StyleThings are not going too well for the world these days. Europe is teetering on the brink and the prognosis for the US and China is marginally better. Within the country, the economy seems to be faltering, and now, to compound our problems, the monsoon has gone truant. There are deeper problems as well. There is a crisis of ungovernability which has led to a paralysis of decision-making, not just in the Centre, but the states as well.
There was a time when it was said that India's animal spirits were sufficient to see the economy through the worst the government could do by way of incompetence and interference. Today that is no longer true. The country needs the agency of good men and sound decisions to pull it out of the multiple ruts it seems to be stuck in.
In essence, having exhausted whatever Lady Luck could give us, we now need leaders who take decisions, rather than adopt a policy of masterly inactivity, or triangulation between the voter and the compulsions of coalitions. The latter has led to a stasis in which this country has been stuck for the past three years, and will remain so in the coming period. In such matters, it is hard to assess one of our two candidates. Rahul Gandhi has never held an executive office and even his record as a party leader is eccentric and individualistic, characterised by guerilla action rather than a sustained campaign seeking victory.
On the other hand, notwithstanding what his critics say, Narendra Modi has through his leadership created an ambience which favours economic growth in his state. You can quibble with the metrics, but Modi's achievement is testified to by the generally positive response of India Inc to his state.
Even his best friends will admit that Modi has done this through an authoritarian 'take no prisoners' approach which brooks no opposition. His preemptory dealings in relation to his erstwhile RSS comrade Sanjay Joshi is a pointer to his style. There is, of course, that other matter- the handling of the Muslim massacres of 2002-which raises an important question mark on the BJP's relationship with its NDA allies, as well as the larger national electorate in states where Muslims are in electorally significant numbers.
VajpayeeIn the coming five years, the world economy is likely to remain weak. In the 2004- 2008 period, the Indian economy coasted to 9 per cent growth along with a boom in the world economy. Government milked growth for whatever it was worth, but did not do anything unusual to promote it. In other words, growth happened, rather than was made to happen. The coming years will be different. The hard decisions-whether on retrograde labour laws, or on land acquisition and foreign investment will have to be taken. Governments will also have to bite the bullet on subsidies, particularly in the area of power where decrepit state electricity boards have left most of the country with a deficit which can only grow.
You may wonder where such a leader can come from. But in this century itself we had Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Whether it was nuclear weapons policy, disinvestment, removing administered pricing in fuel, highway development, the government policy made a difference. More instructive, perhaps, are Vajpayee's dealings with Pakistan and China.
His visits to Pakistan in 1999 and 2004 altered the dynamics of the India-Pakistan relationship. The Lahore Agreement of 1999 and the January 6, 2004 agreement on resuming dialogue with Pakistan broke the negative mindset that had taken hold in New Delhi. Instead of encouraging a mindless titfor- tat response to Pakistan's support for terrorism in India, Vajpayee responded with a creative and effective diplomatic offensive which has since unbalanced the hardliners in Pakistan.
In the case of China, too, Vajpayee's 2003 visit was a path-breaking event. It convinced the Chinese that they were dealing with a confident and sure-footed Indian leadership and that it was possible to do business, both political and economic with the country. The result was a far-reaching agreement on taking the long-running official- level talks to a political plane and an agreement which could have, had circumstances permitted in India, actually led to a border settlement by 2005 or 2006.
initiatives were not accidental or the products of some immediate
circumstances. They were an outcome of the deep beliefs and
long-standing ideas of Vajpayee. And in the case of both countries, they
were a culmination of a journey that he had set off on in 1979 as the
external affairs minister of the Janata government. He initiated the
policy of normalising ties with Pakistan and China-the former having
been frozen since the 1971 Bangladesh War, and the latter since the 1962
border conflict. And it was he as Prime Minister who persisted with
Islamabad from Lahore, to Kargil and Agra.
Vajpayee, knew, too, that he had a unique opportunity here because he was the hardliner who had berated Nehru for his 'weak' China policy and as a leader of the Jana Sangh, been traditionally hostile to Pakistan. What was remarkable was his ability to turn this into a positive advantage and a win-win solution for all three countries.
Whether it is Modi or Rahul, or some other set of persons who will lead the country after 2014 only time will tell. But there can be little doubt about the quality he or she needs. They must be akin to those that Vajpayee has possessed. Political skills accompanied by deep convictions, and an ability to keep an eye on the target at all times.
Mail Today July 21, 2012