India Uncut

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What responsibility does

The further away you are from power, the more irresponsible you can be, because the positions you hold have no consequences that impact you directly. We see this mismatch between power and responsibility in the Left parties on India. At the centre they enjoy a veto without actually being part of the government, and they take anti-reform positions that harm the country. In Bengal, though, they are the ruling party, and are setting a benchmark for other reforming states with their opening up of the economy. When they are directly responsible for the well-being of their people, they act more responsibly.

I was given two further examples of this phenomenon by Zafar Abbas, the head of BBC in Pakistan. Zafar is based in Islamabad, and has faced all kinds of intimidation in his 15 years with the BBC: his office in Islamabad was burnt down once by a religious group, and he was beaten up; on another occasion, his house in Karachi was stormed and he ended up in hospital. Indian journalists have it easy compared to their counterparts in Pakistan.

I had an enlightening chat about Pakistan with Zafar, in the course of which he gave me, though not in that context, two further examples of how being in power changes attitudes. One, he said, now that the religious parties have formed the government in the North-West Frontier Province, otherwise a hotbed of extremism, they act far more responsibly there than they used to. Whether it is regarding the protests against the US that took place last month, or the uproar over those Danish cartoons, they’ve been more muted than you’d otherwise expect.

Two, there is the military. Now that the military actually runs the government, Zafar tells me, and are directly responsible for the well-being of the country, their policies are more responsible than what they’d otherwise suggest. The buck, they know, stops with them.

And because of all this, I’m not as pessimistic about Hamas coming to power in Palestine as so many others are. Let’s wait and see how they behave now.
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