“Trust me” stance of the Prime Minister doesn’t impress the Indian opinion.

On such critical issues like US- Indo nuclear deal, Indo-Pak negotiations or China or Sri Lanka hasn’t won friends and supporters for him. The PM is relying on select officials and has no stomach for educating public opinion. An M.K.Narayanan, Sivashankara Menon or Shyam Saran is no substitute to an informed public support for the government. This, the PM hasn’t understood and to that extent, he seems to be becoming more remote from the public. He might end up as another P.V.Narasimha Rao, the most non-performing Prime Minister in Independent India. Incidentally, it is Rao who picked up Singh who in turn has paid a long overdue tribute to his mentor recently.

A more transparent governance at the Centre difficult?

A remote PM and a secretive governance style stunts India’s democracy!

Small Indian media outfits better than large media houses!

The UPA government seems to have been caught in a typical mid-term crisis. The emerging pattern of the electorate’s mood is clear from the Assembly elections. UP wont help the Congress party either.

Given the mindset of the Left and the regional allies, it looks like the Congress losing out to more extremist allies. There has to be some introspection.

It calls for a vision and a long term strategy. There is no one who can be said to possess any such strategy. Sonia Gandhi seems simply fed up. As for the PM, yes, he is truly a Wiseman. He was nowhere seen. In the PM’s radar UP is not there. Or, he was wisely advised to stay out? More likely. Considering his surprising participation in the Narasimha Rao’s Memorial Day where we saw for the first time, he was praising Rao as his mentor and guru. Everyone has commented on the PM’s this bravado performance. There must be an explanation for this sudden turn of stance on the part of the PM. Anyway, let us see where we are now and where the UPA is heading?

What are the achievements of the UPA government under Dr.Manmohan Singh? In foreign affairs? Certainly, the Indo-American nuclear deal is not Dr.Singh’s baby. We have it on the authority of so many that it was a deal initiated under the NDA regime. So too the Indo-Pak dialogues. So, let us not be lulled by the complacent and an obliging mainline media about propaganda otherwise.

Anyway, in such weighty matters there is no end or a beginning. Every time the India-Pak leaders meet, as they did lately during the SAARC meet Prime Ministers of the two countries, met and exchanged views. Rather India obliged the visiting dignitary by giving a patient hearing. What more is possible in the Indo-Pak dialogue? Everyone knows neither of the Prime Ministers have real authority, they are political lightweights and as such the press communiqué is full of effusive prose. See the example:” Reaffirming their commitment to sincerity and seriously pursue the gas pipeline project. They, the two leaders expressed satisfaction over progress made so far in the technical level talks”. The Indian public mind is so brainwashed in such a manner that every time we the pictures of the two leaders or the two secretaries (lately, Shivashankar Menon, the foreign secretary is almost taking full charge of the talks to keep the Pakistanis quite engaged in expectations of so many things),knowing fully well this business of reconciling the Pakistan’s absurd claims is not easy. We have to live with a difficult neighbor and so we need all the patience and tact to keep the neighbor in good humor!

As we write, we find a senior Correspondent of The Asian Age, Ms.Seema Mustafa has also written on the same lines. The SAARC summit had come for criticism for the way the PMs of the two countries, India and Pakistan, have conducted their “negotiations” and the so-called secrecy that surrounded their substantive issues. The demilitarization, joint management self governance and open borders all sensitive issues no doubt. But then as Ms.Mustafa notes that the way the media is sought to be toe the “official” line by leaking and then denying (as Pranab Mukerjee the External Affairs Minister had been doing) was all supposed to be the high points of the maturity of our governance. They are not. This government which can take some pride in introducing the right to information act hasn’t even started to implement that act in some spirit.

Our external affairs dept spokesmen are so economical with truths, they deny more than they reveal or clarify. And remember Delhi has a large population of foreign affairs experts, one outcome of the large ministry and larger personnel who had served our embassies abroad. So, every new government faces the trouble of accommodating their favorites of ‘foreign experts’. And for some inexplicable reasons, our foreign experts always command a premium in social status in the Delhi pecking order. May be one reason is the fact that since Independence the foreign office was sought to be a haven for high social perks, with so many of Pandit Nehru’s own kith and kin were accommodated in this  dept and also as the practice was then, the foreign office young men were sought after as eligible bridegrooms! That is one reason why men like Natwar Singh had had a high profile role in the government and the Congress party affairs. On a lesser scale the same mindset prevails and the external affairs ministry often becomes so disconnected with the aspirations and dreams of the Indian common people. Our foreign embassy officials pose themselves as foreign-born citizens. Just have a look at the present incumbents at our major embassies, like Washington and elsewhere, you will see all the crusty old officials who manage to get posted there so that their progeny, grandchildren are enabled to get good education at government’s costs!

So, be it Indo-Pakistan dialogue or Indo-American nuclear deal they are all made to look like great acts of uncommon diplomatic skills. They are not.V.K.Krishna Menon didnt learn any such skills. Great diplomatic skills come with the great minds and greaten. That is all. All else is career-seeking skills that would hide from the Indian people and also hide the Indian advantages and disadvantages  from the Indian public and only time servers and job seekers in Delhi would fool around.

Anyway, the present spectacle of our senior leaders who don’t have much legitimacy, they are what they are by the circumstances external to their own claims for legitimacy and so their so-called ‘negotiations’ cant be taken seriously.

Unless there is some  in-depth discussion of substantive issues in the open realm, among the Indian public and likewise in the Pakistan press and elsewhere, there cant be any  genuine progress in the Indo-Pakistan relations. The Indian public is no better than what it was when it comes to reporting from the government on what it has done all the past three years in improving the relations with the neighbor. Except if you say the appointment of Sivashankar Menon, from being the diplomat to Pakistan to the foreign secretary level is a major achievement. Better let Mr.Menon be designated as a full-time trouble shooter for the government for Pakistani affairs exclusively. That is what he seems to be doing all the time.

So, much for Indo-Pak dialogue.

As for the Americans, who can afford to antagonize the Americans?  Now, they are also behaving in such a unilateral manner ,throwing threats everywhere, see the threat the Americans held out over the hostage crisis on British sailors in Iran, later released, in a dignified manner and that enhanced only Iran’s stature in the eyes of the world and lowered the image of the threatening voices of USA and UK. So, India is not doing anything great, other than keeping the Americans happy over an extremely complicated nuclear deal the final outcome of the deal is still in the future and by the time any real benefits flows to India Manmohan might not be there in the scheme of things. So, the point is that there is no great thing in such goody-goody talks over Manmohan doing anything extraordinary.

US-India civilian nuclear energy agreement is another case in point. The agreement was negotiated and the implementation started all in a state of great secrecy. After all here again, the legitimacy of the Indian side is under question. It was after luckily our leading nuclear scientists started questioning the various clauses and the strategic community, one or two leading newspapers helped, rather forced the PM to come out in the open in Parliament and the PM, from a position of “trust me” tone had to make statements that committed him and the government that the 123 agreement would be acceptable only if it did not incorporate the controversial clauses of the so-called Henry Hyde Act.

In fact, ironically, all the information about the negotiations came from the American side. It is to the credit of the Americans that they lived up to their reputation for candidness and openness and their press with all its deficiencies, has also a reputation for daring and transparency. The Indian mainstream press with all its claims to be a free press is not a transparent medium when it comes to reporting and exposing certain entrenched official positions and also some entrenched social and other cultural prejudices.

Take the very functioning of the Central government. The major press houses don’t take on the government openly even when some big scandals break out. It was left to small players, be it Tehelka or the now very innovative small players, sting operations, Cobrapost for instance recently exposed the sitting MLAs of two major UP parties, including ruling Samajawadi and BSP MLAs and even ministers taking cash for doing the biddings of  payers after elections! It is the small players, the print and electronic media and the news portals like Cobrapost that seem to be the hopes for the common man. It is they who systematically bring out the large scale corruption among the MLAs in UP and the hidden camera is widely deployed by the small players and the electronic media. Not the big and established commercial scale print houses.

Some of the multi-edition big papers have also had to oblige the respective state governments. So, we don’t get to know the big mistakes, misgovernance, be it in W.Bengal or Tamil Nadu.Not to speak of other states. In W.Bengal there has been unexplained violence by the CPM party cadres. This is not explained by any of the media and we are left with the same old typical CPM party line in the available explanations. Likewise, in Tamil Nadu, we find the party hooliganism, a perverse CPM type cadre violence when the Opposition party MLA who makes some allegations gets his village home in remote Tanjavur demolished overnight. Yet, the public is kept in the dark how it was carried and who did it and other details of such goondaism. There must be similar instances of state-ruling party patronized violence in our democratic system.

All this can be traced to several causes. One cause, we believe, to be at the root of the issue is lack of transparency in our governance. This, in spite of our reluctance to implement the existing legislation like the Right to Information Act in true spirit. As for the corruption cases, we are a greatly hypocritical nation and we turn the other side when our allies carry on with their highly illegal acts. Even within the present Cabinet itself we find many instances of some senior ministers indulging in promoting their own private businesses, in one or two cases, so blatantly and yet the government goes on as if nothing had happened.

The question of transparency in governance is also closely linked to the Indian mindset. Our press again in cases like the cricket debacle or in exposing the ruling parties or the incumbent governments fails us time and again. Also, our film personalities are also demonized as if they are demi-gods. So too the new businessmen. Much newspaper space is wasted to film persons and businessmen, at the cost of more important news items like climate change and its impact on environment. There are other developments like the language teleserials. Popular culture and rampant consumerism somehow numb the imagination and the more elevating cultural experiences.

So, it looks we have to live with all the technological developments and the new entertainment mediums. So, the attention of the citizens is diverted and kept numbed for several other cultural and institutional deficiencies. But then there are the internet revolutionary gadgets. The weblogs is a new powerful medium to air the citizens’ woes. The American Presidential candidates posted their candidatures on the internet blogs first! That has a powerful message.

We might criticize many American practices and their habits. But it is their transparent social and political practices we have to emulate. The Washington Post, the only newspaper has always played an exemplary role when it comes to standing up to the interests of the citizens as against the government. American journalists, individually and collectively, play a role model for the rest of democracies. So too in UK where we have the legendary Guardian newspaper which rips through the many hypocrisies in high places.

Of course, we have our activist judiciary and the vigilant EC and the not so supplicant electronic media. All these give hope even when we have a not-so- politically legitimate governance as we have now. 

Two points.

One, Dr.Manmohan Singh reminds us the role played by Dr.S.Radhakrishnan, the highly gifted philosophy professor, who was utilized by Pandit Nehru to serve the purposes then. Yes, sometimes we need such neutral men, these men didn’t ear their spurs by fighting for India’s Independence or even expressing any opinions outright that justified the high offices they come to occupy. So, we have now a neutral man indeed as the PM. That is all we can say about the current incumbent and this sort of stop-gap Prime Ministers have their own severe limitations.

Two, we need to ponder over the changing Indian polity. Coalition should not lead to anarchical situations. Rule of law needs understood in a contemporary sense. Lawlessness and criminality, tolerance of open defiance by ruling allies for the sake of survival has a limit. Elections every five years are a sure correction of the many short-comings. But political wisdom demands political legitimacy and also enforcement of law. This, old liberalism didn’t stress much. Individualism, individual liberty was thought supreme. In the new context, with economic growth and more economic freedoms, offenders of basic laws come in different avatars! These have to be identified and punished by due process of law.

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