A nation adrift: Lack of leadership and the Big Ideas

The standard explanation for the prevailing sense of despondency is the "ethical and governance deficits", which, in Finance Minister P. Chidambaram's words some time ago, have characterised the government in recent times.

But there is another, more potent cause. It is the absence of an inspiring leadership in the Congress and other parties, and the dearth of the Big Idea which motivates a nation.

Instead, what is being witnessed is the listless, bureaucratic execution of routine jobs by various ministries without a clear enunciation of the goal towards which the country is supposed to be heading. Moreover, they seem to be working at cross-purposes.

For instance, there is the curious spectacle of the environment ministry wanting to submit its own views on genetically modified crops to the Supreme Court over and above the government's petition. Evidently, the cabinet does not have the last word on the subject.

Not surprisingly, this particular ministry has been held responsible by the well-known economist, Arvind Panagariya, for robbing the reforms of their momentum although the market-oriented economic measures are known to be favoured by the prime minister.

The reason for this divergence of opinion is an inability of the people at the helm, viz. the prime minister and the Congress president, to evolve a consensus on the proposed path. It isn't that Manmohan Singh hasn't occasionally clarified where he stands. For instance, on the question of GM crops, and also on nuclear power plants, he has said that it is the opinion of experts which should count since these are not matters which can be decided on the streets.

Yet, the government takes weeks and months to proceed on these and other issues, like FDI in retail, for instance, which was once rolled back, because the ideological background of these measures is not cogently presented.

It is obvious that unless the reins of leadership are gripped by a firm hand and the ideological direction is specified, the present uncertainty will continue.

Considering that the general election is less than a year away, it is however unlikely that there will be a change in the leadership style or an articulation of the Big Idea which should guide a nation, as it was when Indira Gandhi raised the "Garibi Hatao" (Banish Poverty) slogan in 1971, or Rajiv Gandhi spoke in 1984 of taking India into the 21st century, or V.P. Singh promised in 1989 to eradicate corruption.

It can seem, therefore, that the Congress's unexpected victory in 2004 caught it unprepared to either select a leader with firmly held views or formulate a clear ideology.

As is known, Manmohan Singh declared himself to be an "accidental" prime minister who was chosen because Sonia Gandhi refused to accept the crown of thorns. It is possible that the sudden selection left no time for either Manmohan Singh to convince the party about his right-wing views, or for the party president to signal a return to a Nehruvian past of Fabian socialism, which she seemingly favours. Hence, the drift.

What is worrisome is that it isn't the government alone which is in the throes of indecisiveness. The entire political class seems to be in the grip of this malady. As much is evident from the leadership tussle in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is unable to summon the courage to name a prime ministerial candidate.

Evidently, a decade after its ouster from power at the centre and Atal Behari Vajpayee's retirement, the party has failed to fill the vacuum created by the former prime minister's withdrawal from public life.

In addition, if there are differences in the Congress on the economic line, the BJP is undecided about its guiding political philosophy - whether it should be the cultural nationalism (one nation, one people, one culture) of Hindutva, or the Gujarat model of development.

While the national parties are plagued with indecisive leaders, the regional parties have the prima facie advantage of having determined people at the top. But this plus point is negated by the fact that these are all one-person outfits. Moreover, their creed has nothing to do with economics. It is focussed almost exclusively on feathering their own nests and holding on to power by hook or by crook.

The result is that none of these leaders has the potential to emerge from his or her local base to play a larger role on the national stage. Whether it is the Bahujan Samaj Party's Mayawati, who was favoured by a Third Front led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist to be prime minister in 2008-09, or the Samajwadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has publicly expressed the hope of being the prime minister this time, their ambitions evoke derision and not hope. As an editor said on TV, if Mulayam Singh becomes the PM, the last man leaving the country should switch off the lights.

The paucity of leadership means that the country will continue to be rocked almost on a daily basis by events big and small, whether it is the suspension of an officer in a state or a border skirmish.

(10-08-2013-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at amulyaganguli@gmail.com)

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

On Now: Chennai vs Punjab

On Now: Chennai vs Punjab

MS Dhoni won the toss and opted to bat at Abu Dhabi. More »

Evenly matched Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

Evenly matched Rajasthan and Hyderabad face-off

A quality that defines Rajasthan and Hyderabad is consistency. Rajasthan was one among two teams to enjoy complete dominance at home last season. Hyderabad… More »

Beleaguered Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Beleaguered Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj Singh was hardly convincing to begin with against Delhi, but a big dose of crowd support and a helping of poor bowling meant he had the opportunity… More »

Trott to take 'immediate break' from cricket

Trott to take 'immediate break' from cricket

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday confirmed that batsman Jonathan Trott is to take another break from all cricket with immediate eff… More »

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

Fiery star Stokes bids to curb his temper

England all-rounder Ben Stokes admits he must keep his anger under control if he is to end his international exile. More »

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Bangalore's arsenal blazes to victory

Yuvraj Singh was back to his best in his first match for Royal Challengers Bangalore. More »

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistan cricketers face probe

Pakistani cricket authorities have launched an investigation after a number of current international stars played in exhibition matches in the United States… More »

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

BCCI to meet before next court hearing

The BCCI will hold an emergent working committee meeting on April 20 to discuss the future course of action with regard to the Supreme Court hearing concerning… More »

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

Gavaskar wants a clean IPL

"Integrity is non-negotiable..." says the BCCI's interim chief ahead of Season 7 of the tainted league. More »

Kallis, Narine star in KKR win

Kallis, Narine star in KKR win

An all-round display saw Knight Riders thump Mumbai Indians by 41 runs in the IPL-7 opener. More »

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

'Yak' Kallis still on top of his game

The 38-year-old South African veteran turned it on for Kolkata Knight RIders in the opening match of IPL-7. More »

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Time for Chennai to enter familiar cocoon

Chennai have an emphatic 8-3 lead in the head-to-head with Punjab, with one game tied More »

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

Srinivasan named in fixing report: SC

The court emphasised that the tainted administrator can no longer work for the BCCI. More »

Yuvraj happy to play for RCB: Kohli

Yuvraj happy to play for RCB: Kohli

New-look RCB will play their first game of IPL-7 on Thursday. More »

IPL: News Line

IPL: News Line

A round-up of all the news from this season of the IPL. More »

Shane Watson issues moral warning

Shane Watson issues moral warning

'Everyone knows what is right and what is wrong and if you do the wrong thing it will be found out' More »

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Why I'm not looking forward to the IPL

Welcome to another season of a league that many watch but few trust. More »

Johnson may quit T20s for Tests

Johnson may quit T20s for Tests

Australia's Mitchell Johnson may quit limited-overs cricket to prolong his test career with an eye on the 2015 Ashes series in England, the fast bowler… More »

Nepal players call off boycott

Nepal players call off boycott

Thaw in relations after formation of an advisory committee that would work in tandem with the Cricket Association of Nepal. More »

There's a lot going on: Fleming

There's a lot going on: Fleming

He experienced anxious moments in the lead-up to the tournament as the courts decided on whether to suspend the franchise, he said, but stressed that the… More »

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Latif couldn’t work with tainted players

Former Pakistan cricket captain Rashid Latif said Tuesday he turned down the job of national chief selector because he could not work with ex-players tainted… More »

We are not over-confident: Bailey

We are not over-confident: Bailey

Indian Premier League — George Bailey-led Kings XI Punjab will face Chennai Super Kings on Friday. More »

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

Taxing issue — BCCI hits roadblock

MoU between BCCI & its units to avoid double taxation delayed after a few decline to share details. More »

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Big runs expected, with bat and ball

Royal Challengers Bangalore: Their main concern, once again, is the fast bowling More »