Monday, November 03, 2014

What Modi can learn from Xi

Last month, Prime Minister Modi articulated the Indian dream in his extempore address on Independence Day. He packaged a deceptively large vision of the Indian future in penny-packets - a clean country with toilets for all, especially women, a country free of violence, again, especially against women, a manufacturing hub with a social safety net for all and so on.
Though he did dwell on moral corruption, he had little to say on monetary corruption, something which has plagued the nation for a long time, and which roiled the politics of the country for years leading to the UPA's defeat and Modi's spectacular election victory. Somehow, with the passage of the Lokpal Bill, the issue seems to have receded from public memory.

Modi has, coined the memorable slogan, "na khaunga, na khaney doonga" (loosely translated to "I will not be corrupt nor permit corruption"). There is little doubt he has tightened the governmental system and his ministers are on tenterhooks all the time, a function of the fact that their boss is not just first among equals, but their omniscient supremo. However, corruption is so widespread, that without tackling it on an institutionalised scale, it cannot be managed by a vigilant leader all by himself. Though, it must be pointed out there is no doubt there will be a positive trickle down impact of a government which is honest at the top, just as it had worked the other way with the UPA.
The one country that Modi can take lessons from is China. Both Modi and Xi are seeking to consolidate a vision of a nation with middle-class values, virtues and attainments though they articulate it in different ways. A corruption free and efficient government which provides a level playing field is the most desirable goal for middle-class folk.
Perhaps Modi has wanted to avoid negativity in taking up corruption at this stage. But he cannot be unaware of the fact that corrupt police, administrators, judges and, above all, politicians, have made India the dystopia of poverty, filth, violence, illiteracy and joblessness. Across the country, at every level of government - chaprasis, policemen, junior engineers, and IAS officers - function in a corrupt system in symbiotic lock-step with our politicians. Beyond the venality of officials exists the criminalised society of new India where mafias operate freely-real estate, sand-mining, coal, timber, liquor, drugs, even education, tent supplies and parking. These cannot be rooted out through ordinary means because they have infiltrated the machinery of the state - the police and the governance system.
The Lokpal movement of Anna Hazare, seems to have lost its way. Modi, himself, has been ambivalent about the Lokpal, believing, presumably, a revitalised administration will make this institution redundant. If so, he is wrong. At some point, he will have to take up the fight directly.

This is the lesson we can learn from Xi Jinping. From the outset, Xi has been involved in a struggle against corruption. In his first press conference on the first day he took over as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 2012, Xi announced corruption was ruining the CPC and the country. To fix this he got his aide Wang Qishan to take the post of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI). Through its draconian authority over the 91 million party members, the CCDI covers almost every aspect of the Chinese government and administration.
Wang has launched a campaign to ensnare both "flies" (smaller functionaries of government) as well as the "tigers" (the highranking leaders). The CCDI and its associated Ministry of Supervision has investigated 182,000 officials in 2013 alone, the highest number in 30 years.

As for the "tigers," since about a year ago 28 ministerial and provincial-level senior leaders have been arrested, including four members (two full members and two alternate members) of the newly formed 18th Central Committee. On their cross-hairs now are a former Poliburo Standing Committee Member Zhou Yonkang, the highest ranking official to ever face action, a former Vice-Chairmen of the Central Military Commission Xu Caihou who was also a Politburo member has been expelled by the party and is to be court-martialed; another CMC Vice Chairman Guo Boxiong is under investigation.
It would be easy to accuse Xi of using the anti-corruption campaign to consolidate his authority in China. But in taking on the top echelons of the party, he is taking a big risk. But, clearly, the idea of a corruption free country is an intrinsic part of his "dream" because it will make for a more resilient China. Just as, of course, it would a corruption free India. Modi, too, has articulated an dream of development and prosperity, but he needs to ensure that it is not distorted by corruption.
W B Yeats once wrote, "In dreams begins responsibilities." Hopefully, this is something that the leader of China Xi Jinping, and the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi understand well. Both have packaged their plans and perspectives as visions or dreams that spring from the positions of authority that they occupy.
But both can be undone if somehow they are unable to deliver.
Mail Today September 4, 2014

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