What is common between The Hindu, The Indian Express, Mint, The Economist and the Financial Times? In the last fortnight, they all wrote Leaders on the “Spirit of Cricket” speech of Kumar Sangakkara, the former captain of the Sri Lankan cricket team. It is doubtful if he would have received a similar coverage even for his cricketing deeds, which are no less formidable. Yet, his speech had touched a chord among many. Therein lies the message for India’s reformers whether they are in politics or out of it.
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Certainly, we do not want to say that Sangakkara has sent a message to Indian cricketers to speak up on the ills of Indian cricket. That would be too obvious an inference and that is a personal choice that India’s cricketers—famous or otherwise—have to make. In any case, Bare Talk is interested in the broader message of the Sangakkara phenomenon.
What did he do that has had such an impact? First, he stuck to his domain. He did not hold forth on the issue of civil war, the need for integration, among others. But he stressed the need for cricket to facilitate and foster integration in a war-ravaged country. In the process, he brought the issue of integration back into the mainstream consciousness in Sri Lanka and yet, intelligently, he refrained from a direct confrontation on an issue not belonging to his turf.
The non-politician-reformers can take note here. Instead of espousing their views on black money, on the validity of having different currency notes in circulation and on economic reforms and liberalization, if they had confined themselves to the aggrandisement of the state and corrupt practices that they had encountered in their works in society, they would have been a lot more credible and effective than they are, now. They could still have drawn attention to the larger phenomenon of corruption through their championing of specific causes.
For the politician-reformer, Sangakkara is more relevant. He was known for his personal integrity, professional competence and he had done his bit to foster integration between the Tamils and the Sinhalese. At the height of the civil war, he has visited the strife-torn northeast (see http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/522022.html).
Yet, he did not rest on his laurels. He has gone beyond his immediate fame and personal reputation and had sought to enhance larger good even at the risk of jeopardizing his cricketing career. That is what India’s politician-reformers have to reflect on.
This is particularly relevant to the reformers in the Congress party. It is disappointing to see so many of them go silent in recent years and some have even turned 180 degrees. It is possible that they are still standing in the way of even more harmful economic policies. Things could be worse, but for their presence. However, we always aspire for larger possibilities and not settle for something better than the worst-case scenario.
Hence, if a politician-reformer stands up and delivers a speech on the state of public policymaking in the country, the role that private and narrow interests play in the making of such policies and what is needed to be done to fix it, it would make the nation sit up and take notice. In fact, they have a role model in their own party. Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi gave a passionate speech about power brokers in the Congress party. The nation was stirred. Unfortunately, more than a quarter-century later, we still do not know what prevented him from translating his speech into action.
Outside the Congress party, there is the example of former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who returned the Bill on the issue of criminally charged politicians from running for public office and that focused public attention on the criminalization of politics like no other previous efforts did.
The other message from Sangakkara for the politician-reformer is communication. He chose a key occasion to communicate with the larger audience back home. Our leaders who have national interest at heart should communicate with the people regularly. India’s politician-reformers—whether now or in the past—have failed to take their message of reforms to their own cadres and to the broader public. Given India’s demographics profile, they should reach out to the youth creatively and continuously. The rewards for the nation will last for generations.
As veteran journalist T.N. Ninan wrote in the Business Standard, the recent corruption scandals and the protest movements against corruption have stirred the country’s consciousness and some good might come out of it all even if we don’t precisely know now what that would be. By taking a leaf out of Sangakkara’s book, well-meaning leaders can catch the tide and irreversibly commit future governments to governance with accountability.
By doing so, they would also make members of the public reflect on their own behaviour, values and conduct. If nothing else, that would take them one step ahead of the leaders of the various anti-corruption movements in the country.
V. Anantha Nageswaran is chief investment officer for an international wealth manager. These are his personal views
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