Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Re-wind

It's funny in a weird sort of way that my return to blogging has to do with an election story. The last time I wrote anything with any degree of passion and interest was during the American election circus: Palin's bloopers, Obama's eloquence, McCain's blunders and Hillary's desperation were too good to resist. It was like Survival and Bold & Beautiful rolled into one.

Well, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since my last post, and the world has seen a lot many changes. Some of these changes nearly got commented on this blog but due to this facility called 'incomplete posts', most of those comments are still at the drawing board. Life has a way of intervening and postponing even the most serious commentary on life.

Obama was elected and is now the most powerful person in the supposedly free world. Thanks to the current economic recession, the idea of a 'free world' does need some serious re-definition. For too long, the western world sold the idea of a free world where customers are kings, market forces are the great levellers and governments not being the ones to decide how one lives one's life. With rising debt, defaults and possible liquidation of large corporations, this 'free world' appears neither 'free' nor charming anymore.

It's not that there's an alternative out there somewhere and that's the bummer because one cannot imagine the present system to continue with the same laissez faire approach as before. Communism was tried and tested but failed to make the grade and reached its end twenty years ago this year. So that option is ruled out and one has to only watch and wait how things unravel in the months to come.

However, on the plus side, Obama has been using the right rhetoric so far, and one can only hope that the man combines style with substance and delivers the goods.

And this brings us to the election story. India will soon elect its prime minister and the world's largest democracy will either have a new leader or the same faces will return to Parliament House in New Delhi. These are not ordinary times for the elections because the global economic crisis has spread its tentacles far and wide, and India is not immune to these events. If the western markets experience a slow down and consumers buy less, it will have an impact on exports and delivery of services at the backend offices.

So in other words, if we celebrated the virtues of globalisation for the past two decades or so, now we are all looking at its downside. Or rather, the globalisation of a collective mess. Whoever comes to power in New Delhi has to address this issue as a priority and ensure that the downturn doesn't impair productivity, jobs and economic momentum.

India and China have, so far, been touted as the next big economic superpowers and it would be interesting to see how leaders from both countries address the current crisis. The actions they take – or do not take – will have an impact on the kind of role the two countries will have in the next fifty years. If this is supposed to be the Indian or the Chinese century, then, the quality of that century will be determined by the policies and programmes enacted by the respective leaders of the two countries.

For this to be clearly articulated, the next prime minister whether it will continue to be Dr. Manmohan Singh of the Congress led UPA coalition or L. K. Advani of the BJP led NDA will need to move beyond petty brinkmanship, narrow populist postures and be more proactive in declaring the kind of leadership they want India to have in the coming decades.

However, another issue that the next prime minister must address is terrorism and Pakistan. While both issues are not necessarily inter-related but the Mumbai terrorist attack last year made it clear that while the Pakistani government may not have been directly involved in the attacks, there are forces within Pakistan that are determined in unleashing violence and mayhem. This cannot be ignored nor wished away.
And as the recent events in Swat Valley have shown, the Pakistani political establishment is also facing its own existential threat with a resurgent Taliban and appears helpless and impotent in addressing this crisis. The Pakistani Talibans want nothing more than a takeover of the entire country and would like to overthrow the current political establishment.

If that happens, then, it will be a bigger crisis for India than anything the country has experienced before. Not only because the ragtag militants will have access to nuclear weapons or they'd be zealous about unleashing havoc on the infidel regime next door, there will also be social and political unrest throughout Pakistan resulting in influx of refugees and possible violence, too.

The Taliban are as much a threat to Pakistan as they are to India, and so it would be in India's best interests to stop the 'blame game' for any acts of violence and instead work alongside Pakistan's political establishment in curbing this threat. Not doing so will be disastrous in the long term even though talking tough to Pakistan right now might, in the short term, gain the political parties some brownie points amongst the vote bank.

It will be necessary to take decisive action with the terrorists but vital to be conciliatory towards elements within the Pakistani establishment that agree with the terrorist threat.

Whoever will be the next prime minister will not have an easy job because the conditions worldwide are not as simplistic as before. It requires someone with a progressive mindset, who understands the bigger picture at stake here, who knows what India's role ought to be and, finally, should be someone who is recognised as working for the benefit of Indians – rich or poor, Hindu or Muslim or Christian, rural or urban.

Maybe what India needs is another Obama like figure who can restore hope and confidence amongst its citizens. Sadly, neither Dr Singh nor Mr Advani fit the bill because so far they haven't captured the imagination of the young or the idealists (not necessarily one and the same, by the way). And that Obama space is still vacant.

It's not that Indians didn't have an Obama type experience before. It happened more than 20 years ago when Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister and brought a youthful vigour to the political order. But sadly the Indian Camelot didn't last long, he lost the subsequent elections and could have possibly emerged as a better prime minister in his second outing but a suicide bomber put an end to that dream.
Let's only hope that the next government will not spend its energy on dreams and hopes but on policies and programmes that deliver the goods... for the short term but most importantly for the long term.

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