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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 2, January 24, 2009

The Challenge

Monday 26 January 2009, by Nikhil Chakravartty

With every Republic Day come out only the glittering pageants but pious perorations. From Olympian heights come messages of exhortation for the common people all over the country. If words alone could move the millions, then every Republic Day would have seen mighty stirrings swaying the entire nation.

Words, however noble and inspiring, do not by themselves mould any people. Only when the words reflect the will of a nation and the determination of a leadership, when words are matched by deeds, can they move millions and shape history. There is no need to delude ourselves that we have such a leadership at the helm of the nation now. Hence it would be idle to expect that whatever sermon we may hear on the Republic Day will bestir our countrymen. Every call does not become a clarion call.

Bankruptcy is writ large in the entire spectrum of national leadership today. In this staggering devaluation of political leadership, no party has been spared. Never before in our national history has this country been burdened with such small men at the top. For weeks and months, Morarji Desai and Charan Singh have been squabbling. It matters little if Morarji Desai has fared a little better than his adversary, for, what we have been witnessing is not the duel between Subhas and Gandhi in the late thirties or Nehru and Patel in the late forties. Today’s fare resembles the bickerings of District Board politicians, in which one is holding on to office and the other belching out frustration on losing office. Principles are not involved, norms of decent political life are not cared for, policies are not seriously debated, but petty personalities are indulging in bickerings which have no relevance at all for the nation. If Morarji Desai survives in this contest, the country will not gain, whatever may be the benefits that may come for his dearly beloved son Kanti. If Charan Singh gains his point, it will not make the least difference in terms of national good, though it may help Indira Gandhi to meddle in Janata politics.

There is no need to recapitulate the sins of omission of the government. The Janata Party came to power cashing in on Indira’s Emergency exploits. Now it is her turn to make the most out of the Janata’s incompetence and stupidity. Each complements the other, but between them they are helping to spread creeping paralysis in the administrative system. One can understand the present system being attacked by those who have come to the conclusion that this system will not be able to deliver the goods and its continuation is a hindrance to the concept of revolutionary advance. But today the system is being undermined by the very people who have enjoyed power for decades making use of it. In other words, the corrosion in the system has been coming from within and not because of any attack from outside.

The economic condition may not have deteriorated in the last two years, but the very absence of political will at the top is endangering the long-term perspective for our national economy. The Janata leaders imitating Indira’s populism have been thundering about nationalisation but one not-so-gentle warning from the Tatas gave them cold feet. One is reminded of Indira Gandhi’s second broadcast after imposition of Emergency in which she assured Big Business against any nationalization. Even today the Janata Government can, if it has the will, bring the Tatas and the Birlas to their knees if it tries to enforce control over their empires by virtue of the loans and investments that these empires have got from the government.

Not that there are no active Ministers: in a sense, quite a number of Ministers of the present Cabinet can claim to be more energetic than their predecessors in office. What is lacking essentially is leadership in the government. A tired bunch of men, lacking in coherence and bereft of any capacity to meet challenges, cannot be blamed for not providing the necessary leadership at this juncture. Their days are over. The time has come for new leaders to emerge.

On Republic Day, one looks round to identify new leaders to replace the old exhausted lot. But new leaders are yet to arrive. We are watching with anger the degeneration of the old leadership and we are awaiting with bated breath those who can and must replace them. The search for leadership talent can no longer be put off if this nation is to survive and grow. The objective situation has matured, but new leaders are still missing. Instead, the old are clinging to office, virtually blocking the entry of those who deserve to replace them.

This indeed is an explosive situation. If Emergency of 1975-77 saw the emasculation of the Constitution, who can predict that in the tension-charged twilight that we are witnessing now, a worse round of tyranny will not take over? It is not enough to rely on the democratic instincts of the common millions. These can be overpowered, at least temporarily, if those millions are denied the leadership that they badly need and amply deserve.

On this day of national renewal, uppermost in the mind of every citizen of this Republic is the absence of a dedicated leadership, ready to learn and capable of teaching and guiding. It is not enough to ring out the old, it is equally important to ring in the new.

(Mainstream, Republic Day, 1979)

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