Monday 6 August 2012

India's power elite fails basic test of good governance (Global Times)

Global Times | 2012-8-5 17:15:00 
By M.D. Nalapat
Illustration: Sun Ying

Illustration: Sun Ying 
The test of good governance is a steady increase in the well-being of the people of a country. Living standards ought to rise in a way that ensures adequate education, housing and health for the people. Judged by this standard, Indian leaders have failed the test. The huge blackouts of late July were just another symptom of the ways in which the political class in India has let down the people.

Infrastructure for both citizens as well as industries is primitive, while government schools are often without textbooks or even teachers. State hospitals perhaps kill more often than they cure, while in many locations, law and order is absent.

Indeed, sometimes the police are themselves in league with criminals, for mutual benefit. Corruption in officialdom matches the sleaze found within the political class, leaving the honest citizens at the mercy of a rapacious state machinery that seeks not their welfare but what little is left of their pocket.

Although hailed by admirers across the world as the founder of democracy in India, Jawaharlal Nehru, the country's first prime minister, retained the entire machinery of governance of the British.

Nehru did not change either laws or procedures to reflect the fact that the country was no longer a slave state. It was convenient for him and his successors to retain, and indeed add on to, the vast powers they inherited from the British. The greater governmental discretion was, the more bribes they could collect.

Today, officials and politicians are in provision among the super rich. More, they have continued the chasm between themselves and ordinary citizens that was created by the British.

The elite use special cars, have special access to public facilities and live in a cocoon far removed from the common people. Thus it was that on July 30 and 31, when more than 600 million people were denied electricity because of a grid shutdown, the homes of the elite continued to have 24/7 power supply through their own private generators.

Even in the big cities, there are frequent power cuts, often lasting for hours.

In Gurgaon, for instance, a high-tech location that produces billions of dollars of tax, and which is next to Delhi, the roads are primitive, law and order absent, and water and power supplies erratic at best and absent most of the day.

Sadly, because politicians in power protect those out of power, the political class in India believes that there is almost no risk in amassing as much money as possible in as short a time as feasible, and by all means available.

The consequence is the fact that India, a country that in 1950 was far ahead of China and South Korea, is today several times poorer than both. Freedom has yet to provide release from chronic poverty, miserable levels of state facilities and inadequate health, housing and education.

Because of laws that prevent transparency in political funding, and which permit most political parties in India to be the private property of individuals and their families, the choice during elections is between the bad, the horrible and the awful.

Those without access to vast amounts of illegal cash can neither meet the huge cost of campaigning, nor hire the manpower needed for the purpose.

Hence political office has become almost family property, that can be inherited from generation to generation. This is not a system where there is fresh blood every decade and no family remains powerful for too long.

Unfortunately, change does not seem to be on the horizon.

Indeed, over the past eight years, the half-hearted economic reforms of 1992-96 and 1998-2004 have mostly been rolled back, thus once again transferring power and discretion from the people to the state. With its power cuts and failures of governance, India is indeed in darkness.

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