Indian politics has a leadership vacuum!
As I read the news this morning on the BBC website, over breakfast at the New Delhi hotel I was staying, I came upon a news item about Chinese leaders discussing reforms. It made me think of the news about political happenings in India, as the nation gears up for parliamentary elections that must be held during the first half of 2014. In contrast to the BBC article about discussion of policy among China’s top leaders, the Indian political debate leading up to elections seems to be more about individual characters and character assassination. Thus, one report in the Times of India a couple of days ago ran the headline “Rahul will be around even if Cong loses, but not Modi: Jairam Ramesh” — Mr. Ramesh is a parliamentarian from the Congress Party.
Another report yesterday, in the same newspaper, reported that, Mr. Narendra Modi, the BJP prime ministerial candidate for the coming elections, at a rally in UP, said that “Those in power could not defeat me in three consecutive elections in Gujarat. They know that they cannot defeat me through electoral process, hence they have deployed CBI and Indian Mujahideen against me”. These comments from across the political spectrum show the depths to which political debate has sunk in India.
With the economy slowing, one would have expected the political debate to focus on policies to return to the pre-2008 growth trajectory, debating paths to getting there, and trying to build a consensus which would then lead to the parliamentary outcomes in mid-2014. What we get instead from our so-called leaders is mudslinging that is utterly vacuous from a policy point of view.
What is sad but interesting is that in some cases the comments actually point to the malaise in Indian politics, although perhaps those making them do not actually get it. Consider for example the comment attributed to Mr. Jairam Ramesh noted above. It suggests that Mr. Rahul Gandhi will be around in politics no matter whether the Congress Party wins or loses.
This is dynastic politics, not the politics of a liberal democracy where the party leadership that fails to take the party to victory is replaced by fresh blood and new thinking. This is precisely the problem with the politics of the Congress Party and, interestingly, Mr. Ramesh a technocrat who is a graduate of India’s prestigious IIT Bombay, made this comment without realizing how inappropriate it was; and that is the most charitable attribution possible!
Without real leadership, more mature political behavior, without political parties that formulate policies based on some underlying philosophical perspective or ideology, I fear for our future no matter which party comes to power in 2014! Clearly, there is a reason why China continues to grow at close to 8%. Take heed and learn.