India’s crisis of governance

The fault may not lie with the bureaucracy

JK and Daniel Drezner point to Gurcharan Das’ article in the Financial Times about India’s crisis of governance. Das contends that India’s poor infrastructure and ineffective public services are due to a failure of governance, and attributes this to the throttling influence of a pervasive bureaucracy.

But that analysis is incomplete. The failure of governance is more due to a systemic failure of leadership at the political level. Bureaucrats are merely members of the executive whose behaviour is driven by the wishes of their political masters. Over the years, the political masters have done nothing to change the goals and rewards of the bureaucracy or even modernise it. The institution of a permanent bureaucracy itself is neutral – whether it is an effective vehicle to deliver government services or becomes an albatross around the country’s neck is a function of how elected governments use it.

The Indian system allows a healthy tension to exists between a permanent bureaucracy and its changing political bosses. The crisis of governance occured when the changing political bosses had unchanging personal agenda – personal enrichment and self-perpetuation – for which end the bureaucracy was but one of the means. In the 1990s, Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram showed how well the bureaucracy can be put to use when they launched the now famous economic reforms. That endeavour would have floundered if they had either lacked the will or able executors like N K Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

2 thoughts on “India’s crisis of governance”

  1. Just heard the news that the Chinese government has allowed foreign publishers to enter the wholesale publishing of books and newspapers. This sort of decision would have taken years in India.

    India can benefit a lot with the entry of foreign media. Our government and the opposition spends more time in wasting parliament sessions than any meaningfull debate. Our bureaucrats take more time in executing the policies of the government.

    I hold selfserving PMs and CMs responsible for this. The likes of Indira Gandhi are the greatest misfortunes India has had.

  2. Can’t agree more with Arun. Fact is, if not for the intellectually competent bureucracy – at least they can read and write! – the lazy, semi-literate political class in the casteist parties of the cow-belt would’ve have unwittingly run entire states into the ground.
    The ICS is amongst the tougher exams to carck in the country and its ghenerally agreed that people who make it through there to the IAS are good, intelligent and middle-class values driven. The political culture corrupts them later on i their service but at least when they start out, they are clean and competent.

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