Need Inclusive Democracy

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 23 Feb 2018 10:31:29

By Srinivasan K. Ranggachary

Governance in a democracy is defined by the nature and quality of its politics and therefore, has to be understood in a broader context. The politics in a democracy postulates choice, dissent and contest relating to policy, the way it is arrived at and delivered. A web of feedback loops connect the elected with electors, checks and balances. Both the process and outcome are important. To use a metaphor, politics is the climate for the weather of good governance.

FORMER Finance Minister P. Chidambaram wrote a series of articles in newspapers and compiled them into a book titled: Good Economics is Good Politics. As Finance Minster in the UPA-I, he had called the left parties supporting the Government as: “my conscience keepers”. As a result, inclusive development entered the economic lexicon. In his budget of 2004, for the first time spending was linked to outcomes. But no results occurred. In the elitist discourse, democracy, federalism, courts and politics are blamed for such lack of desired outcomes. Do we follow up on such objections and opt for by-passing the democratic processes, invest strong leadership with powers to think for the people and achieve results? This experiment was tried during Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s emergency in 1975-77. Her 20-point programme included items for responsive administration and grievance redressal mechanism. While it made the Government machinery unaccountable, governance did not improve. 

The short point is that both politics and governance are indispensable and are not mutually exclusive. While governance theory says politics and governance ought to be separated, and each should function in distinct spheres, this ideal rarely works in the real world. Governance cannot, and will not be good, so long as politics in the political system is not clean, responsible, responsive and continuously held accountable.

Yet most commentators on good governance and free democracy are said to be the two sides of the same coin. Governance, narrowly understood, often means administration by the ruling political executive and its “efficient” administrative arm. That may be correct in authoritarian technocratic rule-the much loved Singapore.
Governance in a democracy is defined by the nature and quality of its politics and therefore, has to be understood in a broader context. The politics in a democracy postulates choice, dissent and contest relating to policy, the way it is arrived at and delivered. A web of feedback loops connect the elected with electors, checks and balances. Both the process and outcome are important. To use a metaphor, politics is the climate for the weather of good governance.
Governance tends to put the cart before the horse and ignore the dysfunction in the political institutions created or recognised by the constitution. For example, our constitution recognises the political parties and broad oversight over their functioning is entrusted to the Election Commission. This institution had two distinct phases. Former Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan won the trust of the people because he was seen to be dealing with some of the ills of politics. The shine put on ECI by Seshan is fading slowly.

The recommendations by ECI for electoral reforms -- barring persons with criminal records from poll contests, have been blocked by political parties. The parliament is complicit in corporatisation of politics and attempts by the Information Commission to bring in sunshine into political parties’ functioning were frustrated. Let us look at another institution that ought to be concerned with good governance -- Parliament, the real Lokpal of democracy. “In the last 10 years, the Lok Sabha has met for an average of 70 days in a year. It used to meet for an average of 120 number of days. If the number of days for which Parliament meets is limited, its ability to hold the Government accountable is weakened -- the House of Commons met for an average of 150 days over the last 15 - years. The US House of Representatives met for an average of 140 days.

The Commission is constrained to accept the new normal and recommends that the Lok Sabha should at least meet for 120 days. It also laments that even on the limited number of days on which it meets, the House business is disrupted. Today’s rulers were yesterday’s disrupters of the House and the present Opposition was at the receiving end. In the States, the legislatures matter only when the Government is forced to face a vote of confidence motion. Not infrequently, one witnesses legislators kept captive in luxury resorts to prevent poaching by rival bidders for their vote. It shows the commercial value of vote and politics. The dysfunctional political system affects governance down the line. The line taken by some that the administrative arm - the bureaucracy, should be autonomous and implement policy determined by such politics flies in the face of reality. 
e-Governance has the potential to enable good governance. The DBT or directly transferring benefits initiated by UPA and successfully implemented and expanded by NDA shows the potential. Behind the click, there is a palm to be greased. Anyone who goes to register a property transaction knows that before his or her biometric identity is captured, there are multiple levels to be pleased. Such non-e-transactions would not be taking place if there was no political protection for them. e-Governance has thus far largely remained a potential.

As a writer on public administration, Prof. Riggs pointed out that even the state of art technology goes through a process of refraction in society’s like ours. The transmission is not linear but deviates, due to politics in the choice of technology, choice of providers, as well as socio-economic barriers that are not taken into account. The oxygen of good governance is transparency. It is the other face of accountability. The entire political system should function under sunshine, such as the Right to Information Act, scrutiny by free media and by NGOs representing different interests.

This assumes more importance because legislatures have abdicated their responsibilities of over-sight. Thus authorities both at the Centre and the States tend to treat such scrutiny as obstacles to ‘progress’. A new politically convenient ‘information and media bubble’ is sought to be created under the banner of “progress and good governance”. Sadly, the space outside this bubble is shrinking. This is not to say that good governance has not received the attention of successive Governments. Delivery of certain common services in digital mode, DBT, the “bhoomi” initiative for recording land ownership, e-filing of taxes, digital payment system are noteworthy efforts with far reaching impact. Given the dominance of Government in managing our day-to-day lives and the socio-economic order, both the pace of scaling up and the quality is low. A reason could be that the entire political system is not owning good governance as good politics that deserves and earns people’s trust. If one wants to sum up progress on good governance programmes in two words, it could be “Uncertain Glory’ used by Prof. Amartya Sen for summing up India’s socio-economic achievements.

(INAV)