Millennium Post

Nation’s image, a banana republic

Late last month the newspapers were full of reports from the annual jamboree of the World Economic Forum in Davos of the Indian story being over and the lack of enthusiasm for India as a destination for the investors. Poor state of our economy, as the available data would make us believe, is proving to be a big dampener for those wanting to do business with India.

Last week your reporters travelled to the prestigious Smurfit Business School of University College of Dublin in Ireland to present a paper at the Responsible Leadership Conference. The presentation related to the role of youth as leader and I chose to tell the story of five ‘unemployable’ youth from Bihar who had helped public sector major Gail to bring happiness in the lives of 2000 tribal women in India’s most backward district of Jhabua on Bihar-Rajasthan border.

To the participants, largely students from MBA and other Masters programmes from across the nationalities in Europe and America, the story was unbelievable. Unbelievable, in fact, would be a positive description of their disbelief of what I stated. The presentation came to be contested on basis of the recent image of India we have projected abroad – that of a nation infested with corruption, lawlessness and lack of governance of very high degree.

Even for scholars like Gagan Khurana, who now works for Group Africa of the World Economic Forum in Geneva and was in Dublin to address a session, the India story as of now surrounds just the failings of the United Progressive Alliance government and inability of the leadership to lead firmly resulting in the rise of ‘alternative forces’ like the Aam Aadmi Party of ArvindKejriwal.

The fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) performed much better than the Kejriwal-led Aam Admi Party (AAP) in the three Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and even beat AAP in Delhi in matter of numbers doesn’t cut much ice with Indian community abroad in general and scholars like Khurana in particular.

The explanation that the retention of power by the right-wing party in the states of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh is largely owing to a positive vote for good governance doesn’t excite them. It makes you wonder what couldbe the reason for thisnegative image of the nation and also the relatively lesser impact of the BJP in the western mind space especially those of the non-resident Indians or people of Indian origin.

The reason is not far to seek. The prevailing Indian story is largely attributable to the pessimism and cynicism which pervades our television news and the social media. This is not to suggest that we have not had lack of governance and no corruption in our system, both of which have been witnessed in a very high degree in the past five years. However, the India story has not been that bad either.

We have been able to fight economic downturn, improve agriculture production by leaps and bounds, and keep our factories functional despite the demand in the global market falling. We have world class air terminals, a hugely subsidized railway service and a world beater in the Delhi Metro. There is nothing which is not true in the advertisements being issued by the UPA government.

Despite all this, why is that the Indian news and social media space has turned so cynical? We are facing the crisis of leadership. Dr Manmohan Singh at his last press conference said that it would be for the history to judge him whether he was good or bad at his job. Dr Singh fails to realise that his job is not that of the chief economist of the Indian nation but the prime minister of the country.

Subhash Kashyap in his celebrated work Our Parliament says, ‘Indian political system represents a real fusion of the highest executive and legislative authorities.’ Before Manmohan Singh becoming the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House in Lok Sabha invariably held the position of the highest executive. Manmohan Singh has never been comfortable in seeking from people direct endorsement of his candidature as their representative.

Kashyap goes onto write that ‘the relationship between the executive and legislature is one that is most intimate and ideally does not admit of any antagonism or dichotomy.’ Manmohan Singh’s relationship with Indian legislature has been dichotomous and indifference his best tool to have his way through. This may have helped Singh to keep his chair but it has been galling experience for the Indian polity and people.

The biggest loser in the bargain has been the Indian parliamentary institutions. The prime ministers from the past like Jawaharlal Nehru or Atal Bihari Vajpayee functioned from the strength of their standing in the parliament. The other prime ministers may not have matched the oratorical skills of the two mentioned earlier but parliamentary system imbued their personality be it an authoritarian Indira Gandhi, Machiavellian PV Narasimha Rao or leader of small groups like Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Viswanath Pratap Singh or for that matter Chandrashekhar.

None among Singh’s predecessors practised indifference to the legislature the way Manmohan Singh has done. In fact Manmohan Singh as finance minister in Narasimha Rao government too did not practise indifference the way he does now.

Questions would be asked why he does it the way he does it. While history, as Singh himself has said, should give us an answer but for the current it has definitely projected image of the nation as leaderless and rudderless with none in command to rain in negativisms pervading the social and political environment.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
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