When the Governance norms in Delhi being what they are

What chances for the employment guarantee and such populist schemes to succeed?

New Delhi environment is lately very tentative. Though the Congress-led coalition government is in office for 20 months, the focus and direction of the government is not purposeful. Instead of any cohesion, there is a weakening of the collective will of the government.

Coalition government in 20 months hasn’t done anything dramatic on the economic development front. On the other hand, the Singh government in the 20 months has accumulated enough bad name, invited some constitutional improprieties, first in Jharkand, then in Bihar. So, there are also now rumblings inside the coalition. The Telengana demand minister Rao had come out openly to form a mini-coalition with the grand coalition along with Lalu Yadav, Shibu Soren and Sharad Pawar. This mini-coalition demands that they have 14 parties with 72 MPs who should given weightage in Cabinet posts etc when the current power equations with 61 Left MPs, the Singh-Sonia duo have been running the government as though they are safe for the next 40 months that is for a full term of 5 years. They are not. Sharad Pawar, as is widely speculated, can tilt the balance in his favour given the current rumblings. If the next round of Assembly elections goes against the Congress in crucial states, then this government’s days could be short.

So, politics is much more important than anything else to judge the credibility of this government. More so for its many promised economic packages, the employment guarantee act, Bharat Nirman and many such populist schemes. At least, the BJP led government left the legacy of the National Highways extension in physically seen manner. As for this government, it might prove to be all sound and fury, no real achievements.

The UPA coalition government at the Centre has passed a law to guarantee jobs for 100 days in all poor families all over India. Though it is many months since the programme was made into a law, the programme as such hasn’t been launched yet.

The Union Minister for Rural Development Raghuvansh Prasad Yadav, a close ally of Lalu Yadav, has said the scheme awaits the Prime Minister’s timing to launch the scheme. It may be launched either in January or in Febraury, the minister says.
But then, in the meantime experts and entrepreneurs of the stature of N.R.Narayanamurthy of Infosys have come out with ideas about the scheme for creating jobs by the government. Says Murthy: “India has to create at least 10 million jobs a year to employ graduating from different universities. It is a pity that the country is creating less than a million jobs a year”. Further he has observed: “Corporate leaders and bureaucrats should come together and create employment. The Government and the corporates should gear up to employ at least 315 million Indians by 2015.Students should realise where they stand and be able to go beyond mere participation. They should uti and aim at changing society for the better. Aspirations, our mindsets must change. Create a mindset for intolerance of corruption and laziness”.

Mr.Murthy was quite outspoken this time. He also blamed politicians for the tolerance of corruption and also for keeping people illiterate and ignorant. Indians, he said, spent over Rs.21,000 crores in bribes and illegal payouts in 2004, this he said came to close to one per cent of the GDP of the country. There is a strong incentive for politicians to keep the status quo where the government is not accountable to the public on the most basic issues. He pointed out as an example how private radio stations are not allowed to broadcast news and information programmes, but only entertainment. “There is absolutely no good reason for this restriction. Only reason for this is that politicians do not want the poor to know what is happening in the country”. Radio, Mr.Murthy pointed out is a low-cost medium with the highest penetration in India; it reaches 27 of every 100 households in the country. It is easily accessible to low-income, illiterate people and it can be an important source of knowledge, news and information. India’s political and economic system is plagued with problems; Mr.Murthy said that elections were determined on the basis of caste and religion rather than the real life issues. India has the highest percentage of reservations in the world.

Another expert, a US-based professor, M.S.Kanthi, son of a former Karnataka Chief Minister S.R.Kanthi has come out against the job guarantee programme for he says that “it will be an achievement if only one-fourth of the Rs.40,000 crore NREGP is achieved. The NREGP is yet to be launched, the PM is yet to take the final decision. Prof.Kanthi is professor of economics (International Economics) in a US university.

Prof.Kanthi says that in the USA there was a similar scheme, the Humprey Hawkins Act passed by the US Congress, which guaranteed “full employment” to US citizens but eventually turned out to be a failure. Dr.Kanthi says that in the changing global economic order, it is not for the governments to distribute jobs. If any government does that, it (the scheme) will only make the people depend upon the government. The time is conducive for creating environment for people to become self-reliant and also make people find jobs through the various private-public sectors creating jobs through the markets. Markets today are not driving people away from jobs; in fact jobs are now in search of people who want them. Even the poor migrate from villages in search of jobs and jobs in the cities and also in the various new services are absorbing people at higher wages. The inter-state migration of labour in construction jobs is the latest trend for manual labour. Also for the educated, there is now the new phenomenon of a knowledge society, a knowledge economy and knowledge industries, IT and BPO are the magnets that attract talent from all sorts of sources, from small towns too. IT that now employs 14 million people can’t give jobs for all. But there can be many new initiatives like creating info kiosks, IT parks in rural areas, away or nearer to the existing cities so that new centers of employment generation takes place, new towns attract a wide variety of job seekers. Urbanisation itself is a magnet for job creation.

Yes, all this assumes there is strict adherence to laws, governance norms. If not, then, there can be chaos in urban governance, as we find already in the urban unauthorised constructions and also demolition cases. In New Delhi demolition of unauthorized structures we see a new phenomenon of illegalities by VVIPs who own nearly 300 out of 600 such illegal occupants of government lands. So criminal-political nexus could defeat and elay planned transformation of the economy.

The UPA government is already proving to be unequal to the task of setting the governance norms in place. Luckily, the Supreme Court had interfered in the last one year itself in a variety of government failures. From admissions to professional education institutions to correcting electoral malpractices to evicting the VVIPs from unauthorised occupation of government bungalows!

The corruption issue has lately taken some sinister dimensions. MPs taking bribes for asking questions is only the tip of the iceberg. As many had pointed out there are MPs now on the pay of big businesses. Also, fighting elections by own funds is an impossibility. Getting nominations to the Rajya Sabha is becoming murky. Businessmen get nominated and political favours have taken the colours of big corruption deals. Donations are sought and given to leaders in a personal manner, the donations are not accounted by parties and there is much to suspect in the larger corruption at the highest levels, as revealed lately more and more by TV channels by their dare-devil methods! Criminal links, Mafia links, extortion and even Volcker report has more authenticity than what the ruling establishment makes light of it. The images of our politicians and the political parties are not conducive to any purposeful change in our economic development.

The media exposure is unrelenting and it is another positive development. So, too the bolder judgements of the Supreme Court and also the more activist phase of the Election Commission.

So, what chance for the poor? Unemployed? Unempowered? For the totally neglected agri sector? All big questions. When you have a weak government where dual power centre operates, when you have so many distortions, when the big and the powerful and the criminal elements go unpunished, then all you have is hope. Let us hope for the more positive forces to come out in the polity openly to assert its moral force to correct the system. Somehow optimism is possible for our democratic polity had managed to succeed in catching up with the wrong doers and the next general election could also improve things! Our economic development is fast enough to generate more employment through more assertive market forces.

May be the very dynamism of the Indian politics and society might give our democracy to expose more and punish more ruthlessly the corruptors of the political system. Let us be positive and be optimists!


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