This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
Worldwide governance indicators:1996-2012
Feb 08 2015
A new report reveals there are over 120 social enterprises run by professionals to bridge gaps in governance today
Recent years have witnessed citizens taking great interest in issues of governance and politics, with the masses taking to the streets on multiple occasions to protest against the state’s failure to curb corruption, safeguard its women or protect the environment. India Inc which is usually silent too has been vocal, swinging from lambasting the policy paralysis to voicing optimism about the government. Stepping away from this ringside view, a number of professionals are taking a direct leap into the governance space.
While the likes of IITian Arvind Kejriwal stole the limelight with their political foray, these engineers, lawyers, doctors and MBAs have been giving up lucrative corporate jobs to partner with different arms of the government with a view to inject systemic efficiency.
Not following the traditional Indian Administrative Services (IAS) route, these mid-career professionals are opting to set up social enterprises, launch technology platforms and devise creative solutions to bridge governance gaps. While information about this sector has been scarce, a recent report, Good to Great — Taking the Governance Leap in India by philanthropy foundation Dasra has identified over 120 organizations working to address the government deficit by providing leadership training, project implementation support or research to identify the gaps.
Governance it seems is slowly evolving to accommodate newer skills and technologies. The trend also marks a transition in the social sector, with NGOs moving beyond supplementing government functions to systems transformation in partnership with the government. The rationale is that working alongside the government is crucial for wide-reaching impact.
This is what motivated professionals like Manu Srivastava, 41, to quit his job at tech firm Oracle to join eGovernments Foundation, a not-forprofit that provides technology solutions such as e-birth and death certificates, and complaint management systems to over 275 municipalities including Delhi, Chennai and Nagpur. Manu began by volunteering with a literacy initiative which convinced him that the NGO model had limited impact. While not belittling its efforts, the IIM-B alumnus realized that bringing small incre mental gains in government efficiency and effectiveness could have a much larger impact on society . He thus joined eGov in a role that allowed him to conceptualize and design technological products for local governments, from the ground up. “The systems developed by us have touched the lives of 1.25 crore citizens across India, saved more than 1,500 years of citizens' time, brought about 30-40% improvement in efficiency in government and improved city revenues,“ he says proudly .
For Delhi resident Manoj Kumar, 34, it was the India Against Corruption movement that proved a tipping point. He quit his eight year career in finance and trading in 2012 to join the Association for Democratic Reforms that champions electoral and political reforms.
Many of these professionals are applying their specialist skills to government functioning. An XLRI alumnus with over two decades of experience in management and organization development, Sonali Srivastava left behind successful stints in Asian Paints and Eicher Consulting, even spending two years in Barefoot College, Tilonia to better understand rural India. The Bangalore resident subsequently cofounded the Avantika Foundation with another cross-over management consultant Swaroop Iyengar who previously worked with Arthur D Little and Infosys. An AIM, Manila graduate, Iyengar believes that the skills he honed as a management consultant have enabled him to contribute to the governance space. Avantika Foundation recently partnered with the Karnataka government to strengthen the organization capacity of 30 gram panchayats across 450 villages.
A lawyer by training, Prianka Rao, 28, too believes her legal background helped her in reading and examining Bills thereby facilitating her work at PRS Legislative Research, an independent initiative that provides non-partisan research and analysis support to MPs and MLAs, and examines Parliament functions. “The more time I spend, the more I realize the critical role that PRS plays in addressing a glaring gap in the system. I had no idea how hard our MPs worked, and how little systemic support they have compared to their peers in the US and UK,“ admits Rao.
But the transition isn't always easy, especially given most professionals give up cushy salaries. Good intentions too are firewalled by bureaucratic hurdles. Procuring information from the government can also be tiresome, despite the Right to Information Act. Lack of skill upgradation results in huge capacity gaps in existing staff.
But these changemakers refuse to give up. Sonali points out that working with the government also busts several myths. “Contrary to the public perception that elected representatives don't work, we realized that panchayat members worked nearly 40-70 hours per month and often spent from their pockets for the village.“
Manu too points out that there are always green shoots. “If you work with the right official, decisions are made and implemented at a great pace,“ he says, adding, “what's not challenging is not fun”.
Transparency in government: 2015
Mar 27 2015
India 37th among 102 in govt transparency index
India ranks 37 out of 102 countries on the Open Government Index 2015, which ranks countries on how transparent their governments are and the ease with which citizens can hold their government accountable. The report, released on Thursday by Washingtonbased World Justice Project, is a perception survey on a random sample in three cities in each country , and has also interviewed experts in the field of transparency .
Those that topped the list were high income countries such as Sweden, New Zealand, Norway , Denmark and Netherlands. “Richer countries rank higher as they have more resources and more people connected to the internet. But on removing high-income countries from the list, the correlation between a country's per capita gross domestic product and its rank on the Open Government Index disappears,“ says Juan Carlos Botero, one of the authors of the report, told TOI.
This is evident when one compares India with China.While China is on the list of upper middle income countries and India is on the list of lower middle income countries, India outperforms China by 50 ranks when it comes to transparency in governance, with China ranking 87 on the list.
Incidentally , US ranked 11 on the index, despite it facing heat over spying on its citizens. “In other studies, such as the Rule of Law Index, the US does not fare well on privacy ,“ says Botero.
Of the four parameters used to rank countries, India ranked 27 for publicized laws and government data. But it ranked 66 on Right to Information index. In India, the survey was carried out in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, and only 1% of those studied had requested information under the Act. Botero points out that there is no correlation between a country having a RTI law and implementing it. “Countries, like Germany , do not have a freedom of information law, but score well on open governance. India, on the other hand, has a strong transparency law. It now needs to implement it,“ he adds. The study showed that worldwide 40% of those surveyed were aware of laws supporting their right to access government data.
10 smartest governance moves in Indian polity
India Today, December 19, 2008
Coalition unites against Mrs Gandhi: March 1977
“The people had said a resounding ‘no’to the tyranny and oppression which had marked 19 months ofcongress rule,”said India Today. The Janata Party-led coalition rode into power on a surge of anger.
Mrs Gandhi refuses bail: October 1977
Mrs Gandhi staged a political comeback when she refused to seek bail after being arrested on corruption charges by the CBI in October 3, 1977. India Today stated,“In the eyes of her nation’s illiterate millions, the Janata Party had become the Big Bad Wolf and Mrs Gandhi had acquired the status of the Joan of Arc.”
Congress chooses Rajiv Gandhi to replace Indira: December 1984
“They are quick to realise that their only banner is gone. This is the last chance to come back to power on the sympathy wave” (India Today, December 1984). Congress won 401 out of the 508 contested seats—the highest since Independence.
V.P. Singh props up Devi Lal, becomes PM: November 1990
“In upholding principles, I am not a disaster. In following that,one has to go down a dangerous path,” said V.P Singh to India Today in November 1990. He led the National Front to a euphoric victory in 1989 and proposed Devi Lal’s name as prime minister, who refused the nomination and insisted that Singh be the one.
Chandra Shekhar is PM with 56 MPs: December 1990
Twenty-eight years after he first walked into Parliament in 1962, Chandra Shekhar became the prime minister with only 56 mps. “In the process of forming his ministry, Chandra Shekhar demonstrated that he is still an adept player of the double con” (India Today, December 1990).
Advani’s rath yatra: December 1990
In March 1990, India Today did a story on L.K. Advani that called him a saffron seer. He undertook the phenomenal Rath Yatra in 1990 that was to change the course of the BJP and make it a strong contender for power. In May 1991, India Today noted, “By unprecedented cadre mobilisation, playing the Ayodhya card and enticing voters to gamble on an untried party, the BJP hopes to dramatically improve its Lok Sabha strength and in L. K. Advani, the party, for the first time, has a national level prime ministerial candidate.
Rao becomes PM: June 1991
“With no big leader heading the government, no one expects miracles,” noted India Today in July 1991. P.V. Narasimha Rao had nearly retired from active politics and it was Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination that brought him back. The opportunity to lead the country came as a surprise not only for him, but for the whole nation. “He checkmated his opponents, moulded the Congress into a different animal and emerged as its undisputed leader” (India Today, April 1992).
Rao chooses Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister: July 1991
P.V. Narasimha’s choice of Manmohan Singh as the finance minister was the biggest surprise of 1991. “Here is something Rajiv Gandhi forgot to do as prime minister. He talked about taking India into the 21st century, but forgot all about the present one... Rao and his finance minister got it just right” (India Today, August 1992).
Sonia rejects post of PM: May 2004
In one smart stroke,Sonia Gandhi managed to silence her opponents and strengthen her dynasty.“It was a no that shook India. Sonia’s decision not to be the prime minister was a strategic renunciation that blinds the Sangh Parivar’s attacks and enhances her stature as a leader”(India Today, May 2004).
Unlike Kashi Ram, Mayawati realised that embracing the upper castes was the only path towards power. “She has shown her political acumen as a master strategist, better than the combined powers of the BJP think-tank and the SP’s muscle power (India Today, May 2007).
The best governed states
2017: Public Affairs Index
Karnataka also scored poorly in fiscal management - 10th among large states and 16th overall .
While it scored well in 10 of the 11 parameters, it lost in delivery of justice
Karnataka slipped by one position from 2016 to fourth rank in Public Affairs Index-2017 released. This is the second edition of the annual ratings.
While it scored well in 10 of the 11 parameters, it lost in delivery of justice — 11th among big states and 18th overall.
Public Affairs Centre looked at pendency of cases in the high court and district courts, vacancy of presiding officers in district courts and tribunals and the number of undertrials. Among the big states, Kerala topped the list again, followed by Tamil Nadu. Gujarat moved two positions up to be the third state to have better governance.
Karnataka also scored poorly in fiscal management - 10th among large states and 16th overall - but moved two positions up since 2016 (18th in India).
The state's overall rankings were balanced out with its performance in taking care of the environment and initiatives to ensure transparency while points were scored from schemes for women and children. While it ranked second among large states on environment and transparency and accountability, it came third in women and child categories.
The report found there is still a long way to go so far as essential infrastructure such as roads and transport, power, water and housing are concerned.
Kerala emerged the foremost of larger states for the second consecutive year. Bihar was ranked the last of the list. The study categorized states based on population: 18 large states having more than 2 crore people and 12 small states with less than 2 crore people.
Of the 12 smaller states, Himachal Pradesh ranked first, followed by Goa, Mizoram and Sikkim respectively. Delhi was ranked ninth in the small states category but overall Delhi ranked 22nd, a major dip from 9th position in 2016.
Inequality was added as a new parameter this year, which looked at economic, social and gender factors. Karnataka ranked seventh among larger states in this category, while Kerala and Sikkim were ranked best among large and small states respectively.
C K Mathew, former bureaucrat and senior fellow at PAC said: "Governments have the largest set of data but have not been able to analyse it to improve governance. Governments that have invested more in social sectors like education and health have reaped larger dividends in the long term and are showing better signs of governance now.”
2018: Public Affairs Index
Kerala stands the best governed state in the country and Karnataka is on the fourth position, according to the Public Affairs Index 2018, released by the think tank Public Affairs Centre (PAC).
"Kerala has topped the Public Affairs Index (PAI) for 2018 as the best governed state for the third consecutive year since 2016 among large states," said Bengaluru-based PAC at an event in the city on Saturday evening to release its third annual PAI.
Released annually since 2016, the index examines governance performance in the states through a data-based framework, ranking them on social and economic development they are able to provide.
Founded in 1994 by renowned Indian economist and scholar Late Samuel Paul, the think tank works to mobilise a demand for better governance in the country.
Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka and Gujarat followed Kerala among the top five states delivering good governance, according to the report.
Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar ranked the lowest on the PAI, indicating higher social and economic inequalities in the states.
Among smaller states (with population less than two crore), Himachal Pradesh topped the list, followed by Goa, Mizoram, Sikkim and Tripura, which figured among the top five states with good governance.
Nagaland, Manipur and Meghalaya were ranked at the bottom of the index among small states.
As a young country with growing population, India needs to assess and address its developmental challenges, said the chairman of PAC, K Kasturirangan, on the occasion.
"The PAI 2018 is one example of a data-based framework that provides some basis, even if rudimentary, to assess the performance of states in India," added Kasturirangan, the former chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
The think tank has undertaken the study across all the Indian states considering them across ten themes, such as, essential infrastructure, support to human development, social protection, women and children as well as law and order.
"The index provides a multi-dimensional and comprehensive matrix that attempts to capture the complexities of governing the plural and diverse people of this sub-continent," added senior fellow at PAC, CK Mathew.
The states were divided into two categories - large and small - on the basis of their population. States with more than two crore population were considered large.
A total of 30 focus subjects and 100 indicators were measured to derive the PAI, relying solely upon government data.
The PAC said it was not keen to access private data sources that may be interpreted as 'biased'.
This year's PAI also included a separate index on the children of India, giving a measure of how child-friendly each of the states are.
Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Mizoram topped the index on being the states to provide better living conditions for all children.
The former chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Shantha Sinha, who was present on the occasion, delivered the Samuel Paul Memorial Lecture, drawing attention to children's rights in the country.
"Children growing up in poverty cannot be blamed for their situation and it is the state's responsibility to ensure that they are provided with opportunities for a better living," Sinha said.
Majority vis-à-vis coalition governments
Narayanan, 2019: Coalitions perform better
Do majority governments really provide better governance than coalition governments? The record shows otherwise
In a campaign in Kanyakumari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in March the choice for the people was between stability and instability – supposedly represented by BJP and the opposition respectively – and called the opposition coalition a “mahamilavat” or a motley of parties. Is a stable government really better than coalitions in providing good governance to India on various fronts? Let’s compare the performances of governments between 1984 and 2019 with only 1984-89 and 2014-19 being majority governments, under PMs Rajiv Gandhi and Narendra Modi respectively.
One of the biggest fallouts of a majority government is its over dependence on one leader, with decisions often centralised, instead of being made through consensus. Conventional wisdom tells us many minds are better than one, especially where large and complex decisions are concerned. But the tendency to listen to good counsel is often lost upon leaders with strong majorities.
The ill-advised decision to reverse the Shah Bano judgment by the Rajiv Gandhi government and Modi’s disastrous demonetisation decision are flagbearers of this argument. The brazen replacement of the Planning Commission with the Niti Aayog and Modi’s disbandment of the Economic Advisory Council (only to be hastily reconstituted after GST became problematic) are some indicators of the centralising tendencies. Brute majority governments across the world have also led to demagogue worship, be it with Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey or Modi in India. This has often led to rhetoric replacing real discourse.
Having the numbers in Parliament could lead to unnecessary muscular posturing, which seems to be the case in India. Kashmir has lost peace, leading to many ordinary youths taking up militancy. 2018 had seen the highest casualties in Kashmir in a decade, with 586 people being killed, nearly half of them civilians and army personnel. The same majority government has alienated the neighbourhood with its brute policies – the infamous blockade of Nepal by India in 2015, perceived as a “big brother” attitude pushed the Himalayan country closer into China’s embrace. India has also been soft on China with the latter rapidly expanding its presence in South Asia with investments in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota, the Maldives and the contentious China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
We saw similar hasty foreign policy decisions when Rajiv Gandhi tried to continue former PM Indira Gandhi’s outreach to Sri Lankan Tamils that eventually led to his assassination. However, in a coalition government under NDA-1 and UPA-1 and 2, India became a nuclear power and still managed to get an NSG waiver from the US. Essentially, substance beats chest-thumping and rhetoric – two themes that run common when our foreign policy is personality-driven.
It’s commonly understood that stability and policy predictability are necessary for sustained economic growth. But a closer look reveals that India’s growth rate has been higher in periods of coalition governments. India grew at an average of 7.75% in UPA in 10 years (despite the 2008 recession that sharply affected growth and the 2013 US taper) over the 7.35% growth in the Modi government (pre-revised data). Independent India saw its highest ever economic growth under UPA governments headed by Manmohan Singh, when more than 140 million people were pulled out of poverty. NDA-1 under Atal Bihari Vajpayee saw the rapid expansion of national highways and roads. Liberalisation was carried out by a minority government under PV Narasimha Rao. The “dream budget” in 1997 – that rationalised a range of taxes and widened the tax base in 1997 – was brought under “weak PM” HD Deve Gowda, whose government lasted for less than two years.
Independent institutions keep in check authoritarian tendencies of governments. These institutions have historically been stronger when coalition governments were in power. The CAG – which investigated several scams in UPA-2 – could truly be called independent. But a majority government under Modi only led to trampling of institutions. For the first time in independent India’s history, four judges of the Supreme Court collegium addressed the media because they believed that the roster allocation of cases to judges was being done arbitrarily to assist the government.
Panchayati raj institutions have been considerably weakened with several states delaying the elections violating constitution with impunity. We have seen the infighting in CBI due to the government hand in appointments, RBI’s independence has come into question.
The narrative that majority and stability leads to good governance is more myth than reality. Coalitions force consensus building, thus embodying the true spirit of democracy.