In a recent speech at a CII conference Rahul Gandhi made an observation that our problems are complicated and it needs a grass-root level solution. He added that waiting for a man to come on a white horse to solve our problems may be futile.
This is a standard argument of large number of experts who are for ‘System Change’ or more particularly ‘Structural Changes’ to make things happen.
In our context, individuals do matter substantially and institutions are made or broken by the efforts or failures of individuals. We are less of a rule-based society and more of a relationship-based one. Because of thousands of years of foreign rule we have lesser faith in institutions than individuals.
The well-known Shanti Niketan has fallen upon bad times after Gurudev and other institutions like that of Sai Baba or Aurobindo are in court battles. The one institution which is thriving is that founded by Swami Vivekananda and he interestingly called it as Ramakrishna Mission and not any Sangha or Peetha — He wanted to create a mirror image of the institutions of the Church serving the cause of education and health among poor. That exception in a sense proves the rule.
The regulatory and other Government institutions have performed well or buckled under pressure of the ruling politicians depending on who is heading it. For instance the Election Commission under Seshan, without any change of rules or regulations, could bring in so much fear and obedience among the rowdy elements among politicians. The same can be said about the CAG under Chaturvedi as well as Vinod Rai. The SEBI under Ramakrishna was a different cup of tea.
Similarly if you look at our major educational institutions we find their highs and lows are related to the type of people heading it. So is the case with our courts. One Justice Khanna could defy the might of the Government and stand erect during emergency compared to his brother judges.
I once asked a senior RSS person about the mechanism to run that organisation in the absence of written constitution and rules and regulations governing its functioning. Remember RSS is the largest NGO in the world. He mentioned that Guruji Golwalkar used his high brows to express his concern about impending decisions and the knitted highbrow was final verdict. Looking back, the four maths established by Adi Sankara survived the vicissitudes of time but that was purely in the sacred sphere.
The man on the white horse provides the leadership and is an example for others. In our relationship-oriented system, the role of leader is very important. If he sets an example of not looting the public treasury and not encouraging partisan behavior and clearly enunciating the importance of probity in public life by his own example – then he and his horse are followed. A fifth-class Kamaraj could command such a following in his time.
In spite of highly evolved grass-root structures and linkages, it required a Margret Thatcher to arrive on the scene and break the backbone of the obstructive unions in the UK system. At that point of time, the union systems had lost their historical role and had become just an extra-income-demanding class. In the case of USA, it needed a Reagan to articulate the virtues of a small state and lesser controls as well as encouraging initiatives of local small businesses. Both of them in their own way can be called men on white horses who arrived to save the system.
Actually the clarion call to change the system is a tactic to perpetuate existing one — warts and all. It is also a way of confessing that I cannot do anything in the present milieu and one way to hide it is the call for structural change.
This does not mean that all our systems are perfect or all our structures are without weaknesses. It only means that good leadership overcomes these deficiencies and delivers — as in the case of milk revolution by Kurien or the metro wonder by Sridharan. The mumbo jumbo peddled by Marxists from which Rahul could have got his inspiration that individual don’t matter and that history will create its own solutions is good for school-level debates. In our context, individuals can make or mar an institution and that is all the more reason we must have capable people manning important positions based on their expertise and experience and not based on the genes or Sifarshi system.
One can cry himself hoarse about lack of systems or lack of structure till cows come home. But that is not the way things work in India. Just show by example, not by speech, that you can be tough without fear or favour. Because of a Nehruvian developmental structure, we have developed a crony capitalist class and a servile bureaucratic ethos. It can and should be broken. It can only be done by a man on a white horse. Worth waiting!