Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Narendra Modi and Responsibility

I saw an interesting headline yesterday saying that Narendra Modi, the Gujarat Chief Minister who is currently on a fast, does not take responsibility for the post-Godhra Gujarat riots during his regime, in one of the newspapers (Deccan Chronicle, I suspect). Fair enough. But by the same yardstick, he should not take the credit for the development in Gujarat as well.

To me any leader worth his salt should take responsibility for what has happened during his regime irrespective of his part in it. It is not as if Ministers who used to resign (there was a breed like that who stood on high moral ground and who used to resign taking what was called 'moral responsibility' - now an archaic word) because of failures in the system were directly responsible for railway accidents, corruption or some other failure. But as the leader one needs to take responsibility if not apologise for not being able to prevent what happened. If you do not wish to take responsibility for the blots on your regime, you must, by the same yardstick, not take credit for the good as well. For the simple reason that it is after all not you, but the people, who have taken the state ahead, or resorted to carnage.

Modi is an enigma. Few can understand this man who has become the icon of development in Gujarat. All who go to Gujarat cannot help but stop singing praises of his good governance. Just as they cannot stop singing praises of Nitish Kumar in Bihar. It reminds me of days gone by when Andhra Pradesh, under the leadership of Chandrababu Naidu, was in the zone, leading the pack in development, good governance and in those days, even introduced new words such as e-governance. I heard some fine stories of this e-governance.

One friend of mine who had returned from the USA in those Naidu and e-governance days, had a complaint against the number of dogs and dog bites in his colony in Red Hills, Hyderabad. He shot off a mail to the then email of the Chief Minister, being a techie, and probably did not expect any action. Lo behold, the next day the MCH people came and rounded of the strays, the veterinary doctor called on the complainant to check for any cases of dog bites and I remember how amazed my friend was. I also saw one of those video conferenced meetings with district officials where all officials from the collector downwards were present and accounted for their projections, plans and actual work done on live television, squirming under the intense scrutiny of the Chief Minister. Naidu could not do a step wrong those days and all that he did was productive and paid the path for what Hyderabad and much of Andhra Pradesh is today.

Leaders have their periods when they seem to have bouts of great clarity, energy and opportunity. The Naidu's, Modi's and Nitish Kumar's to name some have been driven by this period to do good for their respective states. These leaders do not rely on mere populist movements or sentiments such as freebies, reservations and narrow communal or regional angles. They promote enterprise, they reward enterprise, they recognise efficiency and urge people to join the path of their own good through good, old fashioned work. They try to make their states self sustainable, draw investments, improve infrastructure, provide genuine value for the rupee collected through effective policing, health and education initiatives and empower the weak, the backward through opportunity and not so much freebies which are as good as poison to the real growth of the backward. Most of these programs and initiatives have a long lasting effect and subsequent governments that come to power reap the benefits of these decisions from many years, just as the people do. Most leaders, given a long tenure, seem to be able to do this, after a period of initial uncertainty. Naidu and Modi both came off false starts, and were infamous for certain blots on their history, until they did the development trick.

But the good that one does is to be expected from leaders. We expect nothing less. And as Naidu found out that the electorate has its own reasons, its own ways of looking at development - dumped him after a long successful reign during which all he touched seemed to turn into gold, Modi might just find that some people do not want development at all, one fine election day. That is the irony for the politicians. And just as one expects the good from good leaders, one does not expect the bad. That is the burden of being good. On the other hand, with the bad leaders, bad is expected, good is not. So any good is seen as wonderful stuff. The prodigal son has returned.

However the good must be seen separately. One must be congratulated for the good things certainly. But one must also not forget the bad and completely forget or wash over those parts of history as if the good had compensated for it. If the leader stakes credit for the victory, he must also take the blame for the loss. Or he must credit both to the people.

This apart, we are increasingly witnessing have leaders taking credit not only for the good that has happened (sometimes in spite of them, sometimes by their predecessors, sometimes by totally different reasons and people) and publishing it all in all newspapers and television channels at the tax payer's cost. One can only sigh in response and hope that good sense prevails. For all that talk when everyone started wondering who funded Anna Hazare's campaign, one must also ask these questions of the people in power - why waste our public money on ads to glorify yourself? Anna Hazare must have got the money from his friends, but this is the tax payer's money and I am sure there are better ways to use it than issue expensive ads.

In these times I will take good, strong leaders as against weak, inefficient ones who do nothing. This would appear to be a period for action, the period of inaction is over and we need leaders who can do that. Leaders who have high morals are an extinct breed. However, one must draw a line and discern - that good leadership is a position that comes with only one word - responsibility.

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