As we head towards the 2014 General Elections, I sometimes wonder how change comes about in the political system. I have for years tried to understand how Mahatma Gandhi, without doubt the man of the century, was able to defeat a mighty empire with little more than a bamboo staff, homespun khadi, and a diet of goat’s milk.
Go back a hundred years and you will see that besides the mighty British empire, every country in the world was governed by kings and queens, and each country had its own arsenal of mighty arms with which to subdue, besides its own people, other countries also. Amazing that the entire Imperial order was wiped away in a period of 50 years, not with arms but with non-violence. Democratic movements all over the world signalled a call for freedom and equality, and each country produced a political superstar whose influence lasted for close to five decades.
But that is history. We have now entered a phase of coalition politics which is a trend in more than 50 per cent of the world. I used to think that these were 20- or 30-year cycles, but I am certain that this is the way forward to protect the democratic structure and the secular pattern of society. If you go back to the days of Mahatma Gandhi, and the global revolution for freedom, you will observe that except for a handful of countries, most of our supreme leaders eventually became leaders for life and in many cases had to be humbled at the hustings.
I sometimes wonder what we are heading for in 2014. The one certainty is that we will have a coalition, a stronger one than before. We are not looking for a supreme leader except in a regional party and we have numerous examples in J Jayalalithaa, Naveen Patnaik, Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav. Slowly but surely regional forces are looking for coalition structures to protect their rights. I think what we need is a very careful blend, as what the country is looking for is not a supreme leader but a leader who has the will and the mental makeup to share power with regional authorities. Governance by consensus will be the order of the day.
Change is never easy. Look at the chaos in North Africa and the Middle East. They may be 50 years away from a democratic umbrella. We were fortunate in India as we had a strong belief in parliamentary democracy. I can give numerous examples of how the system of checks and balances worked in the last 60 years. We all have a single vote, but it is strange to see the changes that vote has produced, without the technology available today.
Politics is about finding the right cause at the right time and most of us chase this dream without ever realising it. But there is little doubt that in the last decade, the most significant changes have come from the RTI and MGNREGS, and the Food Security Bill will also come under this category as it will bring the vast majority of the population under its umbrella. There is little doubt that the ideal method would be to debate the issue, but when you have a good thing in hand, there is little reason to postpone the event for a future date.
We have had good news across the border as Pakistan has once again a democratic government elected by the people and we wish them well. We have sad news in Egypt where the army has dismissed a democratically elected President. The civil war in Syria continues, and I sometimes wonder if the global powers are losing interest in the situation in the Middle East. We can only hope for better days and the global economy will keep tottering if the Middle East and Europe continue in the current state.