Delhi Belly —- Brexit : Lessons In Leadership, and Licence To Cull

The last few days of the Brexit drama should be a revealing experience for thinking Indians who care for the quality of our polity, particularly of its leadership. Just reflect: could a Brexit type event have ever taken place in India without ripping the country apart, large scale destruction of public and private property, violent deaths and politicians behaving in the manner of gutter rats ? Look back on Telengana, the Jat agitation and you will see what I mean. For the simple fact is that though we may claim to have modelled our democracy on the Westminster prototype, in actual practice we have none of its essential conditions: leadership. trust in the citizens and a responsible political system.

There are many admirable things about Brexit and what it tells us about that tiny nation. One, it trusts its citizens to make the right choices and on seminal issues the government of the day will not ram its own views down their collective throats. This was Britain’s third referendum: in 1975 it decided to join Europe, last year it decided that Scotland will remain part of it, and now it has reversed that first decision.


Two, the government and the nation at large accepts these decisions in good grace, without recriminations, judicial interventions, money exchanging hands, or public violence. In India a PIL in some court would ensure that the decision is stayed for the next decade or an uproar in Parliament would lock down its functioning ad infinitum.

Three (and there’s a reason why I am devoting a separate para to this): if Brexit demonstrated something, it is what true leadership is about. David Cameron publicly proclaimed his support for remaining within the EU but still allowed his Ministers and party members to vote according to their own wishes: at least four of his Ministers announced their support for the LEAVE camp. He need not have taken a stand on the issue (after all, his own party was divided on it) or even have held a referendum – but he felt that the question deserved an answer, and that as Prime Minister he owed it to the nation to lead from the front by making his own position clear and unambiguous. He  still commands a majority in Parliament, enjoys the confidence of his party as its leader, and yet decided on Friday to step down as Prime Minister – NOT because he  lost the referendum (the hollow cliche in our country is “owning moral responsibility”) but because he felt that he “was not the man to steer the ship to new destinations”. Having supported REMAIN he felt he could not be an honest broker in negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU, and so must hand over the baton to someone more in sync with the LEAVE ideology.

 Cameron has paid the price for being a moral. honest and outstanding leader, and a man of honour. Without wishing to diminish the thought, one can’t help but wonder: would ANY Indian Prime Minister of today come even close to displaying this kind of leadership values and principles? Does the Indian DNA have a mutant gene that prevents our politicians (I except no one on today’s stage) from becoming leaders? Food for thought as you wait for the monsoon to arrive.

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 It is an old adage that if you want to see how small a man is give him a big job. The living proof of this truism is none other than Mr. Javadekar, the Union Minister for Environment and Forests who has made it his mission in life to destroy what remains of our environment, wildlife and forests. His latest effort in this direction is the liberal permission he has granted to four states to cull wild animals.

Culling is an accepted methodology for controlling population of wild animals if the same is becoming unsustainable or threatening humans. But it has to be done in a scientific (not political or populist) manner and has to be preceded by proper surveys to determine whether the overall population of a particular species is actually growing in absolute numbers, whether the visible “excess” is due to loss of habitat, human interventions or natural increase,  what is the nature of the “danger” they pose, and whether any reduction in prey species would lead to narrowing of the prey base for predators and consequent increase in the intensity of man-animal conflicts. No such surveys were ever conducted in any of the states – Himachal, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh – where the Ministry has allowed the culling of nilgai, monkeys and wild boar. (A proposal is pending with Mr. Javadekar to permit the killing of peacocks – the national bird, no less – in Goa !). Bihar simply submitted a two page report, on the basis of which hundreds of animals have been slaughtered by professional shooters – I have no doubt that it must be party time for Bihar foresters these days, what with so much prime meat available free. With the country losing 600,000 hectares of original, prime forest every year there can be little doubt that the cause of the problem is loss of habitat, forcing wild animals to stray into agricultural fields, but the Ministry will not even look at this possibility.

Secondly, culling is not the only solution: in fact it should be the last. Animal population control measures also include translocation and the manipulation of reproductive ability – these should have been resorted to first if at all the numbers were indeed excessive (which has not yet been established). The latter, in fact, has already been tried in Himachal for rhesus monkeys, with some success. In 2007-08 the HP Forest Department started setting up monkey sterilisation centres across the state, of which there are eight now. This was after trying translocation which was an unqualified failure – monkeys are too smart to be translocated: it is easier to translocate Kashmiri pandits ! According to a report I read recently, so far approx. 100,000 monkeys have been sterilised (25% of the total population) and the latest wild life census indicates that their population has declined by 18000 or 4.5%. That is remarkably good progress and certainly much better than the numbers for the one species which should be culled first – homo sapiens! According to the Human Population Division of the UN, human population has been increasing relentlessly since the Black Death of 1400 AD. It is 7.5 billion today and is expected to grow to anywhere between 9.5 billion and 13.5 billion by 2050. The planet has already exceeded its carrying capacity of 4.5 to 6 billion a long way back. Talk of double standards.

 There IS a monkey problem in Shimla – but we are to blame for it exclusively, not Kipling’s simians. We feed the monkeys at Jakhoo’s Hanuman mandir (we have even set up an atrociously ugly statue of Hanuman there, which, according to me, looks more like Shakti Kapoor than the monkey God); tourists are seen feeding them all over the Mall and the Ridge, and the incompetence of the Municipal Corporation ensures that the garbage bins are never cleaned and thus provide regular banquets for the apes throughout the year. Now, if you were a starving ape in Sainj valley whose forests had been replaced by concrete dams and power houses, would you still linger there, or would you take the first bus to Shimla ? Even a Bihar School Board topper would have no difficulty in figuring out the correct answer.

Unnecessary, short-sighted human interventions are the real reason why wild animals stray into farmers’ fields and cause damage to their crops. But instead of exploring the reasons and adopting scientific measures the government as usual opts for the quick-fix route: kill the animals. There are non-zoological solutions too which can also be considered: include crop damage by wild animals as one of the damages covered under the Crop Insurance Scheme, or have a separate scheme for this. Most state governments already compensate farmers and shepherds for loss of live stock due to predator attacks; add crop damage to this. Surely a state government can spend a few crores of rupees on this in order to preserve its dwindling wild life? If necessary, build in a corpus fund for this in the environmental charges levied on projects which require diversion of forest land. Be innovative, Mr. Javadekar, not murderous.

  And lest you are overly impressed with your Cabinet status, heed the following:

  Said the monkey to her mate as she swung by her tail:

  ” The evolution of species is no old wives’ tale;

   We have come a long way from the Cambrian slime,

   And its evident to me its only a matter of time

   Before our son becomes a Professor at Yale! ”

Watch out, Mr. Minister, your job may be in danger !

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at

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