On the State of Governance and Politics in India

by Amit Bhushan on Sunday 8 April 2012, 2:37 PM | Category: Politics| View: 1415 views


On the State of Governance and Politics in India
By : Amit Bhushan; Date: 8th April 2012
While Political power in India may change hands at Central, State or local government level, the governance does not change much. This is because Governance is largely driven by UPSC cadre bureaucrats who look at plum Central postings as incentives. They remain mired in Centralization as a panacea for keeping the country together and are least bothered to improve services at the local and state level unless diktats have been issued/approved by senior bureaucrats at the Centre who are their ultimate ‘My Baaps' in the quest for individual aggrandizement which is basically to occupy power at a plum Central Ministry which may be for ‘people friendly' or even ulterior motives. Thus to be able to contribute at local level may be far off sight of such officers :
·         For the fear of reprimand by their superiors, or
·         because of fear of failure in a society which generally shuns experimentation at governance level, or
·         because such actions may catch eye of a fault finding media/politicians and result is spoiling of career.     
The infighting and poor public image of our politicians, their lack of understanding of our Federal governance structure and poor ability to navigate through the corridors of power at Central government level (without help of bureaucrats) makes them an object of ridicule amongst bureaucrats. The lack of ability of politicians to mobilize resources for any cause is another hindrance which makes them further dependent on these bureaucrats who guide them ways to raise resources from the higher government at the Centre/State. The innovation in governance at State and Local government level is almost totally non-existent due to a result of structure/conditions of governance in India. So even in spite of a regular change of hands with respect to political power at local and state level in India (which has been a hallmark of our democracy since Late 70s'), there has been little change in governance in India.
The Politicians themselves are responsible for their situation. Most politicians rely on populist pronouncements like “Free” or “Cheap (read below Cost Price)” distribution of Products/Services o gain Political mileage. He politicians need an understanding that goal of Politics is to ensure Welfare of larger public within the meager resources permitted by society. This entails engineering a fine balance between various classes like Businesses, Industry workers, Service companies and their workers, Farmers and their workers etc. through means of Laws and policies. Such Laws and policies need to be consistently evolved and require constant fine tuning/interpretations as per circumstances, to meet the goal of greater good of the society. The society is yet to learn/evolve to punish politicians who try to trick voters in ‘honeytraps' of gimmicks such as Free or Cheap widgets and reward politicians who work on improving transparency in governance, policy making and service delivery.   
In practice however most politicians strike deals with Businesses and Entrepreneurs which tend to corner a greater portion of society's resources for private benefit. This is because voters in India have been proven to be gullible on multiple occasions often prone to voting across lines on factor external to governance such as Caste, Religion etc. Often such deals help politicians cover the ‘Costs' of elections which has been increasing year on year. Since pleasing all or a majority of voter with meager budgetary resources which are again already committed to maintenance of a bloated bureaucratic work force is deemed to be almost impossible task, so politicians often rely on trapping ‘opponents' in legal quagmire and binding them in a plethora of often spurious and vague charges. To keep their constituents happy they dole out political largesse in distribution of resources in abrupt and in-transparent manner. They also ensure in a divisive politics which keep voters divided across multiple segments so that they can emerge victorious with their carefully engineered vote bank.
So instead of playing the politics of Development, mostly its politics of engineering a split in vote banks of opposing political forces that seems to the ‘Art of Politics' in India. Politicians across all hues and colours know this and rely on the art either explicitly or implicitly as there seems to be no escape from this form of politics which has taken roots in our society. It is well known that most political candidates in an election are funded by ‘other candidates' rather than businesses or people of the constituency. This is because the politicians who fancy even a remote chance of winning know that it is possible only if the votes of prominent opponents are split and therefore they concentrate almost as much energy on splitting opponents vote bank as much as they concentrate to consolidate their own vote bank. They make use of ‘willing' bureaucrats as well as media to their advantage to ‘spill the beans' on opponents and their near and dear ones to ‘expose nepotism and corruption as well as amoral behaviour'. The businessmen of the locality know this fact and therefore stay away from direct politics and bank roll candidates to protect their interest. Now-a-days since the reliability of politicians has gone down further so often these businessmen take the route of indirect entry into direct politics through ‘Rajya Sabha' etc.
It is that experimentation with governance has not taken place at all. Some politicians at state level have successfully experimented with governance and have made mark for themselves. Take the case of E-governance and Land Record computerization in Andhra Pradesh. The experiment catapulted the concerned Chief Minister to a level which was at a breathing distance from ‘Prime Minister's office'. Even with some very serious charges of corruption have not been able to completely ground the politician even though his stranglehold on power has loosened. The Center had to ‘take up' the idea and fund the idea to roll out the ‘scheme' across state so that the politician's idea is not seen as a novelty of one state. This is besides activating divisive forces in the state, highlighting poor record in rural Andhra and resurrecting a whole now Industry (Micro Financing) to influence voters to be weaned away from the influence of the politician.
Some other innovation has taken place in state is in aspect of distribution of subsidies straight to bank account in relation to ‘Girl Child'. The innovation was to depict a big amount to be committed for future delivery but in a transparent manner via banking channels. This allowed a rather weak Chief Minister to be re-elected. The innovation relied on banking and compounding of interest and allowed state to commit a decent amount to be delivered in future on birth of girl child while the state committed peanuts via a deposit in beginning. Since the delivery mechanism was transparent so people rewarded the politician.
Thus politicians know that change in governance can be one of the important source to lay claim on ‘power' however the route in fraught with risks. It entails a change in current governance practices and thus hits a bureaucratic wall which is resistant to change since their superiors a Delhi may not give much credence to their effort unless such a change is robustly successful. The political opponents of such change are always out to exploit every small error and reap extensive mileage for the same, besides legitimizing a roll-back of the policy. There are existing ‘interests' of corrupt bureaucrats and politicians including their businessmen friends who have bank rolled and engineered the political victory of the person in power. These people try to block every effort to make any change often exploiting internal dissent in the political party and using media to colour public perception about moves and motives of the politicians. A highly divisive politics coupled with a lack of culture for experimentation in governance ensures a lack proven models for change in governance.
Even the contenders for the Political top job in the country are not those politicians who can be credited to a substantive change in ‘Governance' but are those who have managed an effective handle on current governance structure and ensured performance and development through ‘Personal efforts'. This goes on to show that even if there is a change of political power, then India would still be governed by existing ‘Governance standards'. An experiment at the national level by out prominent party in opposition met with limited success. They brought in some new ideas but continued to govern in ‘old style'. While they claimed to show development, very little changed for the people since the mechanism of delivery of governance remained cumbersome at grass root level. India did see and improvement in Telecom, LPG distribution etc. but a common man's concern items such as delivery of Food, Medicine etc. didn't reach him any smoother. Thus for a common man there was little to differentiate and the experiment was Rolled back by the people of the country.
The result is that though we continue to have Laws such as Drug Price Control Order which mandates that companies manufacturing certain Drug cannot charge above a ‘Controlled' price. However effectively the Drug is sold only to Government at that price and this is essentially for ‘Free' distribution to poor. The government's meager resources ensure that drug cannot be given to all those who need the same. The politicians in power could have easily built a ‘Distribution system' to make the drug available at ‘Controlled' price through Franchised outlet via Public Private Partnership mode but the industry having bank rolled politicians have ensured that to common people the Drugs under price control order are still available at almost ten times the controlled price.    
A similar situation exists for Distribution of Food through the Public distribution system. None of the political parties at the state level have been able to bring transparency in the distribution system. The Center allocates subsidized food along political lines so only sufferer state discloses its allocation that they have received from the Center. Then the existing movement of bulk food commodity remains under wraps so very few people know that what stock has reached where and when. The political-bureaucratic nexus influences distribution amongst politician's constituents which is often the source of leakages and both politician and bureaucrat ensure that this remains guarded and away from public view. The same is the case for allocation of Fertilizers in the country which is also a source of vote bank politics to influence the powerful farmer lobby.
Then there is the case Public Works Department of state where politicians of all hues and colour line up to secure ‘Contracts' for their businesses or for business of their near and dear ones. The interest is either to influence the tendering process to favour their business interest and seek award of the tenders or to influence officers to ‘show leniency' in monitoring of such contracts and approval of payments. They also ensure that ‘complaints' of competitors are not followed up upon by bureaucrats holding offices in the department. A mix of monetary inducements, career related inducements of promotions and posting, threats from Extremist/Goonda elements including exploitation of ay weakness/Achilles heel of the officer is exploited to the fullest.
We also have a ‘system' of leakages in distribution of power and water resources for the industry and selective action of State pollution control board, labour inspector, food and drug inspector etc. The action of the officer of these departments are instigated to silence the opponents or to raise resources which may come handy to meet political expense. The media happily debates about politicians and their ratings, however the debates on governance are rare. How a politicians' approach is materially different from another is never the focus of a debate where Governance ideas and neither explored nor understood. What is debated in numbers (of vote in assembly/parliament) and clout of political parties but not any auctioning of any governance change idea and hindrances to the same.
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