Friday, March 21, 2014

The Issues: Leadership

Continuing with our series on the issues that will decide the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, after corruption, the next thing on the electorate's mind is leadership. Unequivocally, the verdict is clear that Manmohan Singh has been a complete failure as Prime Minister, despite having the longest continuous tenure since Nehru and thus ample opportunity to correct his own mistakes. He is seen as a non-leader who allowed everyone around him to make merry, who is guilty by omission, whose fault lies in not using his authority to stop wrong.

Much has been said about India's parliamentary system, which believes in collective responsibility. It was this very idea that prompted our founding fathers to reject a Presidential form of government. However, the truth is that, steadily and under the able guidance of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, the power of an individual MP has eroded and the executive has become stronger. The Indian PM is possibly the most powerful PM in the Westminster-system democratic world because he has total control over the legislature - what bills can be introduced, what amendments can be accepted, even which motions may be put before the Speaker - as well as the executive, bringing two of three wings of Government under one individual. It is precisely because of this power than Manmohan Singh has been a failure, because in the absence of a strong leader to exercise those powers, there is simply no accountability and policy paralysis is but a natural result.

This election season, the Indian masses are tired and even disgusted with having a weak leader at the helm. Clearly, the diarchy of the UPA has proven to be a failure: the Indian PM is a political position and must enjoy political supremacy; it is not the realm of technocrats. And that is why the Indian masses are moving so strongly in favor of Narendra Modi, who is seen as a leader, no matter how tainted, who can deliver and who commands the loyalty of the his party. This is not just an asset but a requisite for Indian democracy, which is completely beholden to the party system, even though it is not mandated by the Constitution.

Perhaps the worst fear is for some half-baked Third Front to come to power with the support of the Congress, effectively creating another diarchy (which is actually just a system of power without accountability). That could explain why the Congress is not just losing but looking at its worst defeat since the days of the Muslim League - voters want to make sure that the Congress is not even in a position to lend any outside support to any formation. It must be said that it takes a particular form of incompetence for a government to perform so badly that the election is effectively being fought among the opposition parties. 

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