Cost of governance failure to escalate?



“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves…” Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi can’t but blame himself for the BJP’s rout in Bihar. In the last one and a half years, he might have succeeded a bit in refurbishing India’s political and economic image, but he has been a whopping failure in putting his own house in order and turn the central bureaucracy into a well-oiled machinery to implement his election promise on ‘minimum government, maximum governance.’

As soon as he entered South Block in the sweltering summer of 2014, his first act of governance was to make senior government officials like some third rate corporate employees who have to punch in and punch out every day to mark their presence.

His second ‘great’ thing was to concentrate all decision-making powers into himself. Not even the PMO was authorized to take any decision. This went hand in hand with the direction to all ministers and bureaucrats to shut the door on journalists. This means there is no chain of command: no one is responsible for anything because no one has the authority to execute their responsibility.

No one expects the PM to have read Karl Popper to understand that “the strength of open societies lie in their openness.” He was born in free India and experienced first hand the repressive ban on freedom of expression during the 1974 emergency and its consequences.

But he has put his own experience aside.

The net result has been terrible: farmers suffered huge shortage of urea during the peak Rabi sowing season of 2014-14 and pulses prices shot to astronomical heights in the second half of 2015, depriving the ordinary man of even the little protein that he has been consuming. The result was equally terrible for him as well – he suffered a huge blow to his image of invincibility in the Bihar election.

It’s anybody’s guess whether the Bihar election results would have turned out the way they did, if he had allowed a free hand to his ministerial colleagues and bureaucrats to attend to emerging problems from the beginning of his tenure.

Frankly, going by his repeated failure to smooth out hurdles to better governance, particularly of agricultural economy, even Amit Shah could be spared the blame for failure in Bihar. There was nothing for Shah and his team to show that “we have done this for you.”

Ever since he was swept to power in May 2014, among other things, on the promise of topping the farmers’ cost of production with a 50 percent margin, NaMo has shown little sensitivity and understanding in dealing with the mounting problems of the agriculture sector that has been driving farmers to suicide over the past 20 years, causing demand-supply problems in oilseeds and pulses production, and pollution of underground water table, rivers, canals and coastal areas through insensible use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

This intellectual insensitivity, heightened by an extraordinary belief in self as the most marketable face of polity, made NaMo lose handsomely in the rural areas of Bihar as well as in a large number of urban centres.

The breach of promise of topping with 50 per cent margin the cost of agricultural production made the job of average BJP worker-campaigner almost impossible in selling the Central government record on good governance, particularly in the context of inordinate increase in retail pulses prices. It was but natural that the Mahagathbandhan adroitly exploited this gap and coined the appealing slogan of “Hame Hamare Purane Din Lauta Do.”

This JD(U) slogan was a double edged sword: while it highlighted the attention of the general public to skyrocketing pulses prices, it was also a signal to crooks and thugs, who have been milking the Public Distribution System, MNREGA schemes, fertilizers distribution system, etc, to come around the JD(U) to protect the absolutely corrupt state machinery that provides them with patronage for all of their criminal activities. One has to be a farmer in Bihar to understand the magnitude of low cunning and high corruption of Nitish Kumar’s administration.

The problem of NaMo, even before he entered the battlefield Bihar, was his inability to stop major sources of funding of Bihar’s criminal political and business syndicate. He didn’t have to do this directly; he could have done it indirectly by removing kerosene from the PDS supply system to open distribution system and reimbursing the poor and the farmers through the operational DBT scheme. This would have at one stroke earned him the gratitude of all farmers as they buy kerosene at black rate of Rs 50 a litre to run their small and portable irrigation pumps, besides disrupting the generation of huge amount of black money by way of mixing diesel with kerosene.

But he stopped short of reforming the diesel and kerosene pricing system. And unwittingly allowed the continued generation of black money that has been aiding and abetting corrupt politicians who have been generously liberal and secular in receiving and extorting money from all sources.

If one looks back, it is clear that NaMo has shot himself badly in the foot by developing an adversarial relationship with farmers – in continuation of his Gujarat tradition. His blunders began with a land ordinance containing coercive measures on acquisition of land from farmers, which he had to finally drop in the face of immovable opposition. Instead of sticking to his archaic Gujarat model, he would do well to move on to TDP’s Andhra Model of land acquisition in his own political interest as well as of the country.

May it be noted that in the months and years to come, a lot of land will be required at least for solar power generation. Since 15 percent of the country’s land mass is barren and could house 90 per cent of the population, it would make immense political and economic sense to focus on developing infrastructure in these areas for creation of clean and small habitation centres instead of wasting time, energy and resources on turning existing decayed towns and district centres into smart cities.

The problem is BJP-ruled state governments are as steadfast as the Prime Minister in developing an adversarial relationship with farmers by willfully deviating from the economics of feasible Hindutava as propounded by Hutatma Veer Savarkar in his classic treatise on Hinutava. Consequently, they are all fueling great resentment and anger in the countryside. In the name of protecting cows, they have stopped slaughtering of old buffaloes and old bullocks. This kind of obeisance to Karmkandi Hinduism has again hit farmers hard who sell off their old cattle to finance purchase of young ones. Reports have it from Vidharbha that, while farmers could get Rs 8,000 to 10,000 on their old buffaloes and bullocks in pre-ban days, they are forced to sell these at Rs 2,000 or less. If this insensible and illogical approach of BJP government continue, it is likely that they may have to find shelter in some cowsheds after the next election.

There is no doubt that NaMo has been doing great things in improving governance to accelerate the pace of industry and commerce, resulting in upscaling of India’s ranking in ease of doing business reports, FDI investment, and increase in the valuation of India’s brand as a country. Yet, these things are not going to resolve the greatest challenge to governance – of how to provide jobs to millions of young hands. And in this context pops up the issue of agriculture reforms. For this, the Prime Minister has to start working with his own state colleagues and impress upon them the necessity to do away with colonial and Congress era bad laws that were designed to keep farmers in constant penury.

It is known that an agricultural growth rate of four percent a year would not only absorb and feed the huge unemployed army of skilled and unskilled young men, it could also generate a huge surplus to finance the country’s infrastructure projects.

Development of the country’s agriculture is not only good economics, it is also good politics. One has to have the cleanliness of character, vision and courage to play this politics.

Report: M K Shukla (Editor)



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