Thursday, January 30, 2014

Challenges Before The Post 2014 General Election Government

Dr M N Buch, 
Dean, Centre for Governance and Political Studies, VIF

Towards the end of May 2014, India will have a new government and a new Prime Minister. In his speech on the eve of the Republic Day 2014, the President made three significant remarks which every Indian must bear in mind. He warned against what he referred to as "populist anarchy". He also said that a political party and a government must promise only that which it can deliver. The President's third comment was that the people of India should vote sensibly so that the new government is stable and can take those decisions which lead the country on the path of development.

I consider Shri Pranab Mukherjee's advice to the nation to be of essence because today we are witnessing a disastrous competitive populism in which every party is vying with the others to make announcements which, if actually implemented, would pauperise the whole country, make us bankrupt and thus make the government totally incapable of providing even the minimum services to the people. Almost as a continuation of immediate expediency and irresponsible populism is the plethora of promises made by the political parties to the electorate, raising expectations and, on failure to deliver, wondering why the people are annoyed. Such wild promises actually retard all progress because they create a conflict between that which is possible and the impossible which has been promised, prevent the drawing up of a rational schedule of priorities, making it impossible to take policy decisions and, because of clash of interests, result in spasmodic, knee-jerk implementation and, in the ultimate analysis, a paralysis of government. As a corollary to this is the fact that the uncertainty of the situation prevents a coalescence of parties, a fractured mandate and the emergence of small interest groups which work against the national interest. This has been the situation in India ever since P V Narashima Rao lost the election and we entered an era of unstable coalitions where immediate local interests completely overwhelmed the national interest. That is why the President's speech on the eve of Republic Day was a clarion call to the nation to return to reason and eschew divisive politics.

The new government will face formidable problems when it comes to power. Will the mandate be clear or will it be so fragmented that there will be difficulty in forming a government which can work? This issue is extremely important because a fractured verdict forces the President into a corner where he has to appoint a Prime Minister and ask him to form a government. Whom should the President invite when there is no clear cut majority? My personal view is that we need some amendments in our Constitution to deal with a contingency which has now become almost a norm in India. One amendment would be that in such a case the President should summon the House, lay down the parameters and then ask the assembled members to give their preference for who should be invited to form the government. The assembled members should be deprived of all means of external communication, should be held incommunicado and not allowed to meet any outsider. The members should remain so locked up till they arrive at a consensus on who should be appointed Prime Minister. The Prime Minister would then be a consensus candidate.

A few more amendments are also needed. A motion of no-confidence should not be allowed to be moved for the first two years of the five year term of the legislature. An official bill, if defeated in Parliament, should not be deemed to be a vote of no confidence during this two year period. If the budget is defeated then the previous year's budget should be deemed to be the current year's budget so that government does not come to a halt. This would ensure that there is an adequate vote on account to permit government to function normally, though no new schemes or initiatives could be launched. The two year moratorium on a vote of no confidence is suggested so that the government has at least this period to stabilise itself and win the continuous confidence of the House. If, thereafter, a government does not stabilise, then the government in a state must be conducted for the balance of the five year period, which is the full life span of the House, through President's rule. At the Centre, there can be no President's rule; government for the balance period should be through a caretaker government, but which is empowered to take all the decisions which a fully elected government is competent to take. This will deter frequent elections, make it possible to hold elections simultaneously for Parliament and State Legislatures and, perhaps, force the parties to become more responsible and thus obviate both the President's rule and a prolonged caretaker government.

Would this impinge on the democratic right to be ruled by an elected government? Prima facie yes, but when we look at the history of coalition governments in India, both at the Centre and in the States, we find strange permutations and combinations taking place by what can at best be termed political horse trading, but which at worst can be termed outright purchase through bribery. Can such a government be considered to be democratically elected, especially where legislatures have changed sides and no longer represent the will of the voter who has voted not only on the basis of candidate preference but also on the basis of party preference? Such a situation does not equate to democratic government and, perhaps, President's rule or a caretaker government might in fact be more democratic and certainly it will be more decisive. In fact the first challenge before a new government would be to ensure that it commands the confidence of the House in such a way that it can deliver good government without having to pander to the baser greed of highly selfish little groups whose objective is self promotion rather than good government.

From the time when the Narasimha Rao Government started dismantling excessive control of the state over the economy, India had a welcome surge of growth and development. Normally growth is judged by the rate of GDP growth and this was reasonably healthy for several years. In fact after China we had the highest rate of growth globally and this gave us and the world a false feeling of India at last breaking through the barriers which inhibited growth. What we failed to appreciate is that our growth was very heavily based on the strength of the tertiary sector, which itself is tied to the global demand for such services. Information technology based growth is what we promoted, but there was no simultaneous increase in the size, efficiency and the productivity of the secondary sector. By contrast, China vigorously pursued the secondary sector route to development and in the process built up a huge manufacturing sector which has flooded the world with goods and heavily tilted the balance of trade in China's favour. Because goods become obsolete very quickly China has also invested adequately in research, development and innovation. It has enhanced the skills of its workforce and has made rapid strides in technology. India leads in software development but the hardware on which the software is applied comes from China. Therefore, the new government will have the challenge of how to build the secondary sector in India so that manufacturing becomes the main employer and thus encourages skill development. It is the secondary sector which provides the maximum employment in long term.

Sixty per cent of the land area of India is arable compared with only 10% of China. Our inflation is not so much manufactured commodity driven as it is agriculture produce driven. The green revolution proved that India can produce enough to feed our people. But we have never leveraged the enormous potential of agriculture and horticulture to give us production levels which will give adequate food stuff at lower prices, while at the same time become the raw material for agro industries which add value, gainfully absorb the surpluses, pass money back to the producer through bulk purchase and value addition, provide employment in agriculture, transportation, agro industry and an enormous service sector which through banking, technology and machinery inputs, extension services, gives knowledge of scientific agriculture and financial support which would bring exponential increase in productivity, while creating vast number of jobs in the secondary and tertiary sector which supports agriculture. How to achieve the goal of using agriculture to bring prosperity to India, especially rural India, will be the real challenge which the new government will have to face. In the process the government will have to take a good, objective look at populist schemes, including subsidies, employment programs which do not create permanent assets and gimmickry which is aimed at vote bank politics rather than the need to bring prosperity to the rural people.

The social sector is a curious by paradoxical one which in education and health care has a pyramid which at the apex gives institutions of excellence equal to the best in the world, but with an enormous base of education and health care institutions which are worthless. How can one build a good Indian Institute of Technology, Science Education and Research, Information Technology or Business Management on a foundation of schools which impart no education whatsoever? How can we build an All India Institute of Medical Sciences or a super specialty hospital whose foundations and whose feeders are the extremely miserable primary health centers? Education and health care begin at the level of the individual house and child and if the institutions which impart education at the village level or provide health care at the primary centre level are of a certain acceptable standard, then the edifice of higher education and higher healthcare will be sound. How to achieve a massive surge of quality education and healthcare at the primary level will be a massive challenge to the new government.

The energy sector, irrigation and construction of infrastructure of roads, railway lines, airports etc., the building of adequate civic infrastructure including water supply, drainage and sewerage present major challenges, but in order to achieve success there one needs good government. Good government means laws, rules and regulations which have as their objective the service and welfare of citizens. This is as true of regulatory legislation as it is of development legislation. Good government means decisiveness in decision making, a strong will to ensure efficient administration which delivers good government and a system whereby decision making and implementation are so open that citizen participation becomes easy. Law and order, the protection of human rights, greater productivity, more gainful jobs and equity in distribution are all a part of governance and efficiency in these sectors is essential for good government.

Corruption has become a major issue in India and the Aam Aadmi Party, which is in power in Delhi, has come out in favour of a strong measure of probity and simplicity in public life. People in Delhi have responded favourably to the possibility of the new party tackling corruption and bringing governance to the door step of citizens so that they can get their just dues. Unfortunately, this party is not facing up to the other challenges posed in this paper, partly because being in government is still strange to it, partly because it did not anticipate that it would come to power and partly because it is still in an anti-establishment agitation mould.

A major challenge is how to ensure that government becomes an instrument to preserve and strengthen secularism and to use government as a vehicle to carry the message to our people that is the very plurality of India, the diversity of people, ethnicity, culture, language and faiths which give us unity. Secularism goes beyond merely maintaining communal peace and enforcing law and order. It means inclusiveness in which no one is “the other”. The Sanatan Dharma and faiths such as Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism which have emanated from it demand such inclusiveness because to Sanatan the world is the “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or one single family.

Politics, unfortunately, has fragmented society on lines of religion, caste, class, region, language, ethnic groups and even sub groups. The use of caste or religion to appeal to voters to vote enmasse for a particular party, the arousing of base religious or similar passions, the violence thus instigated are all aspects of communalism. We shall then have to carry the definition of communalism beyond Hindu vs Muslim and view all divisive politics as communal and fissiparous. The present danger to secularism cannot be faced unless we accept this much wider definition of communalism and then gird up to control it. Why not make 2014 the year in which India really faced up to the menace of all communalism and then moved towards a truly secular republic?
For the elections of 2014 what one wants to know from all political parties is how they will go about the business of governance keeping the above challenges in mind. I, for one, am sick of political rhetoric. Can we, for a change, get politicians talk rationally and with horse sense and tell us how they will tackle the questions of government in such a way that the President's advice becomes the key stone of our future politics.

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