My op-ed in Mint: Indifferent India

“Failure of governance is as much a failure of the government as it is of the governed to be engaged”

In today’s Mint V Anantha Nageswaran and I renew our call for citizens to set aside civic apathy.

That leaves the middle class as the key catalyst for change. But it is focused on inflation in goods and services, in property prices and in the stock market. It needs to display sufficient grasp of the common thread between price rise, budget deficit and security threat. All three are marked by a failure of governance. Failure of governance is as much a failure of the government as it is a failure of the governed to be engaged.

Sadanand Dhume wrote in a Wall Street Journal article carried by this newspaper on 29 January that, over time, Indians would start demanding the same intellectual sophistication from their intellectuals that they do from their mobile phone service providers. Whether or not they demand that of the intellectuals, Indians need to demand integrity in governance and sophistication in public policy. After 26/11, there was a flurry of initiatives for active citizen engagement in governance. They died down as the stock market and property prices recovered in 2009.

Although United Progressive Alliance II is yet to get into a governance overdrive, it has opened up some avenues for us to demand better governance. They remain under-appreciated and under-utilized. [Mint]

10 thoughts on “My op-ed in Mint: Indifferent India”

  1. Good Governance! i’m sure you must be kidding, at the most we can just ask for the right to die a natural death.

  2. Indian Middle Class is only concerned with their jobs, family matters, cricket and bollywood. Dont expect anything else from them. Security to them is threatened when a fringe outfit like Shiv Sena had demanded to ban a movie of their most favourite bollywood star. It does not matter to them if a few obscure soldiers die somewhere in some obscure border of Kashmir. So security be damned. Governance is not their concern, they have cricket and bollywood to discuss. The release of a film is a matter of gravest national importance and seeing this movie is their idea of freedom. This country will not be doomed by terrorists from across the border or corruption or poor governance, it will be doomed because of this so-called educated middle classes and their obsession with cricket and bollywood.

  3. Solution lies in propping up more funds, authority and responsibility for local governments. Too much power is vested in Central and State governments. Once local govts get more teeth, oversight from central and state leadership and citizenry can keep a check on misuse and governance. Loksatta tried to instill this concept in Municipal elections in Hyderabad but people either did not get the message or did not believe in it as a solution to their problems.

  4. Do most of the Indian citizens even know how a democracy is supposed to work and know their rights and responsibilities? I don’t think so. They know they can vote a govt. out, and pretty much that is all they think they can achieve by voting. Civics lessons in schools are terrible and dry and completely fail to provide a high-level view of how the balance of power exists between the executive, legislature, and judiciary, and how that is central to making democracy work? Definitely not.

    We have politicians, MPs and MLAs behaving like third-rate criminals beyond accountability. The PM tries to make sure that the Ministers in his cabinet are graded and these worthless “Ministers” are afraid to get a failing grade instead
    of taking it up as a challenge — will, such self-serving losers who are Indian Ministers, MPs and MLAs find it in their best interest to educate the public? Why would they? So it is upto the rest of us outside the political system that can make the change to get such criminals and scumbags out of politics.


    “The Performance Management Division claims the state-of-the-art RFD has been readied after comprehensive review of the best international practices. The division, headed by a secretary-level senior bureaucrat, will also conduct briefing sessions and training programmes for ministry officers.”


    “Ministers upset with the grading system point out that certain objectives like spreading literacy, poverty elimination or food production cannot be achieved easily. The exercise might turn out be shameful for non-performing ministers, as the objectives and results will be put up on the internet.”

    These losers who want to be ministers but do not want to be evaluated on their job performance need to be thrown out, as they are clearly more intent on serving their own interests instead of the public interest.

  5. Everyone in the private sector gets evaluated on the job and get canned if they do not perform, and this applies all the way upto the CEO.

    What makes these “Ministers” and assorted political losers in India exempt from such basic rules on job performance?

  6. “and how that is central to making democracy work? Definitely not.”

    Correction: that should be “Do they teach children how balance of power is central to making democracy work? Definitely not.”

  7. Though it’s a generalization but may be the average person doesn’t understand the nuances of how democracy ought to function and what exactly ails our flawed one, but a sizeable segment of the population does. The problem is that most have found their own comfort zones and doesn’t want the status quo to change, no matter what, not politicians, not bureaucrats, not media, not judiciary not even the educated class, so any attempt at genuine political reforms is just sneered at, like the opposition faced from election commission downwards to the debating class by the compulsory voting law proposed by Gujarat state govt.

  8. With all due respect, there has been too much time and effort spent on identifying India’s problems, while coming up with solutions has been somewhat ignored.
    I’ve been born and raised in Canada, and whenever I come back to visit India, I hear a number of my relatives raise the same issues you raise, in some form or another. Many of India’s problems, imho, are obvious and inflict every nation. The major difference is scale.
    I personally think that too many Indians don’t know how a “functional” government (country?) is supposed behave, having never encountered one. They don’t know that buses are supposed to run on time, and cities are supposed to be clean, and that people shouldn’t be poor in such large numbers.
    In fact, we can extend this to Western countries as well. The standard of living seems to have stalled, and people really don’t demand better performance from their governments ( things are still far from perfect ). Its just that Western governments have met the performance expected from their population. Very few seriously believe a democracy is even capable of better performance!

    So how do we convince a billion people that their elected officials should be held to a higher standard? How can we do this without the help of a functional education system ( since there isn’t one ) or an acceptably literate population, and the presence of a government that WILL protect itself when the status-quo is threatened. Sounds epic…
    This may sound incredibly naive, but I wish there were a way to fund ‘like minded’ local politicians, so that they can not only spread the word, but also force competition to change their tune. It doesn’t have to be all over India at the same time, just in small districts here and there to begin with.

    Btw – I doubt the Western middle class is on average better informed or less apathetic than the average middle class Indian. Half the population here in Canada doesn’t even vote, and the rest are almost entirely clueless. It can be shocking at times.

  9. I have no doubt that things are bad and what passes for governance would be comparable to be the pre-nursery stage. Yet, I sometimes glimpse a hope that people are starting to get demanding and telling the government that they better do what they are supposed to.

    The few slivers of optimism that arise came about recently when the all powerful Shiv Sena was silenced and the weak kneed Cong – NCP government actually came out and acted firm and showed some spine. It was due to to many factors but one was certainly the fact that people were becoming more mindful of what to expect. Similarly the tight rope walk that Sharad Pawar is going through because of the price rise is another case in point. The more people raise their voice, the more inane comments come out of his party in defense and they get plastered all over again. Has anyone seen Sharad Pawar as docile and defensive before? The action against Muthalik, even though one may debate the ethics behind blackening his face in public, is another case in point.

    People are slowly waking up, with help from the the media, specially electronic, is making people find their voice, albeit very gradually.

  10. We had a heated debate a few months ago on the Swiss ban on minarets on this forum.The Swiss have a direct democracy system – each citizen votes directly to influence government. How’s this for a radical idea for India- a direct democracy system for local municipality elections. We take a few “test markets” and get people to vote directly from their homes for issues that concern them, most intimately and at a day to day level. For a farmer in Bihar, it may relate to water supply. For a middle class Indian living in the suburbs of Mumbai, it may relate to the garbage pickup and state of the roads. Either way, it takes makes who the candidate secondary to the issue at hand, and puts the focus on delivery. This could be the best way to get around the seemingly endless layers of corrupt middlemen and politicians.

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