Governance Focus Right, but Where is the Proof of Direction

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By Amar Yumnam

The Planning Commission of India has recently presented to the country the Approach Paper to the Twelfth Five Year Plan starting 1 April 2012. With 16 chapters, it is the lengthiest Approach Paper any Indian Plan has ever had. The few things the document mentions about the North East have little new to celebrate except that the pressure of the need to connect with South East Asian economies is now salient.

Governance?: In the light of the unfolding politico-socio empirics of Manipur in particular and the larger Indian context, what is most revealing for me is the chapter on governance. This chapter fails to hide the double dealings of the present government on this issue. Interestingly, the chapter starts very promisingly thus: “With rapid expansion of the economy, rising per capita incomes, and growing awareness and assertion of rights by an increasingly educated population, both the need for good governance and the demand for good governance have increased. Good governance is needed for effective implementation of Plan schemes. It is also needed for ensuring that ordinary citizens can effectively access the public services that are their right. Finally, it is needed for a better functioning of the private sector in the economy. Poor governance leads to corruption, both petty and large, both of which corrode the moral fabric of the society. Large scale corruption occurs either because of mishandling of government contracts, or because discretionary decision making in some areas is used to the advantage of some. Corruption undermines the legitimacy of the system in the eyes of the public and reduces potential for achieving efficiency through competition.” But as we read on, we find that the present government is badly disturbed by the present spade of disclosures by various judicial and statutory bodies. This is visible by the emphasis on the division of powers among the three organs of government while discussing the rule of law; in reality the rule of law should have many more social and economic implications. Further the document has the gumption at this juncture of national debate that the problems of corruption “are not unique to India, nor are they only of recent origin. However, public perception of corruption as a pervasive problem has increased. This is in part because of greater awareness and increased transparency (e.g., the Right to Information Act) and also the operation of a vigilant Press, especially
the electronic media.” This portion should not have appeared at all in the document for it only buttresses the corruptibility of the prevailing administration. We know the frailty of the present government, but it serves no purpose in displaying it in public.

Absence of a Grand Vision: What is really painful about the document is the absence of articulations for a Grand National Dream. At this juncture, the country needs this more than anything else. The driving as well as sustaining force for a faster and more inclusive growth, which the document puts as the focus of the next Plan, can only be such a dream. Further, it is only such a dream which can provide the necessary direction for governance alive to the call of nation-building.

Here we need to remind ourselves of the crises Manipur has been going through including the current intricate one of blockades galore. These are above anything else the price the land and people are paying for cumulative and aggregate governance failures. The people at the provincial level have given up any hope they might otherwise possess regarding the capability of the regional government to address their grievances. This is definitely not an enviable scenario.

But it is as if these are not enough for the regional population. In a kind of governmental structure India has, people always have the option of looking beyond the provincial government and look up to the federal government as the authority of last resort. However, on this score too the federal governance has only displayed cumulative and aggregated failures bordering on ignorance, negligence and ultimate damnation of the region. While the case of a single police official in a province ruled by a party opposing the federal government in the Centre mobilized the collective strength of the federal government, the collective woes of the entire population of the province has not drawn the attention of the federal government. Now this is happening in a region where the value and validity of the prevailing state are being contested. These are all sure signs of state failures of governance at the regional level.

Now this failure of governance seems to be true at the larger country-wide level as well. The attacks in Delhi on the Save Sharmila group are indicators of the declining grip of the country’s government on the diverse psyche of the population of the country. The cumulative failures and the recent coming to light of so many lapses on the governance front seem to have emboldened any group whatsoever that they could get away with anything.

No, this is definitely not the way to let the country drift. In this context, it is really painful to see the absence of a grand design in the just released Approach Paper for the next Plan. A plan is not a simple economic document. It is a social document with political directions founded on collective and collectivable commitment.

India’s Need: India, given her territorial and demographic size, can only be led and governed by images of honesty and justice possessed by the political class at the helm of affairs. The recent developments at the country as well as provincial levels emphasize this more than anything else. The country today does not have any figure whom the land and people can look up with confidence and trust and expect deliverance founded on equity. The visions as articulated in the Approach Paper betray this gap.

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