Politicians or Statesmen

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The annual India Today Conclaves, have always been something to watch for. Using its resources, this premier news magazine has been able to bring some of the top intellectuals and speakers to deliberate on issues of extreme currency in any particular year. The 2007 conclave was interesting for its theme was history and state. The question, in the wake of a rise in the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism was, is good, strong, clear-headed governance a necessary precondition for democracy to be meaningful? Even Francis Fukuyama, author of the acclaimed book, “End of History and the Last Man” who was a speaker, seemed to be rethinking his theory, admitting perhaps the utopia that he thought had been achieved by the triumph of capitalism and liberal democracy (which he claims share many attributes), has many loopholes. Although he did not openly admit the seeming flaw in his theory, he was overly defensive implying by inference that perhaps the process of evolution of human political ideologies had not after all ended with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and more symbolically the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the event, not only would the struggle of ideologies continue, but also the need for a monitoring and regulatory mechanism in the shape of the government would remain vitally essential. Liberalism and weak states make a dangerous mix leading inevitably to social anarchy. Those of us in Manipur should not find it difficult to testify to this latter hypothesis. In the same conclave, India’s then finance minister, P Chidambaram, resonated with Fukuyama, though in a different context. “To those who think India’s 9 percent growth rate is achievable without the government, good luck to them” he is quoted as saying.

Like it or not, the state institution may be prone to getting oppressive and overbearing, but there can be no question about it that it remains vitally essential. And if history is about the evolution of the state, history definitely could not have ended towards the close of the last century, for the state is still in the process of evolution, and the pace and nature of this evolution is up to the subjects of the particular state to set. An enlightened leadership also becomes indispensable, and this is a no mean expectation. Take just the example of Manipur again, and do an exercise to discover where the reality is on this question. If we were to look back till as long as its legislative history stretches, when can we somewhat come to an honest consensus on which of our leaders were really statesmen, a quality beyond just being a politicians? It may be true that a statesman is generally a politician, but between merely a politician and a statesman, we all know there is a wide chasm. We have seen a lot of successful hard-nosed politicians, for whom politics is a career with a career graph to climb. There have also been a number of politicians who have made fortunes to take care of the needs of the next 10 generations of their heirs, but how many of them can we really name as a true statesman or a philosopher king as Plato would put it? History only remembers statesmen, and the fact that in Manipur there are only very few to fondly remember from its legislative period, is a telling evidence of the quality of leadership we have had.

The state then is indispensable. Without it, it would be back to the law of the jungle where only the fittest survives. But for the state to be closer to the pinnacle of history (not quite the end of it as Fukuyama predicted), it needs strong-willed visionaries to lead it. In the words of one of the greatest men in human history, Abraham Lincoln, a man who paid with his life for his commitment to ending slavery in America, such a leader must possess the quality to be “soft with the soft and tough with the tough.” So shouldn’t our current leaders consider going beyond mere politics into the realm of statesmanship. Can they ever stop asking themselves what they grab from Manipur while in power and instead ask what they can give Manipur while they hold its reins. In this context, it is despairing to know our legislators have been by and large reduced to contractors, and that too dishonest ones, and would willingly hold the Assembly to ransom, camping in Delhi for months, orchestrating dissident movements, just so to be in positions to garner more government contract works.

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