Let’s start with humility

January 15,2019

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Five months into power, the PTI government is widely seen as falling way short of fulfilling its electoral promises – except the one about carrying out an unforgiving campaign of accountability against the two political dynasties in the country, on charges of amassing wealth beyond legitimate means. In parallel, PTI governments in the centre and in two provinces are pursuing policies of cutting down public expenditure.

However, the same media that treated Imran Khan as an icon, is now taking him to task on a daily basis for delivering nothing. But Khan should not be disheartened as he is in eminent company near and far. Narendra Modi, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron too are seen failing in fulfilling their unrealistic electoral promises.

If there is a lesson in the parallel trajectories of these four leaders, it is for the people – that they should not be fooled by the fantastic claims of power seekers. It is the people who are gullible to begin, and unforgiving to end. Neither side should take each other too seriously. The case studies of the leaders cited here show that they acceded to power on promises of reinventing the wheel – only to find that they can barely manoeuvre the wheel, what to speak of reinventing it.

Modi had promised to: bring back money stashed in banks abroad, give two crore jobs to the youth every year, ensure greater income for farmers, control petroleum prices, build shelters for the needy, launch bullet trains, legislate to give one-third of parliamentary seats to women, bring massive foreign investment, and improve better social services and so on. The end result is a lower growth rate and a fall – for the first time – in Indian exports. Instead of helping the poor, Modi succeeded in spreading poverty through demonetisation of higher denomination notes. If there is a lesson in Modi’s first term as PM, it is about the limits of what a government, or a leader, can achieve in a democratic system.

President Trump has come to grief on account of his exaggerated self-belief to perform miracles at home and abroad. A successful New York property developer and wheeler dealer should not even try to hustle through his way in administering the world’s greatest, economic, military and cultural power. He frets and fumes about building a wall on the US-Mexico border to check the arrival of criminals even though the rate of criminality among immigrants is rather low. In his arm-twisting manoeuvres, Trump violated some cardinal rules of negotiation by thumping the table and walking out of a meeting with Democrat leaders in the White House.

Besides his theatrics in national and international affairs, Trump gets into fits of petulance only monarchs were known to exhibit. Americans who were petrified over Trump having a finger on the nuclear button watch helplessly as he appears willing to wreck the system.

President Macron cannot be compared to the other three in many ways, but he ran out of luck as a neoliberal wonder kid who was going to lead a French corporate resurgence. Halt came the call as protesters wearing yellow working vests came out on the streets of France to demand a more equitable system. Indeed, more wealth is gravitating towards the rich as France becomes more prosperous. Macron was quick to concede some demands, bringing relief in fuel costs and social benefits but that did not stop the movement from pressing for more radical reforms to lessen the inequalities under a triumphant capitalism. The movement has heightened its demands to include, among other things, Macron’s resignation.

The setbacks suffered by Trump, Modi and Macron have a message for Imran Khan – that of the need to show modesty. His five months in office have proved that governance is a different ball game from electioneering centred on unrealisable promises. It is time for the PTI team to express humility before the enormity of the mandate entrusted to them. A government that is tall on promises but offers no solution to daunting challenges can make a start by repentance.

Some indications of pragmatism are there as the government has lowered its projections of macroeconomic goals by reducing the GDP growth target, and an upward revision of the budget deficit. Thus the earlier projection of 6.2 percent growth rate has been lowered to 4 percent in the current fiscal year as against 5.8 percent in 2017-18. Finance managers are hopeful that the growth rate will pick up over the next two years and touch 7 percent in the PTI government’s last year. Sounds too good to be true.

It is reassuring to see that after repeated warnings by economic and business circles, the government is turning its focus on the pressing need to revive economic activity that had slowed down due to uncertainty in official and business circles. There are continuing fears that accountability may still be taking precedence over unleashing the economic potential. Bringing back laundered billions or promises like building five million homes make good election campaigns but have failed to stimulate revenue collection or the construction industry.

The army chief’s well-publicised meeting with business leaders may be helpful in boosting their morale but it is not a substitute to the steps needed to remove obstacles in the way of doing business. Then again, do we realise that as a nation we are slow to change and modernise in every sphere of life?

Email: saeed.saeedkgmail.com


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