Home Governance Governance : Writing for a decade… in vain?

Governance : Writing for a decade… in vain?

For the people of the country, things refuse to improve, whether it is Manmohan Singh at the helm or Narendra Modi. While corruption and sycophancy led to the failure of Singh, autocratic decision-making and polarised politics raise concern today

FROM the second issue of gfiles, I have been writing in almost all issues, mainly on governance and civil services. I have lost count of the number of articles. But some of them stand out in my memory, particularly the two I wrote soon after Dr Manmohan Singh commenced his second tenure as Prime Minister in 2009 and another two soon after Narendra Modi became PM in 2014.

The articles in 2009 were titled, ‘Prime Minister has a Mandate–He should Govern’ and ‘PM Must Guard Against Inbreeding Parochial Agenda’, respectively. In these articles, I had pointed out that elements conjured to bring Dr Singh to the forefront and he has become the symbol of a dormant collective aspiration for governmental stability, governance, administrative performance and decency in public life. For that I had suggested a simple agenda:

Restructure governance system
Jawaharlal Nehru had called for a Constitution “wherein all power and authority of the Sovereign Independent India, its constituent parts and organs of government, are derived from the people.” This reflected Mahatma Gandhi’s description of ‘Swaraj’ as merely a “courteous ratification of the declared wish of the people of India”. These Founding Fathers envisaged people-based governance with a bottom-up process that would give every one ‘a place in the sun’. Urgent steps should be taken to reform and restructure the governance system in accordance with the spirit of India’s constitution.

Zero tolerance to corruption
JP, hailed as the Second Mahatma, had said: “As I diagnose the root cause of the country’s critical state of health, I identify it unhesitatingly as corruption and precipitous fall in the moral standards of our politics and public life”. Political, bureaucratic and business corruption is far worse now and like the dreaded AIDS sucks up and destroys the basic value system on which a society is founded and has no cure if allowed to go beyond a certain stage. Morality in governance is possible only if there is ‘zero tolerance to corruption’ in word and deed.

Rejuvenate urban governance
Half of India would soon live in urban areas and settlements where there has been rapid decay of infrastructure and basic services. Root cause is weak urban governance and institutional mechanism not capable of efficiently delivering the diverse civic services. While launching JNNURM in December 2005, the Prime Minister had said: “Governance reform should be seen as a massive catalyst for change. Cities, unfortunately with some exceptions, have not been enabled to look inward and build on their inherent capacities, both financial and technical, and instead are still being seen in many States as ‘wards’ of the State governments. This should and this must change”. Let his actions speak now.

03-manmohan-singhPut basic governance on top of the agenda
For a nation of 1,100 million people with 70 per cent aam aadmi living from hand to mouth, governance has a very distinct connotation. It is not facilitating a ‘billionaire economy’ through globalisation, with some crumbs trickling down. It is basic governance-creating and sustaining an ambience and atmosphere for the common man to work and live with equity, safety, security and dignity. Tragically, at the grassroots level, these elements of basic governance are being trashed at every turn. This should be set right and basic governance placed on the top of PM’s agenda.

Avoid sycophants and sinecure-seekers
Our Republic is tottering and wavering because the honest, sincere and genuine among her sons and daughters are being increasingly banished from public offices and councils and replaced by sycophants and time-servers looking for safe sinecures. This must change if responsible and moral governance is to be restored. For this, the Prime Minister should give up the rabidly parochial agenda that was being pursued in manning top government positions in Delhi and the kind of sinecures being dished out to compliant agenda-men.

NEEDLESS to say, Manmohan Singh did not heed to any of these and everyone knows what befell him in 2014.

Two articles-“India’s ‘Modi’fied Governance” and “Government versus Governance”-followed Modi’s elevation as Prime Minister. He had made ‘Governance’ as the new flavour of the nation with ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’ as its mantra that had offered some new hope.

These articles of mine dwelt on the kind of governance required if its basic tenets-participatory development, freedom of choice and improvement of service delivery-are to coalesce seamlessly. Certainly, not the centralised and State-centric style of governance that is prevalent now. What is called for is true ‘democratic governance’ because it is the sine-qua-non for growth with equity. Given the prevailing political system and governance culture, this appears to be more of a utopia.

I had argued that before deliberating on specifics, we need to appropriately define the concept of governance. Though there are many, the best-established definition is one that refers to the governability of a polity or, in other words the capacity of a political/administrative system to govern efficiently and to provide the necessary conditions for economic and social development. The earlier notion was that governance concerned only the State, with society as mere appendage or at best beneficiary. Starting from early nineties, this notion has undergone substantial change and society is gradually assuming centre stage in the scheme of governance.

The current governance discourse, therefore, should look at two contrasting notions and concerns-whether governance should be State-centric or society-centred. Under this distinction, the State-centric approach is concerned with assessing the political and institutional capacity of the State to steer society towards certain goals associated with the public good and also with examining the relationship between the role of the State and the interests of other powerful actors. By contrast, the society-centred approach is primarily concerned with the role of civil society in the governing process, and its relation with the state, through a variety of governance forms or institutional arrangements.

THE term governance refers to the decision-making and implementation processes in the administration of a country, state or organisation. At the country/State level, governance is the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority in the management of multifarious affairs. Governance comprises the complex mechanisms, processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, mediate their differences and exercise their legal rights and obligations. Good governance is participatory, transparent and accountable. It is effective in making the best use of resources and personnel and is equitable. Basically, it promotes justice and the rule of law.

In my articles in 2009, I had pointed out that elements conjured to bring Dr Singh to the forefront and he has become the symbol of a dormant collective aspiration for governmental stability, governance, administrative performance and decency in public life. For that I had suggested a simple agenda

In a democracy, as distinct from an autocracy, governance should be society-centred. It would include the government, which is its dominant part, but transcend it by taking in the private sector and civil society. All three are critical for sustaining human, economic and social development. Governments, represented by the ruling establishments in the Centre and the States, create a conducive political, administrative, legal and living environment. The private sector, represented by trade, commerce and industry, promotes enterprise and generates jobs and income. Civil society, represented by the voluntary sector, facilitates interaction by mobilising groups to participate in economic, social and political activities. It also resolves conflicts. Because each has weaknesses and strengths, governance is through constructive interaction among all three. In short, while governments in India have been reduced to politico-bureaucratic proprietorships, governance is a joint venture. This is a huge difference.

Being a joint venture, governance should adhere to certain functional norms and principles such as involvement of stakeholders in the decision-making process; transparency and accountability at all governmental and societal levels; citizen’s participation in the process of social and public welfare, economic growth and development; a balanced relationship between all bodies of government and civil society; social auditing of government programmes and policies; mandatory establishment of ombudsman institutions and their fearless functioning; civil supremacy over the armed forces and an efficient and non-discriminatory judicial system. Most important of all, there should be enough space for the civil society represented by the voluntary sector to freely express its views and opinions on the development agenda of the governments without fear or favour.

Most of these do exist in India’s democratic fabric, but when it comes to their practical implementation there have been major failures. This is mainly due to autocratic, arbitrary and confrontational style of functioning of our institutions and instruments of governance-political, executive and judicial. This, coupled with a disjointed civil society that we have in the country, makes democratic governance a virtual utopia. Remedying this is the task cut out for the Prime Minister if the Modi mantra is to really work.

Governance has suffered because the focus today is on just managing votes

But instead, the Modi government seems to have chosen the arbitrary and confrontational path with the voluntary sector. In a 21-page “secret” report titled, “Impact of NGOs on Development”, leaked out soon after this government took charge. The Intelligence Bureau named a long list of NGOs and eminent activists from well-known environmental and anti-nuclear groups as anti-national because they had the courage to speak up against the predatory development model pursued by the UPA government. With one fell-stroke, the Modi government alienated the voluntary sector, a key partner in the joint venture of governance! Since then the ‘NGO-hunt’ has been going on without remorse, with the exception of those pandering to the corporate/fundamental agenda of the State.

Significantly, in its attempt at targeting the voluntary sector, the government’s focus was solely on their objections to ‘development projects’ in general and nuclear power plants, uranium mines, coal-fired power plants, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), POSCO and Vedanta projects in particular. The message seems to be that as long as NGOs don’t raise a dissenting voice against these ‘destructive development projects’, there’s much they can get away with.

I had suggested that Prime Minister Modi needs to do lot of work to put the Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas governance agenda on track. This would call for repairing the distrust and alienation with the voluntary segment of the civil society. Otherwise, the Prime Minister’s governance/development agenda will be still-born and end up alienating India’s masses!

I had written that within four days of taking over as PM, Modi had set 10 priorities:

● To remove hurdles in economic growth and containing inflation.
● To put education, energy and water on fast track.
● To reform infrastructure sector for attracting investments and make India a global manufacturing hub.
● To provide a proactive, people-oriented government and governance putting people at the centre of development process.
● To ensure time-bound implementation of policy.
● To maintain consistency in policy.
● To promote transparency by adopting e-auctioning in government tenders and works.
● To improve inter-ministerial co-ordination and clubbing of ministries where needed.
● To build confidence in the bureaucracy.
● To empower and provide freedom to the bureaucracy and incentive to innovate.

I had pointed out that 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 in Centre and the States and the innovative way they conceive and deliver governance. I had also raised the question 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 government, corporate and civil society. And, this new concept of public service is characterised by change and dynamism more than status quo and constancy. But IAS had not responded to this ‘change and dynamism’ at the cutting-edge of administration where it was most needed.

NRIPENDRA Misra, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister, had then stated thus: “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.” But in the last three years, autocratic decision-making has become ‘personal ownership’, politics is polarised, and governance straitjacketed with civil services reverting back to command-oriented culture. This does not augur well for the nation’s future. But who cares? No need, because votes can be ‘managed’. That is what matters!

The writer is a former Army and IAS officer. He is also former Administrator, Chandigarh Capital Project. Email: deva1940@gmail.com

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