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June - July 2005


Tony Blair - Man of Destiny in a Democracy: 'I've Listened and I've Learnt'

by Krishan Ralleigh

“….the great thing about an election is that you go out, you talk to people for week upon week and I’ve listened and I’ve learnt and I think I’ve a very clear idea of what the British people now expect from the government for a third term…………And I want to say to them very directly that I..we…the government, are going to focus relentlessly now on the priorities the people have set for us.”

- Tony Blair in his speech after he was elected in May 2005.

At the turn of the millennium, there ruled in a corner of Europe, a man of vision full of ideas about his country. He professed and wished to spread his ideas of democracy, society, welfare and global environment to the people of Europe (Eastern Europe), Middle East and Asia, at a great cost to the people of his country and his own reputation. In the end………..

It is too early at present to judge Tony Blair’s place in history. However, together with Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill he has strengthened his country by not giving in to external threats of terrorism, which had been relentlessly subduing country after country in Asia and Middle East. And then went on to attack the most powerful democracy of the time, the United States of America. Tony Blair’s Britain would be a small picking if the strongest citadel of democracy were to be demolished. It was no lesser a threat than that was faced by Winston Churchill’s Britain.

In order to protect democracy at home, Tony Blair thought it necessary that the principles of democracy are extended to those parts of the world where people have no liberty and justice from their government, because that government has come to power by terrorising its own people.

Democracy has no meaning if it does not reflect the wishes of its own people. That is why fair and free elections, periodically, are essential to enable the ruling party to listen and learn the wishes of the people.

In India, democracy has taken firm roots; but it is still a sapling even after fifty years. The vision of Jawahar Lal Nehru, the Man of Destiny for India, is largely incomplete even to this day. It can be corroborated by going through the erudite lecture of Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia. (See inside). For a successful democracy we need educated electorate. Even after fifty-eight years of independence, literacy rate in India is pitiably low, as is the per capita income. The political parties exploit the ignorance of the masses by either wrapping their dreams into short and shining slogans or exploiting their prejudices of caste and creed. Education for the masses has ceased to be a priority. Even mass media (television channels, radio and newspapers) churn out in small doses, the opium of prejudices, religious bigotry and fairy stories. Corruption has become an essential tool of India’s ruling elite, whether political, administrative or business. Electorate does not know who to choose. Even at the highest level, Idealism has been replaced by opportunism.

When, in May 2004, Atal Bihari Vajpai’s government lost the confidence of the people, the most honourable course for them would have been to resign from party leadership; and hold elections for a new leaders. However, they stayed, hoping that the new government would not last; and perhaps they would be back in power with the support of power-seeking smaller parties. The Congress party, which increased its membership in the parliament, was able to form a government with the help of small parties and left wing parties support from outside. Naturally, such a government is always on the horns of dilemma at every corner. They have lasted one year mainly because they did only a‘minimum’ for the country. And of course there is no united opposition to take over power even if an opportunity occurs in the coming years. The country will continue to go on in the same way for another four years, gradually diminishing in stature and prosperity but growing in population and poverty.

Why is it that political leaders of India, when in power, do not listen to and learn the wishes of the people? If Indian democratic set up could succeed in eradicating poverty and ignorance, and give her people economic freedom, social justice and welfare for all, Tony Blair and George Bush may not have to send troops to Iraq and Afghanistan to bring democracy and to stop terrorism. We, the people of India are to some extent, responsible for Islamic terrorism because we have failed to provide a model of successful democracy to our neighbours and friends in the Middle East. We let people of Afghanistan crumble before Taliban and Pakistan. We also supported Saddam Hussain’s tyranny over his own people. In our foreign policy, there is no idealism or even enlightened self-interest.

It will not be inappropriate to suggest to our political leaders in India to take a crash course in how to run a democratic polity that produces a literate, just and prosperous nation. Both, Tony Blair and Michael Howard, could be effective tutors. For Michael Howard, in defeat, the election of a new party leader not personal ambition came first. For Tony Blair, after victory, translating the wishes of the people into action took top priority. That is how democracy works. Britain may not be a perfect democracy. But, for that matter, nor is the United States of America. However, both these countries have shown the will power to enlarge the areas of democracy as an idea that does not conflict with any religious ethos. It is not a protestant Christian ‘s monopoly. Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism do provide fertile grounds for transplantation of democratic political system. For all these religions teach equality, freedom and responsibility for action.

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