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Posted at: May 25, 2019, 6:46 AM; last updated: May 25, 2019, 6:46 AM (IST)

Take the ‘other’ along

Amitabha Bhattacharya
THE ROAD AHEAD
Amitabha Bhattacharya
Togetherness is the key to achieving national goals
Take the ‘other’ along
Forthright: If some election promises become impossible to fulfil, the Prime Minister should have the grace to explain the reasons.

Amitabha Bhattacharya
Former bureaucrat

AS the new government takes charge at the Centre, ministries will be called upon to generate ideas and prepare action plans for the short and medium terms, focusing on the areas prioritised in the party manifesto. Concurrently, suggestions from all quarters on the economic options of growth, employment and infrastructure will start dominating the public discourse. 

In a few days thereafter, thankfully, the serious issues of governance will have to be grappled with and the public hype, aided by the media, will start giving way to sobriety in expectations. It is likely to take some more time for the implementation of the ‘hard’ decisions that might lead to transformational change. Meanwhile, some ‘soft’ ideas can be considered, that would make a clean break with the past practices and yet not burden the exchequer. 

The ruling party/alliance should appreciate the obvious, that it has gained power not only because of performance but also owing to electoral arithmetic, a smart game plan and other factors. Since a government includes everybody, any display of arrogance by leaders of the party in power should be shunned. The winner gains nothing by humiliating the decimated rivals. It should be admitted that national goals cannot be achieved without the active cooperation of the ‘other’. Success of this togetherness in working — mainly in the legislative sphere — may be measured by the reduction in days wasted and the shortening of time in passing important legislations. In the executive domain, both sides should immediately identify and implement some key promises that are common between their manifestos — like enhancement in allocation for public health and education, reduction of wasteful subsidy, disinvestment of non-core public sector units, as also quicker achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Moving up, say by five places, in the global ranking on the Human Development, Corruption Perceptions and Global Competitiveness indices may be thought of.

Since the electoral victory also depends on factors such as the way expectations are managed, it is desirable that achievements that are visible and easily verifiable be shared against what had been prioritised in the manifesto. If mid-course corrections are required to be undertaken or in case some promises become impossible to fulfil, the Prime Minister, as the chief executive of the country, should have the grace to admit the setbacks, explain the reasons behind them and, taking the public into confidence, highlight the modified course to be followed. A courageous PM should admit genuine errors in judgement, if any, and work with the ‘other’ to find a satisfactory solution to move ahead.

Genuine intellectuals who have achieved international fame by virtue of their genius and scholarship are likely to be critical of the powers that be. This is natural and often desirable. Even if such criticism hurts the ego of the people in power, it should be tolerated gracefully. Such people should be invited by the rulers and their opinion sought and valued. It should be realised that they have not acquired eminence by virtue of official ‘positions’ wrangled from and shared with the power centres. Therefore, the treatment deserved by the former should be different.

If those exercising state power undermine talent and fill important public and constitutional offices with cronies, sympathisers and manipulators in the civil services, the academia and elsewhere, the nation suffers quietly, and inestimably. The political executives will then be left with no option but to seek counsel only from such lesser individuals. As such, they should have the modesty to acknowledge the limitations of their own mind which positions of power often blind them to, and try to learn from the best minds across the board. 

Every government, irrespective of its hue, has had a knack for systematically slighting key secretaries. Since it takes no time to shift to irrelevance any mighty bureaucrat once he or she falls out of favour, it is all the more important to exercise restraint. Systematic changes to strengthen the bureaucracy will be universally appreciated. Based on proper data analysis, meaningful reforms of the civil services at every stage are long overdue. 

Another common practice is to hound the Opposition by initiating criminal cases. Such actions have often appeared so selective and subjective that some of the policing agencies seem to be losing their credibility in the public eye. These steps can also come in the way of smoother Centre-state relationship. Moreover, such an approach often inhibits the national resolve to fight corruption at all levels. Now that the chairman and members of the Lokpal have all assumed office, this institution should be strengthened and, in order to avoid duplication of efforts and wastage of public money, much of the work of the existing investigative and prosecution agencies should be subsumed by the Lokpal. If graft cases are resolutely handled by a competent Lokpal, public faith in the government’s intent to fight corruption will be improved. 

The ideas articulated above may appear unrealistic and even utopian, but in a country of India’s diversity and complexity, true modesty and cooperative spirit have never remained unappreciated.

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