WHAT is governance? In modern parlance, it implies a government that can marry the critical issues of consistently-high economic growth and development with the crucial responsibilities to provide cheap, even free, roti, kapada aur makaan, as well as education, health, and infrastructure to the poor, underprivileged and exploited sections of a society. The nature of the government can vary—capitalist, socialist, communist or dictatorial. But the tasks essentially remain the same, although their relative importance can change. From the US to China, Japan to India, Malaysia to Middle East, and Russia to Africa, the overall goals remain the same.
In this context, no government can waver from its social and welfare duties. Growth and development remain the only means to finance welfare-ism, as this is the only path to raise official revenues to finance the latter. Sadly, across the globe, the policy makers pursue actions which are contrary to these moral and value-based objectives. India is no exception. Over the past 15 years, we witnessed a “lost” decade in which the ship seemed to steer on its own, and an exceptionally hectic half-a-decade, where the vessel ran into rough, violent and huge waves. Growth, development, welfare and social responsibilities lost their relevance.
Like it or not, the lofty targets of ‘Health For All’ and ‘Education For All’ have remained slogans. In both rural and urban areas, the quality of education in government schools and several private ones has not improved. This is especially true in higher education. Our youth is educated on paper but has neither the soft nor the hard skills to become employable. On top of this, the economic slowdown has killed jobs. Engineers and MBAs remain unemployed; post-graduates seek low jobs like driver and police constable. The same is true about health. Swachh Bharat has changed the overall environment, but most of India lacks affordable clinics and hospitals.
Lack of growth has curtailed development, especially in infrastructure. External and structural problems impact agriculture adversely. Farmers’ incomes have dwindled and their starvation and suicides are common. The less said about manufacturing, the better. Growth is the lowest in four decades. On top of this, inflation has raised its ugly head; food inflation is the highest in five years. Thus, the trickle-down effect has dried up; it is now a case of gush of problems that have hit the poor. The effect on development is logical and obvious. Clearly, the Indian youth has no economic solutions to raise its incomes, prosperity, happiness and living standards.
Given this scenario, most governments, especially in the states, resorted to the famous, short-term, vote-winning clichés—free food, free electricity, free health services, freedom from loans, etc. Obviously, this impacts the states’ finances within a few years and leads to a complete inability to invest in growth, development and overall welfare. But only until the next election, when similar and new ‘free’ schemes are announced. Such an attitude only takes a country backwards. For what is required is to build and evolve governance systems and mechanisms so that the social responsibilities of the government maintain a consistent momentum.
It requires a vision, an out-of-the-box thinking, which can only evolve if the policymakers can dissociate themselves from electoral politics. If winning elections is the only aim, economics and welfare-ism is easily discarded. This is because in this age of social media-driven politics, voters can be wooed through fears, apprehensions, cares and social disruptions. In the end, the society remains divided along religions, castes, classes, and communities. There is an abduction of the nation-building exercise, which is the paramount driver of good governance. The tools are there to change India and build a New India. The dreams are there too. What is required is a collective will of those who govern us, and those who elect them.