Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Two leaders to look out for

Twenty first century woke up to multiple challenges of global scale. 9/11 changed the way we looked at seven billion people and wiped out the prevalent identities of a few countries. While children were getting maimed and able men shot dead in their youth, a small set of creative geniuses caused the collapse of world economies by inventing synthetic gods of money.

It takes strong leaders to lead people out of this abyss. I believe there are two world leaders who can stand out among others, in these testing times. David Cameron, Prime Minister of UK and ofcourse Barack Obama, who needs no kind of introduction.

Cameron has this gunslinging, cowboy style of governing that determinedly changed the course of the country in mere months. His government also triggered a larger debate in the EU about the role of governments and the governed. How often did Cameron invoke the vision of Big Society to change the way people looked at things that we all take for granted. Like that cop you expect to guard your life and your house. You are after all feeding his family. But when your belief in this system collapses, as it happened in India, you try to find ways to protect yourself from that very policeman. Big Society doesn't talk about corruption. It talks about a society that can take a decision whether it needs that policeman at all. It talks about accountability of public servants to the served. And of the served to their fellow citizens.

If you have a great anti-burglary alarm system and can afford to carry a gun around for your protection, would you still want to pay for a policeman to protect your not-so-self-sufficient neighbour? Would the same neighbour, who runs a motor garage for a living, care so much as a hoot to put some money aside for a public library that you want your kids to use to find out more about the world out there? Today, you pay a bulk tax to a central government that maintains an army of civil servants to administer each of these public services and make your life easier. It is like leasing a car instead of owning it. If you own the car, you need to drop by the garage to get it checked once in a while, and fix the radiator when it overheats. If you leased it instead, you just need to call the leasing company and they will take care of it all. For a small price. That's the price you pay for being a little less in control of your car. A little less responsible.

Big Society talks about local communities exercising direct control on some of these services. And a community doesn't have to run a library if everyone wants to just watch TV in their free hours. Or cut the police force by half, if everyone owns a gun and thinks he can do a Clint Eastwood when someone comes to steal the 'Torino.

David Cameron isn't remarkable just for the 'Big Society' concept alone. He is bold beyond the average world leader. He stood up to the US when it suggested that cutting deficits isn't the way to go ahead. Unlike his predecessors, he never felt obliged to 'stand by' the US by default. If you say that isn't 'bold' technically-speaking, I'd have to agree with you. But I would also beg you to consider the behaviour of ole Tony Blair throughout the last decade and you might admit that it isn't very easy to be PM of UK and disagree with the powerful younger cousin. Still that doesn't cut the cake yet.

What cuts the cake decisively is Cameron's visit to China. He is possibly the only world leader, outside Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who can call names on public fora and nearly get away with it. Cameron went to China and lectured their university kids about democracy yesterday and man, you need guts to do that sort of a thing. After all, China manufactures most of his country's goods and if they decide to stop it all for this reason, he will have tough time getting his plans off the block. But hey, it's Cameron we are talking about. He will figure out a way for the Big Society to find a solution!

In propounding the Big Society, Cameron revived the call for local self-governance and more power to the society, not to the Central Government. Sounds familiar? Yes, these principles are essentially Gandhian, and were the essence of Gandhi's governing policy. Ofcourse, Gandhi wasn't the first or the only leader to talk about it. And Cameron never mentioned Gandhianism as his inspiration. Yet, by talking forcefully about Bapu's pet dream for independent India, Cameron has done more justice to the concept than any Indian leader in power has ever done.

There is one more leader in the world today, who is doing more for Gandhi's way of life than Cameron, with a diametrically opposite economic philosophy. That's Barack Obama. Apart from citing Gandhi's name and getting photographed with his portrait in the background, Obama also brought about the Centrist philosophy back in fashion just like Gandhi did almost a century ago. Reconciliation, is a word made a little bit more fashionable by Obama. He reached out to Hugo Chavez, Raul Castro, Ahmedinejad, Abbas and Netanyahu. Some of them bit the bait, and some didn't. It takes enormous guts for an American President to even talk about reconciliation with Cuba. Never mind that impatient rednecks run the thought process of that country and make reconciliation sounds like a dirty word. But who cares for what Americans want anymore anyway! More about Obama in the previous posts and the future ones. As of now, I need to go think more about the Big Society and how it might just about change the world.

1 comment:

  1. Good one. It would take lot of support from the inside (Britishers & Americans) as well to bring about this change. Let's just hope Cameron & Obama are getting it without any strings attached.