History is replete with examples of how a few leaders have been able to exploit the hurt sentiments of a population under duress by providing them a living embodiment of the reasons for their sufferings. These leaders had a hand on the pulse of the population, knew the pain points and were enchanting speakers.
In the 1920s, it was one such leader who simply directed the German rage at the usurious trade practices of a certain minority, painting them as the reason for all that was apparently wrong in Germany. In the 90s a fiery young leader spewed venom at the migrants in Mumbai making them the reason for the unemployment among the local population. There is another who has caught the imagination of the Americans and may become the next POTUS. The names may change across space and time, but the strategy is ancient and unfortunately very effective. A wronged population led by leaders disconnected from the population is a sitting duck waiting for a leader with good oratory skills and a pulse of the population.
In 2014, India was under Congress rule which was totally disconnected from the problems of Indians. In this scene arrived a leader who had the pulse of the population, talked about their problems in their language, and placed the blame for all that was wrong in the country on Congress, issuing the clarion call for a Congress Free India. It was lapped up the population. He sold the dream of development and good times with excellent oratory.
Whether the problems faced by the population in England are real or perceived, the reason for these problems was assigned to the EU and the decisions it imposed on Britain. As is witnessed in US also, perception becomes the reality. More and more people are supporting Donald with every passing day The BREXIT vote was presented to the voters as an opportunity to reclaim the right to “determine our destiny.” People believed that the problems they face would cease to exist if they had a complete say on their decisions.
On the other hand, India was on the path of gate crashing into the NSG through a very high profile global diplomatic blitzkrieg. The Prime Minister had recently completed a multi-nation tour drumming up support for its membership through his “Doctrine of Hugs”. Switzerland, Mexico, US of A, seemed to be very appreciative of his hugs and had promised their support. France, an old friend of India also had come out in support. On the eve of the crucial meeting, he also met the Chinese premier personally seeking his support.
It was a grand effort, and India was constantly made to believe the importance of NSG, the grand attempts to acquire the membership and also how close India was to getting past the door. Until the door was shut!
In the end it turned out that it was all an illusion to begin with. India was never seriously in the contention. The Club has some simple rules for membership and they did not intend to make exceptions. Yes India had good friends like US, France who supported, but international diplomacy runs on more than personal rapport. At the foundation is real back office diplomacy which ensures that the mission is accomplished before the leader is brought onto the centre stage when the documents are ready to be signed. Until then he is not exposed,
The Prime Minister however, in this case had made the NSG bid his personal goal. He was the face of the bid. It was a high risk and high return gambit, for if he had succeeded he would have become invincible, not vis a vis the opposition which in India is non-existent, but within his own family. India would have celebrated for weeks.
After the snub by US Congress, voting against making India a strategic ally, he was keen to get some results for his international diplomacy. His desperation drove him to try so hard that he did not factor in the risk of losing. As an individual and may be also as captain of Indian cricket team, it is admirable when someone plays without the fear of losing, but as Prime Minister, it is a different scenario. At stake is not just the individual but the entire nation.
Today, across the world capitals, there is one question, what made India think that they can gatecrash into NSG without meeting the primary membership requirement, i.e. NPT.
It happens in India all the time and we are used to making exceptions to rules. We jump queues. We demand to be treated like VIPs, with scant regard for rules. But this was not the Gymkhana Club of Noida, where one can throw some weight around, drop a few names and get in. Neither was China alone in its opposition. India was up against a rule that was known right from the beginning. Two years of international diplomacy had been pitched into one single achievement, which eventually did not materialize.
So on one hand we have the oldest democracy voluntary coming out of the largest group, and on the other hand we have the largest democracy being denied entry into the NSG, both events with huge global repercussions.
France, Netherlands, Italy is now thinking of referendum. On Friday, CAC crashed much more than the FTSE. How long would the EU survive? How long the strong lady of Germany would continue to carry the burden of EU if France also moves out. Only time would tell what kind of international relations would evolve in Europe It will have implications on the US elections also, given that Obama had interfered and requested for a “Remain” vote and Trump had supported “Leave”. So one thing is for sure, if Trump wins in Nov, he will continue to have good relations with Britain.
The issue is not just about Britain, or the EU. The word Refer-End-Um is set to be heard many times over in many places. The echo will reverberate making life difficult for leaders across the world. People across the world are going to interpret it in their own way. It easily translates into “self-determination,” or even “independence” something that many people would NOT like to hear.
The Chief Minister of Delhi, a proven maverick, was probably the second off the mark, after the French, when he wanted to put the question of full statehood for Delhi to Delhites. It is a political masterstroke. No one can stand up and oppose statehood for Delhi. It is a long overdue thing. All political parties have it in their demand documents. But it is still not done.
It is the same age old politics of giving a seething population a reason, a fall guy, to direct their anger at. Today Delhi is suffering, on many fronts, inflation, poverty, unemployment, traffic, crime, and people are looking for solutions which are not forthcoming. People are not interested on what happened in the past, nor in leaders pointing fingers at each other. Instead what people get to see is petty political squabbling, with daily mud slinging between the Chief Minister of Delhi and the Prime Minister of India, although he himself personally keeps a dignified distance from Arvind.
But today India is vulnerable due to the way his two year high pitched international diplomacy has culminated in a failed NSG bid. To make matters worse, India again got hyphenated with Pakistan, something the 2008 waiver had successfully achieved. So not just India failed, but now it is worse off on the global nuclear diplomacy. This setback came on top of the departure of Rajan. It came on the day BREXIT happened. It came on the day when Swamyjee opened another another round against his government. The leadership team is not just shrinking but is under attack from all sides.
Arvind Kejriwal might turn out to be India’s version of Nigel or Donald. He used the word Refer-End-Um in the most innocuous place which no sane person can directly object to for there is nothing unconstitutional in demanding full statehood for the state of Delhi. It is something that is due to happen sooner or later.
It is the way in which he is directing the anger of a seething population to one goal which is being offered as a panacea to all that ills Delhi. And that is so far from truth. For statehood to Delhi will not even solve ten percent of the problems faced by Delhites. It will not bring down inflation nor would it improve employment, neither would it resolve traffic snarls nor would it reduce crime on Delhi streets. But who will enlighten the laymen on this!
The best his critics can do is to dilute his demand by asking hypothetical futuristic absurd questions, which actually would end up igniting fresh demands in far off places. So the fire Arvind has ignited would actually be fanned by his critics to spread it across the country.
Ideas can only be countered with equally effective ideas and not by ridicule or ignoring the idea per se. Trump was never given a second thought when he first announced his candidature for the POTUS, but his ideas touched the raw nerves, they connected him to a vast majority who feel they have been wronged.
Same goes with Arvind, the more he is ignored or called maverick or any such term, the more determined he gets and we can anticipate him turning the 21 MLA election into a referendum point. So even though there is no provision of referendum in our system, he would effectively turn the forthcoming bye election in to a referendum call. He has used a very powerful idea.
The solution to this is deep and will take long time. For at the root is an aggrieved population, that is suffering the pain of jobless growth, high inflation, and meaningless discussions between politicians.
These problems are global as they affect someone in Birmingham as much as they affect anyone in Bundelkhand, dwindling resources against growing demand. So invariably the end result would also be similar
It will take some serious strong focused leadership to solve these problems. Let us hope that the largest democracy and the statesman leader rise to the occasion and show the world the way forward.