Governance norms vs political survival. Too many compromises with the legitimate political and governance norms have slowed down much of the effective delivery of social benefits to the farmers and the poor.

This political commentary, readers might know, is posted on the weblog and so what I write mostly ,more so on the international issues don’t get printed in this column! So, I have the difficulty to balance what gets written and what finally gets printed. So, readers should read what is in print keeping in mind what is also posted on the web. Indian democracy is doing well in my opinion when we see what is happening in other developed democracies or in other big countries like Russia and China. Too much talk of rate of economic growth. Too little concentration on innovative governance at the grass roots. This shows dramatically in the UN HDI Report 2005, that compares Bangladesh’s far superior performance compared with India’s.

These days, increasingly, the sort of news that makes it to the front page headlines, be it the quality newspaper or others is not what the Prime Minister does nor what Sonia Gandhi is doing. They are nowhere in the news when it comes to Bihar elections for instance and it is only the more aggressive and more ambitious regional politicians are calling the shots. Nor when it comes to attending to tackling the serious issues like farmers suicides or widespread malnutrition in the countryside, as revealed by the persisting problem in Maharashtra’s Vidarba region. Even our own IT boom hadn’t impacted our rural India or our governance in New Delhi. Only the Supreme Court, the Election Commission and to some extent the exposures in the media seem to bother the politicians. Yes, the PM makes news whenever he travels abroad and that makes for front page news. Yes, the PM has been making some big news, for instance his US visit and the signing of an understanding for the civilian nuclear energy programme and also when he went to the UK where for instance he did invite criticism for applauding British Empire’s contribution to make Indians learn governance!

Otherwise, the PM has been keeping himself aloof or kept aloof by the party functionaries in critical political decision-making. What all these new features of the functioning of this coalition government point to, in our opinion, is that the quality of governance is not what India is capable of providing. We have reasons to believe that even some of the major ministries are not putting their best into performance and producing results. Agriculture Ministry in the hands of such a competent person like Sharad Pawar is not on par. Take the pace of investments. There is nothing to write home about when it comes to monitoring the flow of investments in the agri sector. The Central government cant sit unconcerned. There are crucial policy issues that have to be resolved. Land reforms laws need amendment and what Mr.Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is trying to do has to be done by other Chief Ministers too and we need a transparent policy on land reforms and land ceiling laws need amendment.

More FDI would flow into the rural India only when such long-neglected policy decisions are facilitated by a pro-active pro-poor government like the one at the Centre. This is just only one instance. There are others like creating the special economic zones for creating more diversified agri base. Mr.Pawar is also manning the PDS as the Food Minister. We wonder whether he had read all the reports on the malnutrition crisis that is gripping his own state. Again, he is also in charge of the Co-operation portfolio. What is the state of the Co-operative banking sector, urban co-ops and the rural primary co-ops? Take the Finance Minister. He promises but not delivers visibly any results in the agri credit lending targets.

It is a sing of the times that at least there is some boldness on the part of some PSUs. The ONGC chairman Mr.Raha had openly told the AGM that the PSUs are not government depts.! Who doesn’t know? Everybody knows. Yet the PSUs are even now run as if they are govts.! The UN’s HDI Report 2005 makes clear our progress on the poverty reduction front is poor. India is ranked at 127th out of 177 countries (2003) and China at 85th. Sri Lanka 93rd. Every year a theme is explored, this year it is aid, trade and security. Fine, we need more aid or rather investments, in particular FDI in critical sectors. Trade has to expand and our agri sector exports must go up seriously. We need policies to this end. Security is very, very critical and we have to ensure not only military security but economic and social security, environment etc. Agriculture becomes critical for these goals too. New technologies can go a long way. What new technologies, IT in rural communications and to enhance the quality of life for those in the digital divide?

This is a complex topic and yet we like to point our that what matters is this area of great human deprivation is not the claims we make. The HDI makes a damn indictment of the Indian efforts when compared to what Bangladesh had achieved. The HDI has rich data for Indian planners to sit up and take note. Bangladesh is far ahead of the Indian states like UP, Bihar and Rajasthan in critical social sectors. Karnataka ,AP and Gujarat come out well as indications of what globalisation can do for the states. There is one lesson here. It is not just economic growth and even superior economic development that decides the quality of life of the poor but the quality of social welfare programmes we implement. It is the genuine action that matters. The EGA is not just one more routine announcement, it is really getting down to improving the mechanism that delivers results at the grass roots.

The critical issues of Governance don’t make news, let alone headline news. We also don’t hear the Prime Minister or the Congress party president Sonia Gandhi or see them in the countryside. Here also we see a contrast with China. Yes, China is a one party government. The Chinese president and premier (Hu and Wen) have been travelling extensively and announcing on the spot concessions like abolishing the farmers’ taxes. Because we don’t have a really politically legitimate leadership in Delhi we see this aloofness. It all seems to be a sign of the times. Let the ministers rule as they please. Let the higher-ups in Delhi mind their business. Let the poor somehow exist. Election times only matter! In the lives of the politicians as well as the helpless voting poor!

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