State governance a must for prosperity

Tags: Op-ed
State governance a must for prosperity
A JUST CONQUEROR? The monument Warrior on a Horse depicting Alexander the Great, on a 10 metre tall pedestal, is located in the centre of Skopje, the capital of the Republic of Macedonia
Today my column coincides with De­epawali, the festival of lights. This is the celebrated day when Lord Rama started his journey for Ram Rajya (the ultimate form of statecraft and public governance) after his 14-year exile, and Lord Mahavira attained nirvana (final liberation from the otherwise infinite cycle of birth and death) according to the Jains! In both cases, the kings took the path of right dharma — through personal ablutions, sacrifices, purity of purpose, and right karma. In Lord Rama’s example of the sita agni pariksha, Valmiki shows that the ruler (and his kith and kin) should be, like Caesar’s wife, above any kind of suspicion, especially related to moral character. Only after setting an exemplary standard of public conduct, where justice is rendered impartially, quickly and without fear, and officers treat people with equality and fairness, can the rulers expect people to obey laws, pay just taxes, have respect for each other. In short, the king and his subjects manage their private and public lives in harmony with their moral dharma.

In a strange and conspicuous way, one is struck by the brazenness with which politicians and those entrusted with the task of managing pu­blic affairs and public wealth go on ignoring the public good. Ram Rajya is a utopian view of life and as with all utopia, it is not only an idealistic conception, but also a simplistic wish list! It negates the realpolitic dimensions of internal and external realities (so well narrated by Chanayka in his Arthashastra). Nevertheless, why is it so difficult for us to follow, at least in principle, the basic tenets of public honesty, cleanliness, and concern for larger good governance in the 21st century? It is well-accepted that nations prosper only when the laws and the wheels of justice move together quickly and assuredly. The western nations became rich not because of their ability to loot the subjugated colonies, but because of their investments in science and engineering (which enabled them to also make the infrastructure of conquest and machines of war), risk-taking and reward to inventors and entrepreneurs, rapid industrialisation and a just and law-based society, which included property rights (at least for their own countrymen).

I have just returned after delivering an invited lecture at a global conference on corporate governance at Skopje, Macedonia (erstwhile part of Yugoslavia and claimant to the legacies of Alexander, the Great and Aristotle) and a stopover at Istanbul. At both places, one can see that how the Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, muslims, pagans, among others, have fought each other across millennia to establish their military, moral, legal, and thought supremacy. Each king and sultan had tried to create a just regime, where the subjects felt safe and secure in conducting their affair of business.

This is also the message when we worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, on this day. Unfortunately, wealth cannot co-exist with lawlessness — in our country, the investigation and justice system has decayed to such lengths that only the desperate or the crooks take recourse to police thanas and law. A society without fear of punishment, but having laws, is worse than one without any laws. The former situation is easily misused and manipulated by the crooks and the perpetrators remain ‘not guilty’ almost forever and hold highest public offices with impunity. An unmoved law is good but an unmoving law is terrible for the peace-loving citizens.

Diwali is a time for self-renewal and introspection and to think in larger contexts. In the context of nation-polity, the positives on this Diwali day are many. Three years ago, at the last national elections, corruption, price rise and public governance were issues not even on the voters’ political agenda. Now, no political party can ignore these dimensions. The world is changing rapidly around us.

There is no doubt that the next national elections will see a new set of players as an outcome of the Hegelian dialect currently on — the current political thesis (traditional order) has almost collapsed, and as a reaction, there are powerful anti-thesis (anti-establishment, reactionary vision) movements that have sprung up. Both views are still non-holistic and have their imperfections. The resulting synthesis from the two th­oughts will lead to an order which could be totally unexpected — remember the relationships may not be linear and therefore, the outcomes may not necessarily be somewhere in-between the two extremes. The country may see a totally new political dispensation in 2014.

That outcome would be perfectly rational. This is my Diwali wish that India becomes a prosperous and just society led by people who can think across millennia timeframes, rather than just their own families. Maybe we sh­ould start by creating a series of panels of respected, tho­ughtful and well-meaning citizens who can come up with series of drastic structural reforms based on their experiences, creativity, and thought leadership? CS Le­wis had said, “You cannot ma­ke men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society”.

(The writer is a professor of strategy and corporate governance, IIM-Lucknow)


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