Modi government’s macro initiatives such as automatic environment clearance, introduction of transparent mechanisms, cash credit transfer etc or foreign companies pledging huge investment in India will impact the nation positively in the long run. But a Kejriwal who promises direct interference to check corruption at the micro level, although that may not be linked to growth or long-term benefits such as creation of employment, tends to look more attractive.
In one of my previous articles, “Mission Impossible Without Reforms,” I had stressed the need for institutional changes for the sake of delivery of the goods Prime Minister Narendra Modi — even as the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) before the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 — has been promising. In wake of the Delhi elections to be held tomorrow, one must consider whether the people have started getting disenchanted due to the government’s ‘failure’ to take up reforms on an urgent basis or whether the younger generation that voted and sought change, assuming Modi would wave a magic wand and things would be alright, is becoming disillusioned.
Then there are the detractors who would never talk of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s executive steps and only point at activities of non-state actors of the Sangh Parivar.
Both the supporters and adversaries must be told, if we are not judging this government on internationally accepted parameters like the rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, consensual approach, equity and inclusiveness, effectiveness and efficiency, accountability and public participation, we are bad judges.
The essence of good governance is missed when it is seen as a way to deliver performance. By that count, any performance better than the previous non-performing governments would be an example of better governance rather than good governance. There is no objective criterion to define good governance in mathematical terms since it is a matter of perception — borne of experience.
The West has shifted its focus from interference to empowering developing countries by enhancing their capacity to deliver goods. Capacity building became the norm. Ease of doing business, corruption index have been added subsequently to rate the effectiveness of a governance system. But these are approaches that work on achieving results over a longer period of time, focussed on investment and economic governance. They certainly do not impress a constituency like Delhi.
They work on the belief that “governance institutions are neither bad nor good in themselves; outcomes are what matter” . If this be so, the form of government or the ideology surrounding a particular form of government would not matter. A military dictator’s rule, a king-led government or Sharia-based parliamentary democracy would be clubbed together with rule and Constitution-bound democracy such as India. China, which has a different system of governance, cannot be compared with India, which is a rule-bound parliamentary democracy based on equality and justice. Here the process may be slow but it is integrative and holistic.
But one doubts the voters of Delhi will buy this reasoning. The BJP may do well to recall that that ‘good governance’ as a plank was launched by it after the bijli, paani, sadak campaign of the party in Madhya Pradesh in 2003 led to the fall of an apparently invincible Digvijaya Singh-led Congress and marked re-emergence of the BJP as a party of hope . “Mr Bantadhar” campaign of a fiery Uma Bharati brought the Congress to its lowest ever number of 38 Assembly seats in a house of 230.
The BJP that had discovered a lethal weapon in religious mobilisation and had got dividends in early 1990s re-discovered good governance after successfully leading the NDA to power at the Centre since 1998. The victory in Madhya Pradesh Assembly in 2003 reaffirmed its faith in governance. Even when the NDA lost power in 2004, successive governments of the BJP in states kept winning and most analysts attributed this to ‘pro-incumbency’, which meant that the incumbent government was seen as a performer. This explains the reason for the BJP to achieve a hat-trick in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in 2013 and the same for the Biju Janata Dal (BJP) that won on pro-incumbency in 2004, 2009, and 2014.
Politically, it is unfeasible to keep working on delivering basic necessities to the larger numbers that are deprived and downtrodden rather than tackling corruption as a priority in every state. It worked in Gujarat where the state attracted a very large volume of foreign investment. The main drivers were infrastructure, reliable law and order system, transparent and efficient bureaucracy and a government that acted as a facilitator. Introduction of IT in major activities of government delivery system has given the common man an honest route. However, the system has not been able to eradicate corruption. It would not be difficult to find a traffic policeman taking bribe to let off someone who has jumped the red signal. Or, it would not be difficult to find a land revenue officer taking bribe to regularise land use. Gujarat is an example of growth-led development also tackling corruption in its own way. The people of Delhi do not let such things pass without protest.
Delhi is not a temperamentally cohesive unit like Gujarat. For politicians of the nation’s capital, this quote from a G-20 paper serves as a better mantra: “Corruption undermines public trust in the government, thereby diminishing its ability to fulfil its core task of providing adequate public services and a conducive environment for private sector development”.
In the last nine months for which the Modi government has been in power, it has been able to take decisions that will have far reaching consequences, but there is no short-term visibility of the intention to tackle corruption. Virtually no effort has been taken to reform the police, the legal system, the electoral system etc. Automatic environment clearance, introduction of transparency etc have started impacting macro-level decisions. But for a common man, the police is the same, the legal system is the same and the representatives of the government they meet on a daily basis are the same. For him nothing has changed much.
This explains why the BJP under Modi could easily win elections in Haryana and Maharashtra, but is struggling in Delhi. The more the time gap, the more the disenchantment! An Arvind Kejriwal who can directly interfere to check corruption at the micro level, although that may not be linked to growth or long-term benefits such as creation of employment, would look to be more attractive. It is here that the Modi government is failing to appear to be taking actions.
Tackling corruption is not only smart politics but also a factor of increasing effectiveness. It creates a better image for the government in power, increases acceptability of most decisions and promotes public-private participation. The enthusiasm that was seen during the Lok Sabha for the Modi government is waning now.
I can only reiterate the importance of strengthening institutions of governance through reforms. Systems of checks and balances need to be in place. The government must be seen as putting things in place to tackle corruption that impact the common man. For him, paying bribe at the municipal level is ultimate example of corruption. For, him a policeman detaining a person at a police station without any fault or not lodging an FIR or lodging it after taking bribe would be serious cases of corruption. Why is khaki (a policeman’s uniform) being more feared than loved? You love your saviour and not hate him. In India, it is the opposite.
Then, rather than stopping pilferage, the government has adopted the easier option of cash transfer of subsidy into account of BPL families. By continuing the policy of the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, Modi is sending the same message that the rot cannot be stemmed. That such cash transfer can have an adverse social impact should also be assessed. What if the family is unable to buy its ration in that money or spends the money on items other than food? This is more likely particularly due to increased aspirations for better living.
Have we resigned to the fact that the gargantuan bureaucracy cannot be tackled and corruption cannot be stopped? Are we saying that the ration shops that give out subsidised food cannot be reined in? The Union and state governments need to sit together and decide what to do to tackle the situation. Better delivery mechanism at the level of districts is the need, and it can be easily achieved with better monitoring and vigilance.
Next is the issue of spending. A huge amount of money has been spent on the DRDO and its various wings. It is time to ask if the money is being spent judiciously. It is time to ask whether the UGC-funded research scholars are producing quality works that would add to improving the lot of people in any significant way.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s announcement of reducing government spending comes at a time when the country’s fiscal deficit has already overshot the full-year target. The government had earlier ordered a 10 per cent cut in non-plan expenditure in October 2014. Spending cuts have been necessitated because of a sharp shortfall in revenue because of the slowdown in the economy.
India’s high fiscal deficit has often been red flagged by foreign investors and rating agencies. In 2014, India’s sovereign rating was downgraded because of high fiscal and current account deficit. While the current account deficit is now firmly under control because of a dramatic fall in oil prices, fiscal deficit continues to be high.
The finance minister has said he has a roadmap to ensure less spending (against the counsel of advisors like Arvind Panagariya and Arvind Subramanian). But the people do not know what that roadmap is.
An ordinary citizen expects that if governance be the new credo, the present government should launch massive efforts to reform all institutions of democracy. Its failure to do so would dampen the spirit of people who have brought this government with a lot of hope for deliverance. Growth would automatically come if institutions start functioning and corruption is reined in. Investments would flow in without much effort if systems are in place. It is time for the Modi government to shift the gear.