POWER OF DIALOGUE

The most versatile strategic tool available to us is the ability to engage the other side in meaningful, constructive and sane conversation. Unfortunately, that isn’t the order of the day

By Somasekhar Sundaresan

The power of dialogue is staring us in the face. India and Pakistan have found enough excuses not to have a dialogue. Each side claimed the other started unprovoked firing at the border. Each side built imagery of savage-like conduct by the other side’s armed forces. Each whipped up patriotic zeal and fervour to a level loud enough to make it politically impossible to engage in dialogue without being seen by the public as a loser. Obviously, each side is sheepish about the breakdown in dialogue, and is therefore blaming the other for it.

An unknown upstart is laying claim to being the new Loh Purush” (iron man) from Gujarat. Hardik Patel, in his early twenties, is green enough behind his ears to now know the finer nuances of the law and policy on caste-based reservations. In seeking caste-based reservations for the well-off and powerful Patidar community (which gave India Sardar Patel), he is on course to triggering a new and dangerous wave of anti-reservation emotions among the higher castes who have a louder voice and greater reception in the mainstream media. He does not carry a sane voice of reason and no sane voice of reason attempted to talk to him.

He had the delusion of being big enough for the chief minister to come to him to accept his representation and the CM did not have anyone bigger than the local collector to collect his representation on her behalf. He was arrested, unrest followed and unbelievably, large parts of Gujarat have had to face curfew.

Arguments with children necessarily place the child at an advantage – you can’t win easily win against them particularly when they lack reason. But you simply have to engage with them to resolve tantrums. They need to be talked to, to be distracted, convinced, or to be given something else to fancy.

Dialogue is critical for making law and policy. Just a few weeks ago, opposition parties in Parliament blew out an entire session. They just refused to engage. Their justification: others have done it before, and we can do the same now. In a nutshell, they refused to participate in any dialogue. In the Lok Sabha, even when a farcical dialogue started – on a motion to adjourn Parliament with one day to go for the session to get over, the two sides talked at each other and not to each other. The dialogue was so base that it was hardly a dialogue. The result: lawless conduct by lawmakers. Parliamentarians took to the streets against the speaker who sought to read the riot act and lay down the rule of law.

The law on making it easy to acquire private land for the larger public good needs a dialogue between the one whose land is being acquired and the one seeking to acquire it. In much the same way, acquiring small investors’ shares to take a company private from being publicly traded needs a format for a dialogue. The format for dialogue in the laws that governs each of these subjects is about the money. For land, the buyer has to compute and provide what the compliant price should be. In sharp contrast, for shares, the sellers get to decide and prescribe what the compliant price from the buyer should be.

Replacement of a multi-state-diverse-and-complex tax regime governing sale of goods and services with a standardised uniform goods and services tax across the nation requires a constitutional amendment. By design, it necessitates a dialogue across political lines and across states, when any one of the multiple stakeholders can argue that some element in the proposal is bad. When Mamata Banerjee wins a package deal for West Bengal to give her consent to something of national importance and you feel like abusing her, think again. She is in fact engaging in dialogue. And getting a political bargain is far better than a breakdown in dialogue.

Remember the ad campaign with the tag line: “Baat karne se hi baat banti hai”? Unfortunately, dialogue is fast becoming a dream that is only sold in ad campaigns for telecom services. If only there was more dialogue.

Tweets @SomasekharS

This article was published in the Mumbai Mirror and allied publications on August 26, 2015

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