Aam Aadmi : Missing human touch at the grassroots !

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Riding on the wave of the people’s massive mandate in the mid-2014 general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about “maximum governance, minimum government”. He also promised to provide good governance, to the delight of every section of society.

On Good Governance Day on December 25, the Prime Minister’s message was candid and forthright. He said:
“Sushasan. Good governance is the key to a Nation’s progress. Our government is committed to providing a transparent and accountable administration which works for the betterment and welfare of the common citizen. ‘Citizen First’ is our mantra, our motto and our guiding principle. It has been my dream to bring government closer to our citizens”.

Very fine thoughts indeed! The problem with Narendra Modi, however, is one of translating his noble thoughts into a plan of action on the ground. If I understand him correctly, the BJP-led Modi government’s idea was to correct the inefficient functioning of the administration and unproductive “control mechanism” of economic policies generally associated with the Nehruvian model of socialism.

What he has so far done is to take are certain steps like ensuring babus’ punctuality, replacing the Planning Commission by Niti Ayogya etc etc. Enforcing office punctuality is fine. But this does not ensure a better work culture and response system to desperate pleas of ordinary citizens who cannot manage “juggar” for prompt disposal of their grievances in the corridors of power.

Be that as it may. Critical issues before the country are: ensuring transparent, accountable responsive administrative system, decentralization of power and an indifferent mindset of the ruling cliques which make people go from pillar to post to redress their grievances.

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As a journalist and author, I have closely watched the Indian scene for decades. This happens to be my passion as well as an area of concern while Prime Ministers have come and gone amidst the politics of expediency dominating every walk of life.

Politicians call the shots in every area of public activity. That is the reason why even simple matters of governance get politicized and acquire rhetoric overtones in the absence of ideological roots and principled commitments to the people’s good.

No wonder, the country’s political bazaar continues to be a complex spectacle of opportunism, regional pulls and counter-pulls, personality cults, caste and communal divides.

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The voter, of course, knows how to act decisively and throw out an unresponsive government. All the same, barring a few exceptions, political behaviour patterns leave many questions unanswered. This makes India look like, to use the famous Winston Churchill phrase, an enigma wrapped in a riddle. Perhaps, it is the invisible mystic-cum-mystery touch that makes Indian democracy dynamically complex.

Like Indira Gandhi’s garibi hatao, Prime Minister Modi, too, talks of poverty elimination, but his policies and postures give the impression of his being pro-rich. Perhaps, this is not his fault. He is in the business of politics. And politics today has become a big business. It is, therefore, not surprising that larger economic, business factors influence his decision-making as well as day-to-day operations.

Narendra Modi surely thinks big and acts big. He is guided by yoga and Digital India mantras. However, the business of governance can click if the existing ground realities of rural and urban India are properly understood. I feel that he is yet to realise that the whole of India cannot be run on the Gujarat Model. The face of India and of poverty and deprivations changes after a cluster of 30 to 40 villages.

India is, of course, no fairyland, though it is a colourful and fascinating country that derives its substance from the grassroots wisdom. And, those who fail to grasp this common man’s wisdom or choose to ignore it, could be thrown in the electoral dustbin. This is what happened to Indira Gandhi. That is how Rajiv Gandhi lost to his one time colleague, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, who too subsequently suffered a blow when lost sight of rational perspective in the pursuit of his caste-based politics.

Looking back in a wider perspective of nation-building, V P Singh had a golden opportunity to reshape the destiny of India but frittered away his energy in chasing petty sectarian and mandalised goals and in the process lost his sense of direction. He virtually divided the nation by his one-track obsession with the reservation issue. By his senseless attempt to extend the caste-based reservations to the educational field, he provoked a violent backlash from the middle class student community in urban India.

Amidst strikes and gory spectacle of self-immolations, the nation virtually came to a halt. In a swift turn of political fortune, V P Singh lost support of the media and the educated middle class that had helped him win the poll. Suddenly, he was viewed as a villain of Indian politics.

I am recalling the V P Singh phenomenon, simply because of its relevance to the present and future leadership. The setting and issues could vary, but the basic lesson is the same: how not to govern India.

Even for Narendra Modi there are lessons galore from his shrinking electoral base in his home state of Gujarat. The Patidar stir, headed by firebrand young leader Hardik Patel, along with youthful Dalit and OBC leaders, conveys to Modi a number of lessons on rising unemployment, inadequate education opportunities for the middle class youngsters in the face of very costly privatized education and health systems.

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Equally disturbing is the social scene one and a half years after brutalities on four Una Dalits of Gujarat shook the nation. The Dalit victims have now decided to forsake Hinduism due to unabated caste discrimination and embrace Buddhism. And Gujarat has been the BJP-ruled state for the past 22 years! These are all matters of good governance vis-a-vis people and their problems.

I am not questioning the Prime Minister’s good intentions to make India go in a big way. But he has to come to the grip of multi-dimensional distortions the polity is suffering from. There are loose ends everywhere.

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Power flows from moneybags. And money flows from power. To whom can the common man turn to when muscle and money power operates in tandem? Those who do not have a share in the booty are showing signs of restlessness. Those who are part of the system merrily exploit it and virtually become insensitive to the sufferings of the less privileged. This is not the India we had bargained for.

Politicians exploit the innocent masses. Businessmen and traders exploit consumers by selling substandard or adulterated commodities. Malpractices, such as black marketing, underweight or overcharging, are not signs of good governance. The bureaucratized system, more often than not, hardly cares for the susceptibilities of the poor and the have-nots. The guardians of the law tilt towards the rich and the mighty.

How can we arrest such a decline? Simple. No one should be allowed to get away with any violation, minor or major, of the law. How about cow vigilants who take the law in their hands to harass the Dalits or Muslims?

Law has to have a humane face. It should be applied equally for all, the mightiest as well as the weakest of the land. This is the essence of democracy and good governance.

As part of the concept of good governance, the Prime Minister and his policy makers need to promptly take care of basic national priorities, such as drinking water for villages, better public health system, drive towards aforestation, halting deforestation, more vigorous drive to check the “baby boom”, tapping solar and indigenous sources of energy for the benefit of rural India, pollution control, urban planning with green lungs, strengthening road and communication network, improving the quality of public health and education, expansion of career and professional courses, generation of new employment opportunities.

The stress has to be on key areas of social and economic activity, especially creating jobs for the youth. Mr Prime Minister, do we need pilotless trains when lakhs and lakhs of youngsters are desperate about jobs?

Narendra Modi also needs to look back, think and reflect whether it was necessary for him to visit as many as 60 foreign countries in three years instead of providing a healing touch to suicide-prone farmers in distress! A human touch at the grassroots can provide him better political dividends than thunderous applause overseas.

Democracy demands fairplay and honest approach to men, matters and issues. If men could be expected to be selfish or worse, as James Madison once put it in the American context, “ambition must be made to counteract ambition”. In the Indian situation this is possible if a proper system and effective instruments of governance are created. For “if men were angels, no government would be necessary”.

In absence of a viable and responsive system, manipulators and operators have a field day. This is not acceptable. The existing system needs to be revamped and rebuilt on the new edifice of transparency and accountability at all levels of public activity. Equally vital for good governance is less of secrecy, more of openness, and greater involvement of people in development.

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