Learn ABC of the Grammar of Governance

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching the Digital India Week in New Delhi. The Digital-India initiative is also like the other big-ticket, high-visibility measures that have been kickstarted in order to get foreign investment. Small is not beautiful for the government.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching the Digital India Week in New Delhi. The Digital-India initiative is also like the other big-ticket, high-visibility measures that have been kickstarted in order to get foreign investment. Small is not beautiful for the government.

    During his US visit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed to his audience: “Reform in governance is my No 1 priority. We are for simplified procedures, speedy decision making, transparency and accountability.” As the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi was a
    “governance”addict. On his assuming Prime Ministership, “governance” became India’s flavor and the Center’s guiding mantra. The stated objective was to have a “governance architecture” that put people at the centre of the development process. The President’s address to Parliament in June last year also laid down the motto: “Minimum government, maximum governance”.

    However, even after 16 months there is no such governance architecture or blueprint. In the upper echelons of decision making, there is mixup of government and governance, as if both are the same. They are not. Governance is not just government; it is bureaucracy, laws, rules, policies, programs, processes and procedures. It is far more than that. In a democracy like India, governance should be “society-centered”. It should include the government, which is its dominant part, but transcend it by taking in the private (farming, business, industry) and voluntary sectors (civil society). All the three are critical for sustaining human, economic and social development.

    Governments create a conducive political, administrative, legal and living environment. The private sector promotes enterprise and generates jobs and wealth, while the voluntary sector educates and mobilizes citizens’ groups to participate in economic, social and political activities. Each has weaknesses and strengths, so governance is facilitated through a constructive interaction among all three. While government is a politico-bureaucratic entity, governance is a joint venture encompassing all. The difference is huge.

    Being a joint venture, governance should adhere to the basic functional norm of involving stakeholders in decision-making and implementation processes. The Modi government made a false start by putting out a “secret” Intelligence Bureau report condemning several civil society organizations and eminent opinion leaders who differed from government policies as “anti-national” and accusing them of thwarting India’s development! Since then, many NGOS are being harassed by abusing the Foreign Exchange Management Act and other laws. The voluntary sector, except the RSS as well as its affiliate “think-tanks” and individuals, are out of the reckoning as far as “governance” is concerned. As for farmers, they are treated more as mendicants than partners. The elitist vision of the BJP and its leader is replete with bullet trains, state-of-the-art highways, smart cities, insulated industrial corridors and “Digital-India.” These are far removed from the deprived lives of a majority of farmers. Agriculture, which accounts for 60 per cent of India’s population, and from where the poorest draw sustenance, is only an add-on in the scheme of things. In business and industry, it is “big-is-bountiful” and “small-is-not-beautiful”. This has been demonstrated during Modi’s high-profile foreign visits and the mad hunt for big-ticket FDIs. Last year, on the launch of the “Make-in-India” campaign at Delhi, about 10 big industrialists on the dais pledged to invest billions of Rupees. The same scenario was repeated while kick-starting the “Digital-India” initiative and billions were again promised. As if only big-ticket investors alone are “partners in development.” The grammar of good governance is about socio-economic harmony, arising out of the smooth interface between government, civil society, farming and business communities. Unless this is achieved across the board, no amount of reforms can bring about achche din. As to “minimum government, maximum governance,” David Thoreau wrote over a century ago: “That government is the best which governs the least.” Conversely, “that government is the worst which governs the most.” The latter seems to be true of India. The Union Territory of Chandigarh is also a case in point. From 1952 to 1966, Chandigarh was the capital of Punjab and its citizens were represented in the state’s Legislative Assembly. A Chief Commissioner headed the local administration. When the undivided Punjab was divided, both Punjab and Haryana claimed the new city for its capital. Pending the resolution of the issue, Chandigarh was made a Union Territory, with its administration functioning directly under the Centre. While the UT lost representation in the Assembly, it has a Member of Parliament. Till May 31, 1984 Chandigarh had an Administrator designated as the Chief Commissioner. On June 1, 1984, the Governor of Punjab took over as the Administrator and the Chief Commissioner was re-designated as the Adviser to the Administrator. This was a prelude to Operation Blue Star.

    The stated reason was to facilitate “co-ordination” between the districts of Punjab and the capital in Chandigarh. This ad hoc measure became permanent. The Governor of Punjab is the head of the UT Administration, though it is the Adviser who runs the show. The Municipal Corporation of Chandigarh (MCC) came into existence on May 24, 1994. Several functions were transferred from the Chandigarh Administration to it through notifications issued on September 28, 1995 and May 16, 1996. The elected body of the MCC came into being in December 1996. The first thing it did was to stall the decision to levy property tax on commercial and residential buildings in the city, thereby triggering a duel between the UT Administration’s bureaucratic and political wings that continues till date. The transfer of functions was a half-hearted affair. The bureaucratically run Chandigarh Administration  retains the bulk of the assets, including near-total control of funds and resources. Chandigarh has five governments/power centers: The Union Home Ministry, the Punjab Raj Bhavan, the UT Secretariat, the MP and the MCC. Things have been falling between several stools. In Chandigarh, Modi’s motto looks reversed to “Maximum government, minimum governance”!

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    By M.G. Devasahayam (The author is a former IAS officer of Haryana Cadre, now settled in Tamilnadu)

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