A NEEDLESSLY unhappy and unproductive year is behind us. On the last day of 2015, we were subjected to a blatantly staged partisan confrontation between the Centre and the Delhi Government, a standoff that diminishes both sets of elected representatives. A few weeks earlier, we felt a strange satisfaction at seeing the Gandhis and Arun Jaitley — depending upon which side of the political divide one stands — being dragged to courts, forced to defend their honour and reputation. The Gandhis and Jaitley stand belittled. Our satisfaction in their discomfort is reflective of a larger malaise. There is a slide into a consumptive unseemliness. The challenge in 2016 will be to halt this slide.
Because, in 2015, we collectively failed to demonstrate ourselves as capable of insisting on robust moral norms, unattended and undressed festering wounds will hurt us again. The Indian polity will be tested as we try to find a way forward. And we do need to move forward in a way that does not cheapen our dreams. Through most of last year, we conspired against ourselves and turned our back on our society’s collective well-being. We will have to remind ourselves once again that ethical shoddiness cannot be a basis for a healthy polity, leave alone as a mantra for national greatness or renaissance. National glory we must pursue, but not without nobility.
It is fashionable to disdainfully dismiss any talk of moral wholesomeness as some kind of a fuddy-duddy virtue. Yet every society has a basic need for ethics in its collective affairs. More so in a democracy, and certainly much more so in our Indian context. We are forever searching for a “good” reason to respect those who are — or want to be — in charge of our polity. A political community is a virtuous affair, based on trust and cooperation, between the leader and the led, between the governing elites and society and its various segments and groups. The preceding year showed up how depleted our trust account is.
Only three years ago, we were all dipping into that cleansing movement, started in the name of Anna Hazare. Feeling purified, we joined the righteous battle between the corrupt and the innocent, the state versus the citizen, the venal versus the good. Today, we are berated for feeling righteous and so ignorant of the compulsions of the Leader.
The politician all over the world and the Indian politician, in particular, encourages a certain kind of amorality in public affairs. A “successful” politician is clever enough to help us readjust our moral compass favourably in his direction. By this ruse, he seeks a licence from us to lord over us. By the end of 2015, the nation stood disappointed. Some would, perhaps, go so far as to say we feel cheated.
What is more, the Indian politician has managed to ensnare us in his amoral preoccupations. Those in civil society and “free media”, who claim to rescue the republic from the bad politician, have themselves got trapped in the politicians’ game. And, so suave has become the politician in his tricks that his victims do not seem to know that they have been trapped. Even the spiritual healer, the enlightened guru, the holy baba — that civilisational asset that served us through centuries — has got involved in the politician’s game, has become a political partisan, and now wants to extract patronage. Our tragedy is that we are in thrall of the staged petty-mindedness.
With all due respect to Chanakya and Machiavelli and their advocacy of amoral pursuit of power, the 21st century nation state has a definite ethical dimension to it. As new and newer non-state actors pose new and deadlier challenges to orderly global arrangements, the State and its traditional claims to legitimacy and obedience can only be reinforced in ethical terms. The Indian State and its polity can flourish and prosper only on the basis of an ethically sustainable just and fair order. Let there be no misconception about it.
We need to redefine the very basis of the collective enterprise called India that is Bharat. Three elements commend themselves:
First, the State has to remain a benevolent and caring agency, with a self-assigned mandate to work for the welfare of one and all citizens. Fortunately enough, despite all the celebration of the market and its presumed magical potency, no Indian political dispensation has yet been able to advocate the idea of leaving the vulnerable and the poor at the mercy of the economic forces. Not just the poor, even the so-called entrepreneur wants — and gets — the protection or indulgence of the State before pitting himself against the fellow-entrepreneur in the market. The State, then, is required to make authoritative choices in terms of policies and the consequent allocation of resources. The name of the game is to make the choice in a just and fair manner.
Second, the State and its political organs need to operate in such a manner as to deepen the society’s moral capital. This will necessarily involve a rediscovery and redefinition of public purpose. Admittedly, most of the time, this ‘public purpose’ is an elusive creature. We can only vaguely discern its outlines. But surely, it cannot be confused with a leader’s pursuit of personal glory or with the corporate greed of this or that business house.
Third, the polity should be able to stand up, at times, against the tide of the so-called public mood and opinion. The mood is a finicky phenomenon, never a reliable guide and can easily be inflamed. The cunning and the corrupt know how to manipulate the so-called public opinion. A leader needs to stand up to what is right — just as Angela Merkel did when she opened German hospitality for refugees from the Syrian civil war —and not just what is politically rewarding in electoral terms.
All these three elements of a good state order will be challenged as the country would stage a number of state Assembly elections in 2016. True, the name of politics is to win power, and having won it, keep it, retain it. This is the unsentimental, unvarnished bottomline. Any leader or political party that claims to be in the game for some noble purpose is taking us for a ride.
We need to forgo the temptation of pursuing political strategies which invariably end up dividing us, raising questions about identity and allegiance about this or that section of our citizens. Leadership’s task is to create trust and build harmonious solidarities among the citizens. This can be done only by a leadership which enjoys a semblance of moral authority. Democratic vibrancy will have to be invoked to make our leaders aware of their moral and ethical responsibilities.
(Courtesy: The Tribune)