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Only a Machiavellian approach will work

ht view Updated: Apr 16, 2014 00:17 IST
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Call it media hype or the anti-incumbency factor, the flavour of the season appears to be Narendra Modi, who is expected to bring about a sea change in the way the country is run.

In this noble effort Modi will have to undoubtedly depend not only on his council of ministers but also the bureaucracy. Unfortunately the tribe of bold decision makers is slowly becoming extinct with the top babus in various ministries, and CEOs of hundreds of ‘maharatna’ and ‘miniratna’ PSUs constantly looking over their shoulder to ensure that they do not get caught in the gaze of the CBI, CAG, CVC, NGO, social activists, or the ever vigilant media looking for a good story!

Secretaries, even in meetings chaired by the PM, have developed the fine art of taking no decision, simply postponing or shifting the blame for inaction with masterful officialese, “I have written to the chief secretary myself and will now ask the minister to write to the CM”, etc. No targets are met yet no one gets castigated, so why take decisions?

The political masters fare no better, and unless they have a tangible stake in the outcome of a certain policy decision, they are quite happy whiling away their time in their respective ministries.

The private sector has no such problem and being answerable to only its shareholders, they do manage to make a difference in the speed and efficiency of execution of any initiative taken by them, right? Wrong!

With the yoke of scores of laws and regulations, for starting a new company, employing labour, submitting taxes, annual audits, financial reporting, etc. they too have a constant struggle to maintain or boost profits without getting on the wrong side of the law.

In an excellent commentary on ‘The Prince’, written by Niccolo Machiavelli, laying bare the moral world of politics and the gulf between private conscience and the demands of public action, Michael Ignatieff has observed: “Public necessity requires actions that private ethics and religious values might condemn as unjust and immoral.”

He further adds: “What he (Machiavelli) refuses to praise is, people who value their conscience and their soul more than the interests of the state. What he will not pardon is public displays of indecision. We should not choose leaders who agonize, worrying about the moral hazards of the power they exercise in the people’s name. We should choose leaders who sleep soundly after taking ultimate risks with their own virtue. They are doing what must be done.”

Will the new crop of politicians — to emerge in the forthcoming ‘battle of the ballot’ over the next few months — be ‘Machiavellian’ enough to take bold decisions, having a long-lasting impact on the nation’s future, or will it be business as usual?

RC Acharya was a member of the Railway Board

The views expressed by the author are personal

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