The Political Capital and Development Divide- can it be bridged?

“It should not only be power politics. Let there be politics of development and progress. That is Ram Rajya,” -Nitin Gadkari

At the recently concluded, Hindustan Times Leadership Summit one of my favorite statesman Dr. Mahathir said that more the democracy slower the progress in terms of development of a Nation. Well, the good old Doctor from Kedah has a point as he reigned over one of Malaysia’s most prosperous period in its recent history. Dr. Farooq Abdullah, also seconded the ‘Limited Democracy’ argument, that democracy stalls development.  Singapore is a development model unique to itself, where strong single party rule with exemplary meritocratic leadership has catapulted it from a third world backwater to the  global first world megapolis which it is today.  As Pratap Bhanu Mehta in his latest article in IE quoted – ‘Great leadership converts ordinary talent into something exceptional, constraint into opportunity’.  The question which crops up here is whether chaotic electoral democracies truly generate the kind of ministerial talent we find in Singapore- with all ‘A’ players in its all star team? Or is the job of governance should be left to a bureaucratic elite, which is divorced from electoral quagmire, while the mandate of passing legislation and public management should be to the honorable members of parliament.

These are million dollar questions stemming from a perpetual paradox which haunts all democracies. Successful developmental states with limited western style liberal democracy, are panned for their human rights record or the freedom of expression. I believe putting food on someone’s table is slightly more essential than upper class values of free expression. These are all vagaries of a particular stage of a developmental cycle. For a industrialized society, freedom of speech is sacred, but in a developing country strong policy action even if it means not listening to a particular constituency is logical if it serves the community at a large.  No state led policy innovation has ever been popular initially, but in the longer run people see its merits more than its pitfalls.  Such as displacing people for a hydroelectricity power project in the interests of the larger cause, is an argument which my sociology friends will not buy, but there is a price to pay for modernity, who said that there was a free lunch available?

The last polls in Singapore have shown, that people have shown an affinity albeit very minor in six seats in parliament for an alternative voice. Civil Society activism has risen in the form of internet activism has risen. Changes in the manpower policy can be seen with the tightening of regulations for hiring an expat, or the extreme selectivity in handing out Permanent Residency status currently, is in tune with the public sentiment. Political Capital expressing itself in Policy is the USP of a democracy.  But when political leaders fail us, we take refuge in technocrats such as in Italy.

The precise balance between how much political participation and technocracy is a matter of a particular dynamic of a society. India has had a technocrat Prime Minister over the past two terms, but political legitimacy seems to have been entrusted in 10, Janpath instead of 7, RCR.  The strength of Singaporean Developmental Model, is its talent at the top. Political Capital can be nurtured if there is adequate leadership at the top, which is the catalyst for development. Mass Leaders are often not the best institutional reformers, as they come from the system themselves.



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