Looking back

Published : Jan 13, 2012 00:00 IST

TRADERS PROTESTING AGAINST FDI in Lucknow on December 1. The UPA government decided to allow FDI in multi-brand retail when Parliament was in session. - SUBIR ROY

TRADERS PROTESTING AGAINST FDI in Lucknow on December 1. The UPA government decided to allow FDI in multi-brand retail when Parliament was in session. - SUBIR ROY

In the new year let there be more transparency in decision-making and discussions, unlike 2011, which had more than its fair share of crises.

THIS essay is being written in the last days of 2011, a year that had more than its fair share of crises and traumas, and is being read in the early days of 2012, a time of expectation and anticipation about the new year and what it may bring. That makes it, possibly, the most pleasant part of the year, of any year.

But the sense of anticipation should not make us forget what happened in the past year or in the years before that; pleasant or unpleasant, the experiences of previous years have a bearing on events in a new year. They may be events that begin in the new year or the planning for events that may begin in the years to come.

One should not, for example, forget the United Progressive Alliance(UPA) government's mindlessness in taking a decision to allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail when Parliament was in session. Such a decision, entirely within the remit of the government, could have been taken at another time that would have allowed for some consequent action, even if it was only in the stock market. It would have also gone down these decisions are known far more quickly now than they were a generation ago to the level of the farmers and one would have been able to gauge their reaction to it.

Instead, someone was being too clever by half when he/she counselled that the decision be taken when Parliament was in session, obviously under the harebrained belief that it would either be barely noticed because of Parliament's preoccupation with the 2G spectrum scam and the Lokpal Bill, or that it would divert attention from these issues. Either result, so the clever cuts thought, would give the government some breathing time. Neither of the two happened; Parliament was stalled for days on end, and the government had, in the end, to back-track and agree to defer the decision on FDI in retail. Nor did the hammering the government received on the Lokpal Bill or the 2G spectrum scam ease; if anything, the 2G spectrum scam's ambit spread to the Union Home Minister.

Perhaps in the new year the government will learn to be wiser in timing its decisions; as the opposition may also do. L.K. Advani's yatra achieved nothing except the fanning of speculation on who the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was going to be. The trouble with the BJP is that it seems to think elections are imminent and has already started jockeying for positions in a government it fancies it will form.

However, these are just instances of public decisions that have proved to be hopelessly ill-timed; one is not really talking about those but about the host of other decisions taken by individuals, groups, corporates, associations and, of course, governments. Too often we go ahead with the here and now, and only rarely look back at past decisions to identify mistakes or successes and use them to make present decisions more practical and valuable.

It conforms uncannily with a fine poem written by the American poet John Crowe Ransom, which I must reproduce to make the point:

If one takes the old man to be the past year, and the young woman to be the new one, the relevance is apt. The words of the old man are dry and faint as indeed are, to many in high places, the experiences of the last year. And thus what the past is trying to tell the present is not really heard that the present too will wither like the roses on the trellis dying and become what he, the old man, is. The arch of time, the poet says, and says with truth, is too often forgotten in the magic of the present.

What one is trying to underscore is that in major policy decisions, at the level of the state and individually in one's personal life, the consciousness of the past, particularly the immediate past, needs to be a major factor. It is, in many cases; equally it is not in some. And quite often this indifference to what has gone before, just before, can have grave consequences.

If nothing else, the Commonwealth Games and 2G spectrum scams revealed how imperative transparency is in all public decisions; and yet many decisions will be taken under a shroud of secrecy in the new year.

We tend, particularly in administrative matters, to use the bogey of security to quell any questioning, any demand to know the facts. But what is security? What is it that makes it possible for some people, who may be academically third class or mediocre second class at best, to decide that others, who are far more intelligent than them, are not supposed to know? It leads to a general conviction that secrecy is a cloak for thievery, for making money. If it is not, as is loudly claimed, then let people know that without the ludicrous excuse of security. Everyone except a complete fool knows that those we consider as having interests inimical to ours know all there is to know about us; technology and plain bribery are effective enough. The only ones who are kept in the dark are the people.

Which is why one makes this plea: for goodness' sake, let there be more transparency in our decision-making and discussions. Let us not make the mistakes we made in the past and then have the media burrow into files and records and drag out the real state of affairs. That only makes the state look silly; and it is left with such comic excuses as drafting errors and someone forgetting something, and so on.

If we can do that in all walks of life, we will make the new year a more open, free and less oppressive one than it might otherwise be.

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