Citizens’ role must in managing change
Managing the new govt of a country as multifaceted as India arguably qualifies as a complex project
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Change is in the air. The conclusive mandate in the elections, the optimism of a young country and the sense of extraordinary expectations portend that our nation is not only ready for change, but expects nothing less. And therein lies the danger.
Experienced project managers know that 80% of projects fail not because of their inherent merits or demerits, but because of failure in change management.
And managing the new government of a country as multifaceted as India arguably qualifies as a complex project. A leadership capable of wresting such decisive support and its legions of advisers are adequately competent, so this article is not about what the new government ought to be doing. Rather it is about what the “old” population should do to discharge its responsibility, which only begins by exercising the ballot and doesn’t end there.
If we believe that our country is at the cusp of change, then each of us has to play our continued role in nation-building. Patriotism cannot be outsourced to 543 representatives for five years with an intent to reward success or failure at the end of that period; instead it demands participation from every thinking and responsible citizen throughout that journey.
The first three pre-requisites of effecting change—establishing a sense of urgency, creating a guiding coalition and developing a shared vision—seem to be well under way. That is primarily the role of the politicians, bureaucracy, and the institutional and non-institutional subject matter experts. The fourth step of communicating that shared vision is where the citizen’s role necessitates primacy. India is like a large supertanker at sea. Any change in direction has to be thought through in terms of its resource commitments, short- and long-term implications, and domestic, regional and global repercussions. Even after a decision is taken and implemented, the supertanker still takes time to change direction as is its nature. It is during this time when nothing “seems” to be changing dramatically that responsible citizens must make the effort to learn the nuances of issues and educate those who may not grasp the full context.
Firstly, every meaningful change, whether it is job creation, economic growth or regional security, involves a series of compromises. For instance, improving infrastructure entails construction of ports along unsullied shores and deforestation. The country and society have to juggle not just between creating infrastructure and damage to the environment, which is inescapable during development—but also realize that it can’t perpetually procrastinate on such decisions. Appreciating these nuances of compromise and presenting all facets of the decision-making process to stakeholders is as much the responsibility of citizens as of the government.
Secondly, sustainable change comes from addressing root causes, which takes time, patience and many false starts. For instance, take Naxal extremism.
Experts may vary in their approaches and solution ratios of using force versus development, but the fact remains that both force and development are required. Now let’s suppose there is a repeat of the 2010 Naxal attack in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, in which 76 troops were killed—which remains a threat possibility for some time as the Naxal capability is not going to decrease overnight simply because there is a change in government. Or worse, there is a repeat of a 26/11 kind of strike.
What is the expectation of the citizenry from a government—especially one which has an aura of delivering a “tough response” to terrorism? No government can resolve these intractable and deep-rooted issues in a matter of months or even years.
But if the mature do not moderate the jingoists about the folly of hasty reciprocal responses, it will be very difficult for the government to ignore the cries for “revenge”—which is exactly what the terrorist groups are baiting for. As the US learnt to its great cost, spectacularly heavy response to terrorism also has the side effect of instigating more provocation from terror groups. Whose responsibility should it be to present such nuances to the masses, who will now expect instant, “tough” responses? So while the government can craft the overall vision and empower its functionaries to act on it, the onus of appreciating the challenges of long-term problems and advocating enough manoeuvring room remains with all quarters of the society.
Thirdly, the journey of change requires creation, recognition and celebration of short-term wins. It is important to appreciate what can be achieved in the short term and what cannot. If this distinction is not made by the citizenry, then the government will be forced to focus only on short-term grandstanding wins—which undoubtedly it must—but with a sense of proportion to the long term as well.
Finally for change to endure, multiple disparate gains must be consolidated and institutionalized. They may start with personalities, but must soon find their way into the culture of governance. There again the citizen has to play the role of a constant evangelist of the good and a critic of the bad.
So while each Indian has the right to an opinion of what the new government should do, we cannot absolve our responsibility of what the governed should start working on either.
Raghu Raman is a commentator on internal security, member of the www.outstandingspeakersbureau.in and author of Everyman’s War (www.fb.com/everymanswarbook). The views expressed are personal.
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