Saturday, September 25, 2010

A failure of leadership

Is there a curse upon India? Why do monstrous problems attack us all at once, and why does each one of them get more petrifying by the day instead of getting resolved as in most other countries?

The Commonwealth Corruption Games, the explosion of popular anger in Kashmir, the unrelenting terror spectre, the Maoist campaign, China’s unfriendly posturings and, in a bizarre instance of timing, a court verdict on a sensitive religious issue that has been hanging fire for half a century – proof yet again that when sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions.

The one problem that was within our reach to avoid/contain/solve was the Commonwealth Games messup. When evidence of massive corruption was revealed by the Comptroller and Auditor-General and by other independent investigators, the Organising Committee should have been disbanded and responsibilities given to a group of proven management executives. Instead, our political leadership defended the corrupt and allowed them to carry on. It’s almost like we wanted bridges to collapse and ceilings to fall.

Above all others, therefore, it is the political leadership that must be held accountable for the disgrace the Games have brought upon India. Loathsome creatures like Kalmadi would not dare pay four-thousand rupees for a roll of toilet paper if their political godfathers were not encouraging the kickback culture. The loot brigade is known for its system of sharing.. When the whole world is flabbergasted by the scale of sleeze, incompetence and irresponsibility, our politicians still refuse to take it seriously. For Sheila Dikshit and Jaiplal Reddy and M S. Gill, the disasters that shocked the world are “minor hiccups”. No wonder the guilty do not feel guilty and corrective measures receive no attention.

And where has been our Prime Minister? A few “PM steps in” headlines appeared in the eleventh hour when several star athletes had already pulled out, BBC was showing humiliating pictures of filthy beds and bathrooms and government leaders of Australia and New Zealand had publicly expressed concerns. All that “steps in” meant was that the PM called another meeting of ministers and officials – behind closed doors.

What stopped him from making a public statement, acknowledging the lapses and promising remedial measures? If this were followed up by the removal of Kalmadi, the symbol of all that went wrong, it would have helped restore confidence. Were there – are there – forces that prevent the Prime Minister from taking meaningful action? Why is Kalmadi still strutting about when his mere appearance has started offending the public? The inaction with which P.V.Narasimha Rao damned himself over Babri Masjid is being replayed by Manmohan Singh over the Commonwealth Games. A pity.

India has the resources, the talent and the organisational infrastructure to stage the Commonwealth Games and shows bigger than that. What it does not have is the political will and the political leadership. Nor the political imagination. The Prime Minister, allegedly sidelining Kalmadi (which is not true; the man is still too visible), gave all powers to the two most uninspiring ministers in his Cabinet – Jaipal Reddy who has shown no initiative whatever in his portfolio and M. S Gill, a sports minister who combines ineptitude with uncommon arrogance. Imagine that he had, instead, given the reins to an army general and/or a company or two like L & T. Alas, we can only dream of such decisive leadership.

Indeed, the political high command may be quite happy about the Games fiasco. The scandals have so completely grabbed public attention that the vexatious issue of Kashmir is forgotten. Given the short-sightedness of our leadership, they will see this “forgetting” by the public as an achievement, not realising that the kind of anger sweeping across Kashmir won’t just blow away. Nor will the respite provided by the Supreme Court in the Ayodhya case eliminate the inflammable communal divisiveness promoted by our politicians. Seldom in history has so capable a people been led by so maladroit and self-serving a political class.