January 19, 2006Security

Mittal Chambers shows the way

Self-interest trumps warm, fuzzy feelings

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

They didn’t do it for fear of threats by wild-eyed fanatics (which in any case were absent). They didn’t even do it out of a sense of (misplaced) patriotism. The reasons why the tenants of Mittal Chambers unanimously decided they did not want the Pakistani High Commission among them were mundane.

The members felt that if the consulate office is allowed, it would cause a great deal of inconvenience to the members on several fronts, including parking problem,” chairman of the society A V Rajagopal told PTI here today.

Every member has given their views in writing and the decision taken by the committee was as per the by-laws,” Rajagopal said, adding, We are sorry about it.” [Mid-Day]The other tenants decided that long queues of visa applicants, intrusive security measures and other non-ideological issues would harm their commercial interests. And they acted in a common-sensical, matter-of-fact, institutional manner — they voted. The chairman of the tenant’s association announced the collective decision of his members, and though he didn’t have to, expressed his own gentlemanly regret to the Pakistani high-commission on its unsuccessful application.

The tenants of Mittal Chambers decided that accomodating the Pakistani high commission imposed such costs on them that they were unwilling to bear. The benefits — potential improvement in bilateral relations — were too remote, too dispersed and too intangible for them. They calculated therefore, that the Pakistani consulate would leave them all worse off. Hence their unanimous rejection. (Ironically, the landlord who wanted to lease the premises out to the Pakistani government was a nephew of the VHPs very hawkish Ashok Singhal.) Self-interest trumped politics, as it should.

The situation is reversed with respect to the Indian people and the peace process’ with Pakistan. To ordinary Indians, the costs (and there are costs), like the potential benefits of the peace process’ are too remote, too dispersed and too intangible. That makes them less inclined to vote to protect their interests. It is only when terrorists strike targets closer home, like New Delhi or Bangalore, do people realise that sometimes, the real costs can be all too clear. Though they are growing in number, the relative infrequency of such attacks lulls Indians into a false sense of security. The short attention span of the national media reinforces this, leading the Indian government to pursue security policies that are woefully isolated from national costs and benefits. The Vajpayee government executed u-turns of epic proportions, with scarcely any debate in parliament or in public. The Manmohan Singh government continues on a course in spite of its rationale being challenged.

Mittal Chambers showed that direct democracy successfully translates the interests of the electorate into purposeful action. In India’s constitutional system, important policy decisions are not decided by referenda. But how about some real parliamentary debate then?

As for the Pakistani government, irked by Mittal Chambers’ decision, it has decided to officially delay the opening of an Indian consulate in Karachi. That says much about its attitude towards self-governance’.

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