reversing or discarding the policies, projects and schemes launched by the predecessor-government simply because they were of a different party.

The only touchstone should be their merits in respect of promoting people's welfare. If, however, the new government had won on the basis of better or different policies, there is nothing wrong in replacing the ones followed by the predecessor, but to reject them just out of political spite is not a sign of maturity.

Topmost priorities

The biggest challenges before the new Tamil Nadu government are corruption and depoliticisation of administration. There are no words to describe the mental torment suffered by the people at the hands of functionaries of the state which has been rated as the second most corrupt state in India by Transparency International.

Similarly, the servility, sycophancy and subservience of the Tamil Nadu bureaucracy is also a byword. There are very few among its members who do not carry some political label or the other; the prevalent belief is that each of them either leans towards, or is in the pocket of, some political party or politician or the other.

In no other state do IAS/IPS officers so cringingly troop with outsize bouquets, garlands and packets of sweets to the houses not only of the chief ministers-to-be but  of other prominent leaders of parties that have won the elections.

Encouraging such tendencies is not good to the state; in the ultimate analysis, it is not good to the political system either. If Jayalalithaa does nothing else but cleanse the administration of these two long-standing evils that are eating into its vitals, she would have made Tamil Nadu the springboard for all the progressive plans she has enumerated in her party's manifesto.

I would earnestly appeal to her to drop the idea of shifting the secretariat all the way back to Fort St George, because this will be seen as  having been undertaken merely to show who's the boss. She commands respect, and even a degree of fear, as an efficient, effective and result-oriented leader who cannot be trifled with.

She does not need gimmicks to impress with her authority, especially in the total absence of convincing reasons for such a peremptory move. The spacious and elegantly designed new secretariat had been serving the purposes of the government and the people well enough.

Priceless asset

As regards West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee's topmost priorities are industrialisation and infrastructure. One of her great advantages is the large number of public figures of competence and calibre from business, industry, administration and police whom she had put up as candidates.

They have all won, and their contribution to the making and implementation of policies as ministers and advisers is bound to give her government a flying start. Of all the political leaders in India and elsewhere, there is none who comes anywhere near her in knowing the heartbeat of the people and the enormous standing she has as a mass leader, almost in the image of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. This will be a priceless asset in taking the state forward.

In sum, any government that comes to power in India now and in the future will ignore at its own peril the clanging of the alarm bells of the revolution of rising expectations of the people who are in no mood any more to tolerate nonsense from ruling circles.

B S Raghavan is a former bureaucrat.

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