I believe and so do many in civil society and business that we are at the crossroads today as a nation and progress over the next five years in a divided polity, where national parties figure less and less, will depend significantly on the ability of political leaders and their parties to forge a consensus on the vital issues impacting our growth and progress as a nation and a people.
While India has developed tremendously over the last decade-and-a-half on the back of innovation, creativity and energy of private entrepreneurs, it is obvious that the state capacity has lagged behind significantly, and make no mistake, we require both private entrepreneurship and efficient governance as two critical elements of the long-term growth equation or challenge. Notwithstanding the rhetoric in exotic international locations like Davos, New York etc of India becoming a superpower or an Incredible India etc, we must accept that, all of that will remain a pipe dream if the state of the government and governance doesn't improve dramatically and keep pace with the changes in the private side of our economy.
More recently, the dastardly attacks of 26/11 and the menace of terror has awakened the many millions of silent and meekly accepting Indians and is transforming them into activist citizens that are demanding accountability and delivery from governments and political leadership.
As someone recently said in Bangalore, if India became independent to get rid of rulers and being ruled, it couldn't have been the founding fathers' intentions to replace one set of British rulers and bureaucrats with another set of Indian rulers and bureaucracy. It seems being ruled or governed is still the feeling that an interaction with the Government leaves behind. There is no sense of responsiveness, long-term thinking and vision or public service and, instead, there is a general perception of corruption, political lackeydom, short-cuts and short-sightedness.
At the same time, our governance model doesn't recognise and reward excellence and initiative and integrity within the Government. Proof of this is in the Padma Awards, where you almost never see any Government officers. Last year I raised in Parliament a question where I asked why in the industry and trade category no PSU head was being recognised? I got a usual obfuscating answer that has become the norm for parliamentary questions. So we should assume either there is no excellence in government or there's no need to recognise this excellence. I don't subscribe to the latter because it's the government system that launches Chandrayaan, which leads to the conclusion that the system doesn't really encourage or incentivise the people doing the right things.
It is in this backdrop that I believe we should examine the efforts of the Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) headed by Shri Veerappa Moily. Through a number of volumes it is the biggest and most exhaustive exercise in reviewing our administrative framework and planning its transformation and restructuring for the coming years. Whilst I am sure that there will be debate about many of his recommendations and I am sure he will welcome it, what we must not allow to happen is for this important work to become another set of dusty reports that tend to be created and then shelved without action in the Government.
This form of restructuring is vital because vibrant entrepreneurship in India is having to contend with deteriorating state capacity. The Indian state and government, despite rapid economic growth has deteriorated over time. Whether its providing law and order, sanctity of contracts, delivery of public services, public policy formulation, the stench of decline is all pervasive. A recent article in a newspaper described, on a crude measure of government effectiveness, India's governance performance as having declined sharply. In the early 1960s, India was in the top 20 per cent of countries in governance, slipping to middle i.e., only in the 50 per cent of the countries sampled in recent times.
Part of the reason is that, it is easier to create a free market and entrepreneurship because all it requires is for the government to get out of the way, it's harder to create state capacity and governance. That requires creation of institutions, building them, nurturing them and protecting them from politicisation and ad-hocism and as importantly keeping them accountable. In Weber's memorable words, "Building public institutions is like slow boring of hard boards". In this context, it is a much harder job for us to address this issue of arresting government institutional decline than the past few years of economic liberalization and unleashing of entrepreneurship. To quote Ramachandra Guha, the historian "We have to repair one by one, the institutions that we have inherited and build new ones to help us meet the challenges of the coming years".
Along with Shri Moily's ARC, there are many in this country who have silently worked hard at this over many years, including Justice Hegde as Lok Ayukta of Karnataka, Prof Mehta and Dr Shah and many others. The media rarely ever covers them unfortunately. As a citizen of Karnataka and a representative of that state in Parliament, I can say that it worries me when there is not enough civil society demand for strengthening institutions like the Lok Ayukta that is serving to shine a spotlight on the actions of the Government and seek accountability.
We will work hard to place the issue of accountable and responsive governance as an issue of political consensus for political parties before the next election along with other issues such as re-building existing institutions and building new ones that are apolitical and accountable, costs of government, complete restructuring of public spending programs to address wastage, leakage and corruption, restructuring of subsidies into a more directed delivery mechanism, disclosure of interests, more open and transparent public policy formulation, opening of Parliamentary committee debates and depositions to public etc, ensuring free and intense competition in all aspects of the economy etc. These form, what FICCI refer to as the Common Minimum Economic and Governance agenda for mainstream political parties to agree on.
I look forward to an increased participation not just by business but also by civil society in helping forge a national consensus on this critical issue of administrative reform and other issues for national consensus and coerce or force a change in direction of our political and executive leadership of our country.
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