Ever since India achieved independence from British, there have been differences in the vision and mission and consequent actions of pioneers and leaders who shaped the destiny of nation and governance. To score over the political adversaries and opponents as also stay to in power, politicians and leaders have always typically adopted a ‘holier than thou’ approach.
The difference remains that in the past such an approach was based on ideology, policy and implementation differences. Times have changed and now they focus on finding personal weaknesses, faults with the conduct and demeanor of opponents raising issues like dishonesty, corruption and inefficiency on the forefront. A new breed of politicians is emerging with ‘holier than the rest’ approach, who take a pride in declaring that other than them everybody else is dishonest, corrupt and inefficient.
When India became independent after the 2nd world war, nations were clearly divided in two sets of ideology and governance models, namely capitalism and socialism. The former believed in democratic and decentralized governance, privatization and free markets while the latter favored a more centralized leadership, state control over resources, and equal distribution of wealth and prosperity among citizens. Kind of complexities and divergence India had in terms of castes, language, religions and regions; it was rightly perceived and endorsed by the then leaders and planners that a single model may not work in this country. Accordingly, a mixed economy model was adopted. It is a settled principle that the private sector would be mainly driven by profitability for any investment while the state sector would keep in mind the social responsibility too along with the profitability. Various sectors for development were accordingly opened for the private or kept reserved for the state control.
Whatever criticism many skeptics (politicians, thinkers and ideologues) do but the fact remains that India has shown tremendous progress and all round development and growth over the years, particularly during the last two decades, irrespective of the fact which party or leader was in governance. Today India is among one of the few fast growing economies in the world which remained largely unaffected even during the recent economic meltdown world over. At the same time, it is also true that the development and growth would have been far speedier and satisfactory, had there not been so much of corruption, indiscretion and inefficiency in the system. There are known instances when a politician, a bureaucrat, a petty contractor or small time offender has overnight become millionaires and a force to reckon with. This of course is not possible without an existing nexus and blooming corruption.
Consequently, today the politics is not only a profession and career but also an interesting game for many to play skillfully. We all know that for pursuing any profession, career or game, one needs to have graduated or taken a specialized training with a minimum period and standards prescribed but in politics one doesn’t need any formal course or training. Only right contacts and/or opportunity are enough pre-requisites and one need to pick up topical popular themes to repeat time and again, slogan for upholding constitution, and dramatic gestures for devotion to public service, more particularly the cause of common man.
For the good governance, clearly there are two vital requirements. One is the availability of sound and effective laws on the subject which come through appropriate legislation. In a parliamentary democracy, this is done by the elected representatives with the assistance of permanent executive machinery. The other and for more crucial is implementation of the laws. This requires participation of every citizen including much talked about Aam Admi or common man. Implementation, however, mainly devolves on the shoulders of the huge government machinery consisting of various levels of functionaries in civil, police and military set up. Executive machinery includes ministers, bureaucrats and subordinate staff at various levels. Besides laws, they are assisted by the rules, regulations and executive orders.
Therefore, mere strengthening of laws or making new laws does not serve the purpose unless its implementation is also effectively ensured. It is irony of times that whenever there is a serious incident or crime and consequent public outcry and criticism, those in governance, media and even public at large start debate finding faults in the existing laws. The existing laws are amended or new laws framed and issue or problem is put at rest. Had this been an ideal solution, perhaps rapes and other sex crimes might have stopped after the infamous and much talked about ‘Nirbhaya’ episode in December, 2012. Clearly, mere change of laws is not suffice to improve the things.
Among the plethora of nations, perhaps India is among few which have a very elaborate, well documented and written constitution. Also various provisions have been made or amended since independence by respective governments on numerous occasions. So there is a need for focus on implementation rather than making or amending laws. One doesn’t need to go too far to find reasons why laws and rules are not implemented. Those in high offices have more responsibility to enforce laws but sadly many of them are, in fact, frequent offenders. Besides other levels in government machinery and ordinary citizens have their own contribution or share in violating laws. Such offences and violations are seldom taken notice and guilty punished.
For many, the politics is an addiction or obsession, so to say. They enter in politics with whatever stated sacred intentions or sense of sacrifice for the public cause, but soon start enjoying the game and immense power and privilege it offers. Then the rule of the game changes to furtherance of their vested interests, in terms of status, wealth, name and fame. Rather than devotion for the public service and pursuing issues with right earnest and perspective, for many politicians focus remains on achieving personal ambitions, a long term goal and strategy on how to succeed and forge ahead in the power game, and how to check and mate the potential adversaries like what we do in a chess game.
Of late, there has been much talk in the national politics about rampant corruption and rising prices of commodities and essential services. The particular emphasis has been on electricity, gas and water prices levied on the consumers, particularly in the national capital. There is no doubt that these are emotive subjects and instantly appeal to a large segment of the middle and lower class in the society. The particular party which claims to be messiah of common man using corruption as the main plank to further its interest, has alleged umpteen times citing various politicians and government in collusion with the private sector companies, are indiscriminately putting burden on the common man by disproportionally increasing charges.
Let us consider how the price is determined for the electricity or gas. When any public or private sector company intends to develop a power plant, they are initially required to take certain statutory clearances including those for the acquisition of land, environment and forest etc. They also need to tie up necessary fuel supply through the existing government or private sources. Usually such projects need a huge amount of spending and the developer needs to tie up funding of the project in a pre-determined ratio of equity and debt. The project may have various civil constructions, electrical, mechanical and other components with a gestation period of say about 5 to 7 years. They may even have to address rehabilitation and resettlement issues.
All such components have a cost with the bearing on total cost; and usually based on the admissible completion cost of the project, an independent central or state regulator, as the case may be, would fix the tariff (unit price) of the project which inter alia reflects bearing of all cost components and return on equity (goes to project developer). As about 70 to 80 percent funding is mobilized through debt financing, the developer also needs to pay back to the investors along with the interest in a pre-defined trajectory. When the same electricity is supplied to the end consumers by a distribution company, in the cost of generation, the cost of transmission and distribution along with surcharge or levy, if any, is added and final tariff is fixed by the regulator concerned.
Governments do not have a direct role in tariff determination but they do have social responsibility to people. Accordingly, depending upon the policy of the government, in the event of high landed cost (tariff) to the consumer, they take steps to minimize burden particularly on the domestic and agriculture consumers through subsidy and/or cross subsidy. By and large, prices of other commodities or services are fixed in the similar manner with some variations case to case.
In such a scenario, straightway blaming a particular government or leader of a political party for high electricity or gas prices may not be fair and justified. Since multiple agencies and persons in the system are involved, there is always a risk of malpractices, inefficiencies and indiscretions, which certainly need to be identified and corrected regularly and guilty punished, the ultimate responsibility being that of the government. So if a person or group or political party is making indiscriminate and unsubstantiated charges or statements and allegations blaming a particular government or person, it is either due to sheer ignorance or a deliberate attempt to derive mileage over opponents by misleading public for an intended benefit.
It may sound harsh to many but let us realize that every conscientious citizen, as consumer, should be willing to bear the genuine cost of any commodity or service rather than looking for shortcuts or simply joining band and wagon against a slogan or call if it suits their personal interest in some way. As such there is no dearth of wishful and ambitious self-styled leaders to exploit emotive issues to their advantage and ambitions of power. If any of us is doing it, clearly it is not in the best interest and service to the nation. At the same time, it is necessary that the government must take minimum necessary measures through subsidy or otherwise based on a realistic criteria to take care of the weaker sections who cannot afford the real cost of a commodity or service.
Unfortunately, these days what we experience is the growing fascination for populism among politicians. Otherwise there would not have been such a war of words among politicians and an upsurge of concessions and freebies without a consideration of the health of the exchequer. If a person or party tends to side with a potential pressure group as also a vote bank and only talks about what best suits to their interest, this may be a tactics of getting popular among masses to garner short term gains in terms of franchise in an ensuing election but clearly this neither reflects honesty and integrity of the person nor is in the best interest of the nation for the long term development and growth.
If one feels that the rates of a particular commodity or service are high and unaffordable for masses, such politician or leader must endeavor sincerely to find where lies the inefficiency and indiscretion or even malpractice in the system and it should be checked and curtailed. For instance, if the existing large distribution losses in the power sector are reduced to an acceptable limit and energy efficient devices are promoted, these measures itself will considerably be effective to optimize electricity demand and reduction of rates. Clearly this will need sincere and concerted efforts with a defined trajectory with no shortcuts. Playing political cards with the available tools like subsidy or waiver of charges to a target group are clearly neither an answer nor solution in the best interest of the consumers and nation.
In a big nation with huge and rather unmanageable population with varied interests like ours, any political player, if resorts to such gimmicks, would for sure get instant and enough support with sufficient share of glory, if not for long. They find it easier to resort to make concessions and freebies to various target groups for immediate political gains rather than working on a long term sustainable development plan. Hence it is not surprising that people so easily join politics to become law makers and earning the name, fame and wealth in a short time rather than sincerely working at the grassroots level for implementation of laws.
It is often experienced when the precariously placed politician or legislative group on the floor of the assembly tries to avoid a show down with opponents in terms of division of votes for a cause (a bill or motion!) with a view to sail through and stay longer in power. But it is altogether a new experience to see a player leveraging on the support of the common man deliberately precipitating a situation in the assembly for a wilful division of votes knowing well the outcome of such eventuality. So you provoke your opponents to a point, achieve intended outcome, convert it to a martyrdom and jump to the band and wagon of national foray to achieve a larger ambition or goal.
Should we call it a politics based on principles with right ethics and values or a calculated move of opportunism and strategy with eyes cleverly set for a much larger political gain in the future ahead? Clearly new set of players with better education and mind power are joining the game of politics, the rules of the game are changing accordingly and only time will establish the efficacy and ingenuity of the players involved. It is also clear that even in the time to come focus will remain more on legislation rather than implementation.
In this connection, I recall an incident while visiting one of the beaches on the eastern coast some time back. I found a native was leaning down to pick up something and hurl it into the water time and again. I was a bit curious, so I inquired as to what he was doing. He told me that with the low tide, many small starfishes are washed out up on the shore. I am throwing them back into the sea otherwise they will die due to lack of oxygen. I said there are a large number of sea beaches on a vast coastline, so don’t you realize futility of your efforts because in short time you would perhaps save a few starfishes but what difference it makes to the thousands of such fishes. The native bent down to pick up another one and after restoring it to the water he smiled and said, “It made a difference to the one I just saved. Isn’t it?”
If I use the same tactics of simply finding faults with my opponents, through mudslinging and unsubstantiated accusations of corruption and dishonesty, taking populist measures of (mis!)using exchequer for concessions and freebies among already pampered lot without any clear long term vision or trajectory for reforms and good governance, what difference I am making and how I am different in comparison to my opponents who in my view have miserably failed in governance?
So to serve the nation, you don't have to be just a political leader and voracious critic, you need to prove your worth through systematic and sustained efforts with clear vision and mission for a good governance. Instead, if you contribute own (little) bit in the area of your work at the implementation level without worrying much for public attention, even this will go a long way in the nation building. If I cannot do any worthwhile and improve the organization or office or any other field of activity where I am serving, what service I shall do to the nation by quitting it to join politics.
But then a person, who has already tasted power and started enjoying fun out of it, will seldom ever understand or listen to such reasons. More I think more I am convinced that a handful of brooms, and few sticks as well, are required not for the legislation but for the implementation of laws for better governance in this country.