Many things happened in South Asia in 2012. But what received the most media coverage towards the end of the year were the murder of volunteer health workers administering polio drops in Pakistan, the gang rape and subsequent death of a girl in New Delhi, the ongoing agony of the people at the hand of their politicians in Nepal, the tussle of the two Begums in Bangladesh, the state of Afghanistan after the departure of foreign troops, the aftermath of the defeat of the insurgency in Sri Lanka, political turmoil after the change of Government in the Maldives, and the resettlement of Bhutanese refugees in third countries. These events are very different in form, but in substance they reflect the common problems of a region in turmoil in which the people are the real victims.
These events have a deeper root in the ideas deficit affecting South Asian society. What are Politics, Economics, Philosophy or even Science? In their most reduced form, they are ideas which shape societies and affect human progress. Someone said “when ideas enter the minds of men, they come out as a material force in society”. But the nature of ideas is such that they can neither be seen as absolute nor singular. Ideas are open to a plurality of interpretations, producing multiple outcomes depending on the variety of contexts, strength of one’s interpretations, and intent or ability of leaders to lead people towards individual or mass action. The power of ideas can bring peace, progress and happiness, but also problems and pain. South Asia today is a show case of such paradoxes, with success in some areas but failure in addressing the problems of the largest number of the world’s hungry and angry, injustice to the weak, and violence on the vulnerable.
GOVERNANCE IN THE NEW AGE
CRISIS OF GOVERNANCE
Hunger and anger, if understood and channeled well, can be the best fuel for the engines of socio-economic transformation, but if not comprehended and led in the right direction, they can be the causes of conflict and violence. Why is South Asia, the land of the Buddha and Gandhi, suffering from so much crime, corruption and violence? There are, of course, multiple reasons, but the most important is the crisis of governance where the politics is obsessed with power, and economics obsessed with greed, both together creating a culture of the powerful inflicting injustice on the less powerful (the health workers in Pakistan, the girl and her boy friend in India, and the people of Nepal) with impunity. In all cases, the State seems unwilling or unable to address the real problems, exacerbating the people’s hunger and anger.
CRISIS OF COMPREHENSION
The crisis of governance has a philosophical dimension. Be it conventional or modern, oriental or western, political wisdom is caught in the classic dilemma between power and justice, just as economic policy making is fraught between growth and equity, profit and service. All agree that power is the primary instrument of politics, but justice its end; motivation for profit is essential for growth, but what is the remedy to unreasonable profit-seeking? Such philosophical dilemmas exacerbated by undue external demands lead to policy and state failures. Peoples suffer as leaders and states fail. Unable to define the relationships between individuals and individuals, and between individuals, society, and state in transition from tradition to modernity, and from agricultural subsistence to industrial or post-industrial democracies, a serious crisis of comprehension grips South Asia as a whole. Such complexities, wrapped around ideological extremism, ethno-regional radicalism, religious fundamentalism, or unbridled lust for power, profit and pleasure create confusion in individuals, institutions and societies. Failure to comprehend the paradigm flux is exposing South Asia to a larger crisis in politics, economics and society.
Underlying these crises is what someone calls the “tragedy of idealism, ignorance and mimicry”. Mimicry distorts one’s understanding of time and space, sense of right and wrong, and recognition of friend and foe. So, South Asians are in the line of fire and exploitation from all who claim to champion their cause, defend their religion/tradition or protect them. Aristotle wrote long ago “the best political community is created by members of the middle class” who are responsible to guide society by contributing to a sense of right and wrong, thus liberating society from normlessness and a political-economic sector without values. But comfortable in their islands of prosperity and security, how much do South Asian elite comprehend or care for their fellow citizens deep in the oceans of denial and danger?
South Asia today stands at the cross-roads of time and space, history and geography. At this critical time, challenges to the South Asian intelligentsia and leadership are many. Unless they wake up, South Asia could end up hungrier and angrier, affected by HIV-AIDS and other pandemics, with young people leaving or taking up arms and crimes, or even worse, using their knowledge, wealth and power to inflict greater pain on each other. Nothing less than a new politics, economics and society building will give an outlet from the crisis that leads South Asia deeper into poverty, violence, crime, insecurity, and environmental catastrophe. Leadership of wisdom, courage, ethics, and morality can create a new collective consciousness, bringing everyone together in a culture of peace, tolerance, coexistence and cooperation for unleashing the power of creativity for the welfare of all, especially the poor and the vulnerable.
South Asia today needs new highways of hope and healing, connecting all peoples, societies and states. Such a new political and economic community building begins by restructuring the state and society, and most importantly, the human mind, with everyone aware of their rights without forgetting the responsibility not to infringe on the rights of others, the powerful resisting the temptation of abusing power to inflict pain on the less powerful, and the states committed to bring them to justice in case they do. Power and resources must be shared among political actors, civil society, private sector, labor unions, and so on. Such vertical and horizontal adjustments will strengthen South Asian society and states, making them more inclusive and responsive institutions of governance in an increasingly complex globalizing world. More than anything else, South Asia today needs leaders aware of our history and geography and willing and able to embark on new realm of ideas necessary to manage, govern and lead society in the new age and milieu.
The author is Member-Secretariat of the Special Committee chaired by for Supervision, Integration and Rehabilitation of Maoist Army Combatants