Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Amoral familism October 23, 2005

Nothing quite captures the imagination as these two facts: whereas three out of four members of China’s politburo are technocrats, one out of four members of India’s parliament has a criminal record. This explains a lot–our depressing governance, stalled reforms, creaking infrastructure, and the absence of reasoned debate in parliament. Ironically, as our economy becomes stronger, our polity seems to grow weaker. Just when our companies are breaking out of the shackles of family control, our politics is going the other way. When our best companies are building depth of management and becoming professional, our political parties are creating family dynasties.

The satisfactory end to the Ambani saga, especially in the way Reliance assets were divided, represented a victory of professionalism over familism. In contrast, our political parties are beginning to resemble the old family run companies: from Bihar to J&K and from Tamil Nadu to U.P. our political leaders are busy building family dynasties. The original inspiration, of course, came from our oldest party, the Congress, but even the newer ones, like the Shiv Sena, appear to be following in its footsteps.

Our political parties are embracing the heredity principle when our best companies have succeeded in separating their family’s and their company’s interests. None of our political parties is managed by professionals. Not one has depth in organization, nor a clear command structure down to the grass roots. This weakness explains in part why some of our best performing governments fall so easily, such as the last one in Karnataka, and why in the heart of Bangalore, Congress party managed to lose the by-election in May 2005 from a constituency occupied till the other day by the fine reformer, SM Krishna. That his successors have only played petty politics and obstructed the development of infrastructure in India’s premier city is another matter.

Many shrug their shoulders and ask, what is wrong if a politician’s son enters politics? Isn’t it like a doctor’s child wanting to be a doctor? No, there is a difference. Politics is a matter of public interest, and citizens want the best person to lead them. It is possible that a politician’s son might turn out to be a great leader, but the odds are against it. This is not how nature distributes talent. In 1950 we chose not to become a monarchy but a republic. So, how can we just shrug at this return of bloodlines in our political life? Remember also, the principle of heredity is one step away from the loathsome caste system.

Tom Paine wrote in The Rights of Man (1791), “I smile when I contemplate the ridiculous depths to which literature and science would sink were they to become hereditary.” The idea of hereditary ruler is as ridiculous and more offensive than a hereditary author. When family interests prevail, political parties become weak, and governments don’t perform. The end result is that the things don’t get done– reforms slow down, roads don’t get built, and the house goes dark when your child sits down to study. The mentality in a family run polity is feudal. I don’t do what is right, but what serves the family. Loyalty matters more than performance. The best person doesn’t get the job but the one who is manipulative. Edward Banfield called it “amoral familism” in describing why southern Italy keeps failing and northern Italy succeeds. So, dear reader, it is time to shake off your complacency, and the next time around, don’t vote for “hereditary asses, imbeciles, and this curse of the nation,” as Napoleon put it.


1 comment:

About Medicine Blog said...

Not one has depth in organization, nor a clear command structure down to the grass roots.