if constitutional values and the operation of the political
system come into conflict, resolution of crises is both
prolonged and difficult.
dilemmas posed by the political instability in Uttar Pradesh
starkly expose the crisis in our political system. UP is
obviously no ordinary state. UP and Bihar together are now
dismissed as India's political and economic backwaters,
but with a combined population close to that of Western
Europe, we can ill afford such neglect. Political fragmentation
on caste and communal lines in UP has been the cause of
political instability and mis-governance since 1989. But
Bihar has seen remarkable political stability with Laloo
Yadav's RJD in power for the third successive term, a feat
rivalled only by marxists in West Bengal among all major
states today. Still, Bihar has become the very symbol of
poverty and backwardness, with the lowest per capita income,
poorest infrastructure and lawlessness.
fact, UP and Bihar are no different from the rest of India.
In every major state, there is a bit of UP and Bihar. The
behaviour of the electorate in states is increasingly plebiscitary
in nature. However, the Westminster model adopted by us
recognizes executive power only by virtue of legislative
majorities acquired by means fair or foul, often without
reference to the public opinion or people's mandate. As
people's mandate and power are easily divorced, the rulers
are increasingly obsessed with survival in power at any
cost. This led to several distortions in exercise of power,
severely undermining the legitimacy of authority and effectiveness
of executive functioning.
legislative office theoretically gives the incumbent the
power to make laws, and keep the errant executive under
check though various parliamentary procedures. However,
legislators are seen by the people, and themselves, as disguised
executives. As the government is entirely dependent for
survival on the support of the majority of legislators on
a given day, most of the time, energy, attention and efforts
of the government are concentrated on mere survival.
huge investments in money are made to get elected, there
is a natural propensity on the part of legislators to seek
patronage and share the spoils. There is an implicit understanding
that the support of the legislators to the government is
contingent upon the political executive doling out favours
to them. Rarely is this support based on principles, ideology
or public opinion. Invariably there is a price extracted
for such support in many forms. This is particularly true
in states, where governance has direct impact on people's
lives. Appointment of public servants in key positions,
transfer of inconvenient employees, licensing, distribution
of patronage in the form of subsidies and benefits to the
poor, public distribution system, trade in liquor and commodities,
transport, government contracts and tenders, mining licenses,
permissions to exploit forest produce, crime investigation
and prosecution, execution of public works - all these are
often at the mercy of legislators.
such a situation, even a well-meaning and honest political
executive is helpless in enforcing high standards of probity,
fairness, healthy competition or competence. The state government
is captive in the hands of the legislators, on whose continued
good will and support its survival depends. As a consequence,
integrity in public office at the political executive level
and survival in power are increasingly incompatible.
such a climate, all governance is reduced to patronage,
and transfers and postings of bureaucrats. As Robert Wade
pointed out, there is a well-developed market for public
office in India. Money habitually changes hands for placement
and continuity of public servants at various levels. These
public servants in turn have to collect 'rent' from the
public. The hafta paid to a policeman, the mamool charged
by the excise official, the bribe collected by the revenue
functionary, or the corruption of a transport-officer are
all part of an integrated, organized, entrenched system.
This is a very resilient system, and as Wade called it,
a 'dangerously stable equilibrium' is at work. Every segment
of this vicious cycle of corruption is helpless in breaking
the chain of corruption and mis-governance. Any individual
- the citizen at the receiving end, the official, or policy
maker - who attempts to resist it will find that the price
paid for such resistance is several times the benefit that
might accrue; soon, most people fall in line, several become
passive bystanders, and a few are ejected or opt out of
pattern is seen in all states. UP and Bihar are simply the
extreme manifestations of this complex crisis. The only
tragedy is, UP and Bihar together account for a large chunk
of humanity which cannot be wished away. If UP and Bihar
die, India cannot survive.
need to take a hard look at what is happening all around
us, severely impeding growth, undermining basic public services,
and diminishing the quality of life. This political and
governance crisis has a direct impact on our economy. Power
thefts and losses, poor infrastructure, abysmal public health,
decline in state schools and even universities, criminalization
of politics, breakdown in public order - all these are not
mere accidents. They are inevitable consequences of our
political and governance crisis. And they cannot be addressed
effectively as long as we have the parliamentary executive
fusing legislative office with executive power in states.
India still records an impressive 5 percent growth. But
that is because of our small base and untapped potential.
Given better governance, this rate will go up substantially.
True, mere governance reform may not reverse the cycle in
extreme situations like in Eastern UP and Bihar. Resolute
and sustained action to restore rule of law and vast investments
in infrastructure are required to give hope to the millions
of sufferings Indians in the gangetic belt. But the starting
point has to be political reform separating the executive
from legislature at state and local level. Until we accomplish
that, the fruits of development will be a distant mirage
for an uncomfortably large number of Indians.