Good Governance – An Uphill Task

We have all heard the term ‘Good Governance’ very frequently in last couple of years since Mr Narendra Modi first stated it during his electoral campaign in the run up to the general elections last year. It is also very clear that he did manage to gain a lot of political mileage from the same since the nation was fed up with a sleepy and non-functional government under the UPA 2 regime. It is equally true that BJP is finding it extremely difficult to provide ‘Good Governance’ since it has come to power. As they say there is a lot of slip between the cup and the lip, similarly BJP is now realising that there is a lot of difference between coining a slogan and actually delivering on the ground.

There are three main participants in governing a democratic nation. First it is the top political leadership that is elected by the citizens and their tenure in the government is variable. Their main task is to provide a direction at the highest level by enacting laws in the parliament and then taking higher level executive decisions to enforce the same through various channels across the nation and within the states. Next is the administrative machinery which in India comprises of 58 central services with IAS, IFS and IPS being the more prominent among all these since they are treated as first among equals. They are the fixed link in the governance process irrespective of which political party is in power or which part of the nation they are charged with to provide governance. These services form the executive arm of the government to provide governance at all levels as per law of the land. Last but not the least is the nation’s citizens themselves who complete the chain. The citizens are responsible for obeying the laws of the land in their day to day life as also to elect the political leadership when there are elections. Unless all three constituents work in harmony and do their bit in an honest manner, good governance will only remain a distant dream. It is imperative that all three parts complement each other but unfortunately in our context there is neither harmony nor honesty in any of the three constituents. Is it any wonder then that ‘Good Governance’ continues to elude the nation for last so many decades?

There is only one aim of ‘Good Governance’ and that is to ensure the well being of the nation on all fronts by continued development and upliftment of the society as a whole. In short it is always ‘Nation First’ in whatever is done or achieved under ‘Good Governance’. This is an idealistic approach and in actual practice there are likely to be some deviations. However the problem starts when practice is more or less totally divorced from this idealistic approach. It is a bitter truth that the approach to governance in our country is primarily governed by either political expediencies facing the ruling party or vested interests of the top leadership and (or) the administrative machinery. Our nation has the misfortune of being plagued with not only political expediencies but also by a very corrupt and selfish leadership, both at political level and at the executive level comprising of all the administrative services. Add to it the fact that a common citizen today has no faith in either of them and therefore has also found innovative means to get his work done by ‘hook or crook’. Given this environment the scenario does look rather bleak for any ‘Good Governance’ in the foreseeable future. The rise of Mr Narendra Modi gave fresh hopes that governance may improve under his leadership. The entry of Aam Admi Party (AAP) also raised the expectations further with their zealously proclaimed commitment to provide a clean administration. Therefore the years 2013 and 2014 will be remembered for raising the nation’s expectations for Good Governance’. But then unless expectations match reality and delivery on the ground, raising the expectation bar only in rhetoric can be counterproductive in the long run.

Good governance

‘Good Governance’ is possible only if some basic principles are adhered to by those who are charged with governance. First and foremost those in positions of power must follow the dictum ’Nation first and foremost at all times’.  The new leadership must never assume that everything and anything that was being done earlier was wrong. Next it is imperative that the government follows ‘rule of law’ approach in all its dealings and encourages others to do the same. It has to be understood that it is impossible to do everything overnight or at the same time, therefore the need to prioritise tasks depending on their importance and urgency. The government must work on a judicious mix of short term and long term goals. The need to delegate and devising means to monitor are two important methodologies for senior leadership that must be practiced at all levels. Concentration of power in few hands is always counterproductive. Responsibility, authority and accountability must go hand in hand for ensuring effectiveness. People appreciate a government that is fair, equitable, inclusive and responsive in its approach. Ability to take others along (including political opposition) is a virtue that pays rich dividends to any leadership. It is important to keep the populace informed of what is happening on a regular basis since people tend to get disillusioned very quickly. Regular communication also helps to counter misinformation campaigns and encourages transparency. The practice of rewarding party cadres with plum appointments within the government or other specialised institutions controlled by the government is a sure shot recipe for disaster in more ways than one. Finally it is essential to segregate governance from party ideology since ‘Good Governance’ implies being unbiased, neutral and far removed from religion, caste or other such restraining factors. This also means that government must desist from trying to get involved in minor issues pertaining to daily lives of its citizens, particularly if they tend to curtail some basic liberties.

Just one example in this regard can highlight how most of the basic principles of ‘Good Governance’ have been flouted by the present as well as previous governments. This is the issue of One Rank One Pay (OROP) and the way it has been handled. The political and administrative leadership failed to put nation first and it did not follow rule of the law despite a commitment in the parliament and a clear ruling by Supreme Court on the validity of OROP. No government showed any inclination to take the responsibility of implementing it and one wonders who is accountable for the delay of forty years. Government response had been pathetic for four decades and even the present government was dithering on the issue till its hand was forced by the prevailing circumstances. The absence of any response or concern from the Supreme Commander (President of India) while the OROP drama was unfolding raises many awkward questions. The successive governments have been far from being equitable and fair to the military as is obvious from the way they have been treated since 1973. Even the current sanction of OROP by the present government belies this principle. The Defence Minister announced the OROP but once again lack of transparency and communication was evident. The final proposal was full of holes as also new herrings were introduced in the form of exclusion of personnel who took Voluntary Retirement (VRS). Even a novice administrator knows that there is no VRS in military. In nutshell there is hardly any principle of ‘Good Governance’ that has not been violated.

‘Good Governance’ for the nation as a whole starts at the top while for most common citizens it starts at the bottom rungs of the administrative hierarchy. This implies that government servants at all levels have to be empowered and motivated to deliver good governance. In words of Pope Francis “Every man, every woman who has to take up the service of government, must ask themselves two questions: ‘Do I love my people in order to serve them better? Am I humble and do I listen to everybody, to diverse opinions in order to choose the best path?’ If you don’t ask those questions, your governance will not be good.” If this be right, then it is obvious that not only the selection of politicians, but the selection of all other government employees is equally important to achieve the goal of ‘Good Governance’. Both, Indian politicians and bureaucrats certainly do not love an average Indian; they only love the power that goes with their position in the government and the benefits that can accrue from exploiting that power. As far as humility and humbleness is concerned, the less said the better and rarely if ever they have the time to listen patiently to any citizen. In nutshell it is obvious that neither our politicians nor our government servants, baring a few exceptions, would ever meet the criteria as spelt out by the Pope. The question that needs to be answered is what Mr Modi and his team can do to change this situation because unless that is done, ‘Good Governance’ will continue to elude the nation. Are there any indicators that the new government is doing anything in this regard? Unfortunately, as on date, there is very little evidence to suggest that the nation is moving in the right direction.

 In Indian context it is important that any government realises its focus areas for ‘Good Governance’. There is an urgent need to permeate the concept of ‘Good Governance’ to grass roots levels within the country which is termed by some thinkers and sociologists as the real India. These are primarily the rural areas in the hinterland of all states in the country where more than half of Indian population lives. This is mainly agriculture driven society that seems to have been bypassed by whatever development has taken place in the country since independence. In short it is the most neglected and possibly the most exploited part of the nation. The state of an average small farmer in the rural areas has only gone from bad to worse in most parts of the country barring a few exceptions.

In this regard it may be worthwhile to listen to an excellent speech given by Mr Hukam Devnarain Yadav, a Member of Parliament from Madhubani, Bihar. His speech tells the story of a small farmer in a very simple and rustic manner that clearly brings out the fact that successive governments have done precious little to ensure his well being and growth. The net result is that there has been a steep decline in number of farmers in last five decades. This is because a large number have moved from farming, an unviable option, to become labourers in cities and towns where they spend their lives on footpaths steeped in misery and poverty. He has raised some very pertinent and probing questions that have no answers. He has asked why no national budget or planning commission report has ever talked of the villages in rural areas in very specific and pointed terms. Why is it that no one speaks of roads, schools, civic facilities and related issues in very explicit terms for villages despite the fact that half of India lives and works there? If a significant difference could have been made to the lives of the farmers in these areas, the growth and development story of the nation would have been entirely different today. On the contrary, he argues, today there are two nations within one nation. First is India that comprises of the cities and towns where growth is concentrated and one can see perceptible changes over the decades. Then there is the other part, Bharat, which continues to remain where it was since development and growth have bypassed it due to the empathy of various governments in last fifty years. The caste and divisive society culture that still prevails in these areas, even after six decades of independence, is mainly due to this neglect. One cannot but agree to this reasoning since it rings true in more ways than one.

It is no secret that most people in authority have traditionally destroyed, contracted and exploited power for their selfish motives for too long now. It is high time ‘Good Governance’ is used as a tool to organise, amplify and constrain power for the betterment of the nation and its people. This is in line with what has been stated in as many words by famous American author and internet activist Rebecca MacKinnon. There is no doubt that the current government appears to be more committed on ‘Good Governance’ than any of the earlier governments. It has been in power for only sixteen months and one can give it the benefit of doubt considering the state of the nation they inherited. However, what is worrying is that a positive trend towards the final goal of ‘Good Governance’ is not visible to the common man today. There is a need for the top political leadership to do some major course corrections in the way the nation is being governed. Public opinion is very fickle and more so in a nation like ours where illiteracy and backwardness still abound. ‘Good Governance’ is important to achieve the aim of: “Equalising the availability of basic essentials required for a minimum decent life to every Indian citizen.  Beyond that the government must provide only a level playing field for all and let the individual decide what mountains he wishes to scale or which heights he wants to reach by his own endeavours”.

Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.

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