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Hari Jaisingh
Opinion

Leadership, Rajdharma and Democracy

What type of leadership does India need? An instant brief answer would be: A visionary, fair to all sections of society, firm, mature, determined, responsive, committed to a value-based democracy and all-inclusive egalitarian development.

And I would wish to add, the leader at the helm of national affairs ought to know the sensitivities of statecraft and Rajdharma norms that once Atal Behari Vajpayee had talked about passionately. But, who cares about Rajdharma? Not even BJP leaders, including PM Modi!

A leader is not like a consumer product produced in a factory on a “made to order” basis. He or she is pushed up by people or is thrust upon them by circumstances, or arrives through interaction or combination of various forces of alliance in our federal polity.

Our working democracy has so far managed to survive, though some doubts have surfaced since the BJP-led NDA regime headed by Narendra Modi came to power in May 2014. Its five-year term has nearly come to the end.

It is just a matter of time for the 2019 general elections. Already we have of late been witnessing politico-social and economic turbulence, public rallies by the Opposition leaders and lots of restlessness at different levels of our society. As of today, the Indian polity seems to be divided between the Sangh Parivar led by Prime Minister Modi of the BJP and the rest of diverse Opposition political forces under the label of “Mahagathbandhan”.

We saw a spectacle of this in Mamata Banerjee’s Kolkata on January 19 massive rally where as many as 25 Opposition leaders vowed to oust the Modi government in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. They have also promised to hold such rallies in other states and come out with a concrete plan of action in the form of a joint policy document.

We have to wait and see what sort of policy document they are able to evolve. What is challenging is whether their plan of action would meet the people’s unfulfilled hopes and aspirations, especially in rural India where farmers have been struggling to survive and live a reasonably prosperous life. The minorities have their own sets of grievances.

In a way, this is not a new phenomenon. The process of coalition politics, set in motion in 1989, has continued till date. What made a difference is the emergence of the BJP under Narendra Modi in the May 2014 poll with a massive majority while retaining the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) umbrella.

However, these alliance partners hardly matter under a strong leader like Narendra Modi who seems to be controlling all facets of the national polity under his one-man show. Modi is not like former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who had the ability to take along with him respectfully varied politico-ideological leaders, including firebrand Mamata Banerjee of Trinamool Congress of West Bengal. Therein lie today’s problems as PM Modi is faced with confrontationist forces across the states.

The most uncertain factor in the polity today is the Congress party, now under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. As an individual, he is no match to Modi’s rhetoric and political skills. That is the reason when he has not been able to take off from his recent Bengaluru conclave. In the circumstances, we have to wait and watch who emerges as a consensus candidate of Opposition parties for the PM post. A lot will depend on the credibility of the person in the people’s eyes.

In this context I must state, the power of the Central government “is not the best guarantee” against the country “falling apart” as some BJP leaders look at the coming together of Opposition leaders having diverse ideological, political, economic and personal interests.

What needs to be appreciated by all political parties and leaders is that excessive centralisation of political authority may even “weaken the unity of the country by destroying the participatory nature of the democratic polity”.

Similarly, the state’s effectiveness in economic and social matters does not depend on the measure of discretionary powers at the Centre, enjoyed by the bureaucratic command system. In the sphere of economic regulation, as an expert put it, “concentration of discretionary power at the Centre may become counter-productive in making these powers operate in a state of vacuum, unmindful of the motivations guiding the behavior of the economic units, either in the private or in the public sector”.

No wonder, concentration of administrative and other powers at the Centre tends to breed inefficiency and resentment which, in turn, sets the minds of the people of states against the Central authority.

I am raising this issue to explain why this “anti-Modi hate campaign” is being voiced by the Opposition leaders of all shades and colours. In contrast, we have a shining example of Atal Behari Vajpayee belonging to the same Sangh Parivar. PM Modi ought to have learnt from PM Vajpayee, but he did not.

Interestingly, I am amused at the way Prime Minister Modi has reacted to the observations against him by some Opposition leaders at Mamata Banerjee’s mammoth rally in Kolkata. He said that Mahaghatbandhan was not against him but against “all the people of the country”! How come? How can PM Modi identify himself as representing the nation and “all the people of the country”?

It is a pity that the BJP’s Narendra Modi thinks himself to be “the nation”. He should not forget that in a vibrant democracy every state, every citizen of the country is a sum total of India. He cannot cast himself in a mould of a larger than the Nation.

This reminds me of Lord Bruce who once described the American federal system as “a great factory wherein two sets of machinery are at work, their revolving wheels apparently intermixed their bonds crossing one another, yet each set doing its own work without touching or hampering the other”.

This is not a prevalent situation in India. This is also no reason to be pessimistic at the state of national affairs. What is necessary is to create a new atmosphere of functional decentralization and develop attitudes of understanding, tolerance and mutual respect by our leaders at all levels of society. This holds the key to building a strong Centre. A strong India cannot survive if its roots are weak, hollow or shallow.

What are urgently needed for our developing democracy are back-up services from its constitutionally established institutions. This is not a rhetorical declaration. Nor is it meant to strike a note of uncertainty. This is an elementary lesson that must be drawn by our leaders of all parties, especially Prime Minister Modi, from the failure of democracy in several developing countries.

They also ought to appreciate that in a democracy like ours, all citizens need to be treated equally. So must be the functional operation of the laws.

Finally, I must say that democracy cannot be run as someone’s fiefdom. Nor can it be undermined by vested political interests as the country is heading for yet another choice to decide what sort of India they wish to see in the 2019 elections! This is an open game. And it has to be openly arrived at, without intrigues or manipulations by the powers that be!

- Hari Jaisingh, Senior Journalist.

(The views expressed in the article above are those of the author.)