Those obsessed with the term ‘development’ have failed to fathom that in democracy the performance of a ruler is appreciated in quite a different way. The credit or blame for success or failure is not attributed to an individual, but to the whole system. Like in a sports team, it is shared collectively. Of course, the captain walks away with more glory when the team wins, and is criticized when it loses.
So in the United States of America or in the United Kingdom, one cannot give credit to any one democratically-elected president or prime minister for the development the two countries have achieved in the last two centuries. Yet, it is also true that a couple of leaders are remembered for some landmark steps. For example, Abraham Lincoln got slavery abolished. Japan, Italy and France have a different story. After World War II they faced political instability, and saw frequent change of government. Yet, they developed at a very fast pace.
In contrast, it is in dictatorship that the ruler at the top tries to grab all the honour. Hitler, who came to power with the help of ballots and soon turned into a dictator, is a case in point. His 12 years in power can be divided into two parts ––1933 to 1938 and 1939 to 1945. No doubt in the pre-World War-II years he adopted all his ultra-nationalist –– rather fascist –– skill and talent to develop and transform the devastated and bankrupt Germany into a global power. He became the hero of the masses as he restored German pride (asmita). But in the next six years, he undid whatever he achieved. By May 1945, Germany was reduced to rubble. Perhaps no other nation in the world grew at such a fast pace in the 1930s as Germany. Yet it is also true that the ideology which it was then following led to its rapid self-destruction. Though Germany made material progress, it failed to develop morally.
There is a lot for the Indian media to learn from this story. When they discuss development, they fail to take into account this aspect and just go on parroting a few figures of growth rate. A political party may, out of compulsion or ideology, praise one of its chief ministers to the skies for ‘developing’ a particular state. But the media can not be made the hostage of this rhetoric.
After all, heaping praise on a particular leader, especially a regional satrap, is a 21st-century phenomenon. Television journalism is virtually setting the agenda for this. During the Emergency, it happened so when Indira Gandhi abandoned democracy.
Many states have made startling progress without the chief minister being singled out for adoration. The Centre’s attention, policy, strategic location, geographical advantages and other factors play important roles in the development of a state. Gujarat, on a few occasions in the 1980s and the 1990s, recorded growth rates that were higher than India’s overall growth rate. Yet, the chief ministers were not praised for this feat.
If just one person changed Gujarat, who should be applauded for the high growth rate of Jharkhand, which is yet to see a full-term government in the last 12 years. The state has thrown up some notoriously corrupt chief ministers.
The way the media has messed up the whole development debate can be summed up by one example. When Ram Vilas Paswan became telecommunication minister in the Vajpayee government, he was projected as Ram Vikas (Development) Paswan as he generously gave phone connections to journalists in his home state. But when he crossed over to the United Progressive Alliance in 2004, he became Ram Vinash (Destruction) Paswan.