I found myself last week debating on NDTV with Shashi Tharoor. ‘Why does India have so many malnourished children?’ I was asked by the presenter. ‘Because India lacks the political will to do something about it. The Prime Minister should simply state, “before the decade is out, we will cut child malnoutrician rates 10-fold; from one child in two, to one child in 20 being malnourished.”’ I replied. Simple.
But not simple for Shashi Tharoor, who commented my answer was a ‘sound bite’ and an ‘arbitrary figure’. That then summed up to me why India faces such a large problem with child health. A lack of political will. Shashi is a good man. I’ve met Shashi. He and I are involved with the Loomba Trust helping widows and orphans. But you know there is a lack of political will when a politician refuses to set a goal and a deadline.
Any businessman will tell you, without a goal and a deadline you simply will never make an achievement. So it was this past week I was delighted to hear there has not been a single case of polio in India in the past 12 months. Why? Because, as the head of the World Health Organisation explained, ‘there was political will’. So it is not that India cannot do it, as with most things in life, it is that there is a lack of will which explains why something is not done.
Why? From where does political will arise? Sometimes it comes from a popular mandate – a politician who decides he must campaign on an issues and then on winning an election has of course to deliver. This kind of will comes from the mandate of the people. They say you get the Government you deserve, and this is why. Ultimately, it is a lack of will among the people.
By people, I do not mean the mom and pop trying to make ends meet. I mean those with ability to take a leadership role and make an issue of paramount importance. But the onus should not fall on the people alone. Surely when a government does not give effect to its own Constitution, this is a failing that interested parties can bring on behalf of the country as a whole, to indict the politicians.
Even in a land of lawyers, like America, the inaliable belief that ‘all men are created equal’ took from the 1760s until the 1960s to enforce – and even then it’s an imperfect implementation – let alone gender equality. So whilst we should not be too harsh, it is also not 1776 we live in but 2012 and it is about time political will did indeed exist, not pushed by media interviews, or the people, but by those who seek to rule in the first place themselves.
What Shashi Tharoor should have said is, ‘I’ll take it to the Prime Minister’. And incidentally, as for soundbites, I took my statement about ‘before the decade is out’ from Kennedy’s inaugural speech about putting a man on the moon. And with their soundbite and arbitrary date, know what? The Americans did it. Maybe ancient India has a lot more to learn from young America still.
Of course there is another way of describing a lack of political will. It is that you just don’t care enough.
- Four Reasons Why Shashi Tharoor is Wrong (india.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Shashi Tharoor: An Interloper in Indian Politics (smritidaniel.wordpress.com)