It’s that leader who has a moral stance, is able to govern and can master the art of politics
Ask anyone about the qualities required to be a successful Indian politician. Chances are you will get a cynical response. Craftiness, ability to fool people and lust for power is what many people will say. This stereotype has developed over decades, through numerous examples of politicians being self-serving, unethical and manipulative. Some even believe this is the only way to succeed.
However, this isn’t true anymore. Although the old school is still entrenched, there are some signs of change. Several politi-cians have made a name for themselves differently. Recently, Dinesh Trivedi won national sympathy, despite losing his ministerial post. Even Sheila Dikshit, Nitish Kumar, Narendra Modi, Tarun Gogoi, Naveen Patnaik, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Manohar Parrikar are hardly known for their Machiavellian politics.
Those that were manipulative – Mayawati and Rahul Gandhi – can’t seem to hold people’s support. Even Mamata Banerjee, elected with much fanfare a year ago, is losing credibility fast given her self-centred, anti-development focus. Akhilesh Yadav, new on the scene, is seeing signs of early discontent that he’d better fix if he wants a long innings.
All this is a good sign for India. There could be a day when Indian politics runs on the vision, ideologies, policies and execution capabilities of the leader alone. This could take 10 to 20 years, depending on how lucky we are in seeing such leaders emerge and how fast the number of gullible voters declines. However, the direction seems irreversible. Indian politicians better learn the rules of the new game fast. Old methods may fail or give short-term successes at best. Once acritical mass of Indians develops a taste for the new Indian politics, hundreds of old school politicians will become obsolete. The adapt-or-die situation hasn’t been reached, but it could be as soon as the next 10 years.
So what will be the new basis on which India’s GenNext will evaluate politicians? Given recent data points of success and failure, three distinct criteria have surfaced. These are: a moral stance, governance abilities and the art of politics. True long-term success stories will come to people who excel in all three areas.
One, the moral stance, refers to a set of values, which define the core of what a person (or party) is all about. Who are you as a person? Are you ethical? Are you honest? Do you have principles or are you an opportunist? Are you willing to lose your power for the right cause? It is in this department many of our current crop of politicians lack, while new voters are quickly developing a taste for it. Trivedi became a star overnight, simply because he said ‘my country comes above my personal power’. It was such an attractive, endearing statement – the kind never heard from Indian politicians. He may have lost his post, but he will be the most memorable rail minister ever.
Lack of a moral stance is the UPA’s biggest failure. Nothing seems genuine, as the coalition has covered up scams and done too little to root out corruption. The PM, considered honest, did not put his job on the line for the right thing. Rahul did not take bold decisions. All this led to the current moral crisis of the Congress.
Two, the element of governance. A political victory is not a prize or trophy. At best, it is a job offer. Work needs to be done. Given we are a poor country, development is obviously the focus, apart from some fiscally responsible welfare schemes. True wealth generation will only come when we open up our economy, encourage private innovation and integrate with the world. Infrastructure projects often are among the biggest expectations from politi-cians. Those who fail at all this eventually lose elections, no matter how morally right they were.
The need for governance skills is the reason many of our babas and saints are finding it difficult to make the jump to politics, despite claiming extraordinary moral uprightness. You don’t just have to be honest. You have to make India move ahead. The UPA hasn’t been as bad in this area. It’s at least tried out a few modern policies. Many BJP state governments have also scored high. Mamata hasn’t shone in this area, despite being seen as honest.
The third, and this is what Indian politics was all about, is the good old-fashioned art of politics. You could be honest and have great governance skills. If you can’t play the political game, you can’t win. You have to understand India and win people’s trust, even if it involves some manipulation. Mamata excels at this. So did Mayawati a while ago. The Congress generally plays the art of politics better than the BJP, somehow managing to keep a secular card alive despite its blatant divisive politics. Managing caste equations, allies, consensus are all people-management skills that an Indian politician must know, at least for the next two decades.
The three-skill framework better predicts long-term success. The smartest Indian politicians don’t kick up a fuss over non-issues and pretend to be pro-people every week. They develop the above skills, work and eventually succeed. Manipulators rise for a short while and dissipate just as fast. Greed for power is understandable for a politician. However, short-term greed is plain stupid. Long-term greed is what eventually pays off in life. It is also good for the country. Build a career. Build a better India. The country deserves it.