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Cover Story

India’s ‘Modi’fied governance

The Prime Minister should root out the menace of touts, fakes and frauds in the ministries if he wants to build confidence in the bureaucracy

WITHIN four days of taking office, 10 priorities, 100-day agenda, no FDI in retail but 100 per cent in defence! This is what is called ‘hitting the ground running’ and ‘firing from all cylinders’—true style of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as brought out during the election campaign. The 10 priorities he has listed for his government are:

1. Remove hurdles in economic growth and containing inflation.
2. Put education, energy and water issues on the fast track.
3. Reform infrastructure sector for attracting investments and make India a global manufacturing hub.
4. Provide a proactive, people-oriented government and put people at the centre of the development process.
5. Ensure time-bound implementation of policy.
6. Maintain consistency in policy.
7. Promote transparency by adopting e-auctioning in government tenders and works.
8. Improve inter-ministerial coordination and clubbing of ministries where needed.
9. Build confidence in bureaucracy.
10. Empower and provide freedom to the bureaucracy and incentiveto innovate.

The ‘Modi’fied governance model, as laid out in the BJP’s manifesto, would be people-centric and policy-driven while ensuring time-bound delivery with minimum government and maximum governance. It would also reform the current governance system and make the government agencies accountable to the citizens.The last two priorities would drive the entire exercise and the speed and sincerity with which the ‘governance model’ is to be implemented depends on bureaucrats occupying key positions at the Centre and the States. But, in the past few years these officials have been resorting to ‘strategic inaction’ to avoid the risk of being mired in court cases, CAG audit, CVC scrutiny, CBI investigations and RTI queries (4Cs and 1R) because of controversial decisions taken by their political masters. Asked as to how this would be addressed, Nripendra Misra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, drew attention to Modi’s leadership style in Gujarat: “Mr Modi does three things: he guarantees stability in tenure for as many as four to five years for competent officers, offers tremendous freedom to innovate and deliver, and takes personal ownership of all decisions.”

Governments at all levels have neglected the career development process for decades, allowing departments and agencies to ignore the steady calcification of career paths and erosion of learning opportunities.

The Gujarat governance style is indeed admirable. But this is not so of most States, some of whom adopt the innovation-killing command model wherein senior civil servants are mere cogs in the wheel. Further, replicating the Gujarat Model at the Centre and removing the 4Cs and 1R apprehensions of senior bureaucrats would be very difficult if certain basic issues are not addressed.

The most important among them is the question of whether the IAS is equipped today—mentally and intellectually—to be independent and innovative. Originally, it was a command-oriented, revenue-collecting administrative machinery which hardly called for any innovation. Due to a process of evolution and democratic/developmental compulsions, it has been under pressure to become an instrument of participatory, flexible, multi-sectored public service, spanning the government, corporate and civil society. This new concept of public service is characterised by change and dynamism, more than statusquo and constancy. Even the rationale for its creation has undergone transformation because the very paradigm ofgovernance is changing.

The Central and State governments, manned by the IAS, were designed for a workforce that is fast losing its relevance. Built around a 35-year career, with one way in after college and one way out at retirement, it is a place for employees who care more about long-term static security than short-term dynamic achievement. When young, educated and bright Indians are asked to picture themselves in public service careers, they see dull and dead-end jobs. The civil service system has virtually stood still for the past over six decades, but the culture of work has changed dramatically, in no small part due to demands of accelerated economicdevelopment, entrepreneurial upsurge and global competition.

Beset by functional inefficiencies, political and financial scandals and debilitating corruption, governments have failed to articulate a clear vision of how to recruit and motivate a work-force with performance and efficiency as guiding mantras. Government departments and agencies are struggling with the mediocre personnel they have; far away from the concept of a new public service in which expertise moves seamlessly between the government, private and non-profit sectors. The government is losing the talent war on two fronts. Its personnel system is slow in hiring, useless in firing, overly permissive in promoting, out of touch with performance and penurious in training. Sending officials to ivy-league universities in the US is a remedy worse than the disease!

The government’s hierarchies are so thickened by needless layers that departments and agencies cannot provide the kind of work that today’s talented youth expects. Anyone who thinks that the huge pay increase by the Sixth Pay Commission has turned the tide in drawing talent should think again. All things being equal, the pay might pull in the occasional bright candidate. But all things are not equal. Governments are usually far behind the private and non-profit sectors in offering challenging work, professional atmosphere and a conducive ambience. Nevertheless, there is competition-by-volume for entry into civil services and all posts invariably get filled up. This is largely due to power-perk hunting and the safety and security of a government job where mediocrity prevails.

GOVERNMENTS at all levels have neglected the career development process for decades, allowing departments and agencies to ignore the steady calcification of career paths and erosion of learning opportunities. Remedies could include a flatter, leaner, more agile government; well-defined career paths; stable tenures coupled with dynamic rotational assignments; and performance-related promotions. In short, if the ‘Modi’fied governance model is to be effectively implemented, the IAS should transform itself into a ‘new public service’ responsive to the democratic and developmental imperatives of India.

Even if the IAS officers adopt the ‘new public service’ mantra, they will not be able to deliver the kind of governance Modi wants. The reason is that in all central ministries, they are surrounded by a vast hidden work-force of legislators, rent-seekers, party activists, contractors and hangers-on. Most of these busybodies clothe themselves with designations such as OSD, private secretary, personal secretary, constituency manager, and so on, self-appoint themselves and even print visiting cards with the Ashoka Chakra to flaunt their ‘rank and status’. Some of them even impersonate and resort to blackmailing.

These touts, fakes and frauds first distance the public and the civil servants from the minister. Then everything, including meeting the minister, comes at a price. Even the IAS officers are forced to go through them if they are to interact with the minister. This is the root cause for the all-pervading corruption and misgovernance that marked the downfall of the UPA government. But despite the Modi takeover, this rot is still subsisting and lecherous characters have already surrounded the new ministers!

Prime Minister Narendra Modi should root out the menace of touts, fakes and frauds in the ministries if he wants to build confidence in the bureaucracy and provide freedom and incentive for them to innovate and deliver. The sooner it is donethe better, if India’s ‘Modi’fiedgovernance is to take off!

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