Liberals on back foot
There is something interesting about the current popular notion of leadership throughout the world. This trend was seen coming almost a decade ago in a worldwide poll conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org managed by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Attitudes. Analysts of the poll had warned that the result should worry everybody who believed in the Western notion of liberal democracy. A majority of the 19,751 individuals in 20 countries whose opinions were sought on who they considered as world leaders deserving their confidence, voted for tough authoritarian leaders rather than those considered the embodiment of the Western liberal democratic values. Occupying the top three positions at the time were Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Britain’s Gordon Brown and China’s Hu Jintao – two dictators and one democrat. Today, if a similar poll were to be conducted, probably the result would have leaned farther away from the liberal ideology towards those who are known for their tough and ruthless image. America’s Donald Trump, China’s Xi Jinping, Britain’s Teresa May, India’s Narendra Modi and a host of other tough world leaders would come way ahead. The truth is, it is not just in authoritarian one party regimes that this is happening, but also in countries which are considered to be the bastion of liberal ideology. It may still not be a case of autocracy winning over democracy as an ideology but the indications are clear that a majority of the world today have more confidence in leaders who are tough even at the cost of democratic values. In other words, while it may be too early and too preposterous to conclude that the liberal democracy model has lost out the war of values, what is certain is, it is not winning at this moment.
In all likelihood, as the analysts of the polls a decade ago also concluded this “universal vote of no confidence” for liberalism may be a serious bout of global pessimism. People are unhappy with the state of the world and are dissatisfied with the manner in which liberal leadership have been addressing the problem. We bring up this issue precisely because the response of the people in Manipur seems also to be falling in this pattern. Consider the way the people voted in the last election. Isn’t it worrying that all the shows of public concerns about extraordinary laws and fake encounter killings by the state were all virtually rejected in a decision by secret ballot. Does the election result mean the people are accommodative of the often repeated chant of the state that extraordinary times need extraordinary laws. Or is it another way of saying that draconian measures resorted to by the state are also to a great extent on account of a failure of liberals in charting out an alternative, viable, non-draconian measure to address these problems. Draconian leadership as well as draconian laws from this vantage are not to be attributed only to sinister, authoritarian minds behind the government, but the intellectual laziness, if not dishonestly, of liberals who are very adept at raising objections on grounds of principle, but fall far short in meeting the challenge of coming up with strategies to tackle the situation at hand. Indeed, history is evidence that the rise of dictatorships and fascist regimes always coincided with drastic falls in the level of confidence and sense of security amongst the people.
Certain other pictures had emerged out of the poll we referred to, many of which can be lessons for Manipur. One of these is the contrast between attitudes of successful nations and those on the other end of the confidence scale. The least negative responses come from citizens of countries which are able to handle their economies well. People from these countries rated not only their own leaders generously but also those of other countries. Similarly, the crankiest of responses came from countries in economic and political mess such as Jordan and Egypt, countries known for corruption and ineffective governments. These countries also tended to blame others for their problems too. Success and self-confidence go hand in hand with the ability to shoulder failures as much as claim credit for achievements. On the smaller canvas, just by these indirect indexes alone, we can very well gauge where Manipur would fall on a similar scale of self-confidence. We have also seen how every section of the population have been wont to blaming everybody else but themselves for their own failures. It is perhaps this collective insecurity which makes people leave aside concerns for draconian streak in their leadership at every election.