By Dr. R. Balasubramaniam
Living in Karnataka is like living in a world where each day reinforces one’s conviction in the existence of God. How else will one be able to explain the fact that the people are surviving and coping with what can be described as complete absence of State-driven governance in managing the several crises that the State and citizens are facing.
It is now more than a year since the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Indian National Congress (INC) came together to form the coalition Government in the State. Somewhere along the way, both the parties seem to have forgotten the very reason for which they formed the Government — that is to Govern the State. The situation is so bad that one senior politician confessed to me that the challenge is no longer about providing the citizens ‘Good Governance.’ It was reduced to just providing ‘Governance.’
Issuing statements and criticising each other seems to have become the pre-occupation of the leaders of both parties while time and attention to more critical matters related to Governance has become the casualty. The short-sighted and populist manner in which the problems of farmers were addressed was just the beginning. Spending close to Rs. 56,000 crores on a hurriedly pushed loan waiver is only a band-aid and is not expected to address the various systemic issues plaguing our agriculture sector.
While lip sympathy is given to farmers and expensive ‘drama’ enacted in support of their cause, no long-term policy solution is even being considered. The Chief Minister loses no opportunity to claim that he is a ‘son of the soil’ and understands the problems of farmers and rural areas very well. If that is true, one wonders why he needs to undertake expensive ‘Grama Vastavyas’ to get first-hand experience of it. Beyond the political rhetoric and wasting scarce public resources, this seems to be helping no one.
Rural development has been traditionally addressed in piecemeal and the approach has been very sectoral. With convergence being a distant reality, what the State needs is to think out-of-the-box and address the issue from a ‘spatial’ approach. It needs a long-term solution with assured investment on building the human and social capital of the people living in rural areas. The State needs a visionary to inspire and guide the policy-making process to shift a pre-dominantly urban-centric economy towards a balance ‘rurban’ economy.
While all this will need the time and mind space to govern, we seem to find the State suffering from a lack of leadership itself. One senior bureaucrat confessed to me that the State had one Chief Minister, two ex-Chief Ministers and four aspiring Chief Ministers acting like the head of the State and providing conflicting directions and orders to the administration. In this scenario, it is not surprising that governance has all but disappeared and we are bordering on administrative anarchy.
While successive droughts have hit the State and the people hard, governance will mean a good climate change mitigation strategy. Exclusive mechanisms to prepare the state of climate resilience, clear environmental policies, disaster management preparedness and integrated water management can only happen when the Government leads from the front and has clear policies and programmes that get implemented.
Compounding the crisis is the lack of energy security which affects virtually all sectors today. Electricity is required not just for everyday existence, but to sustain both the industrial and agriculture economies. Whether it is the growing trend of electric vehicles or the leisure industry, policies ensuring energy security to the citizens of the State seems to be restricted to managing power cuts and demanding coal supply from the Central Government.
Solutions to the crisis of public transport in major cities is another mis-governed area. Solutions seem to be restricted to building a steel flyover or merely talking about mono-rails and metros. Long- term considerations that disincentivise personal travel and promotes public travel, decongesting cities and creating micro-economic clusters in semi-urban areas needs urgent attention from the Government of the day.
Whether it is road safety or road quality, whether it is air quality and pollution, the issue of children and women’s safety, creating jobs for the youth, whether it is addressing the issue of Karnataka’s health indicators being one of the worst in the Southern States or the issue of poverty being at 21% while the inequities are growing; solutions to these problems will emerge only when the governance mechanisms are in place and working.
Investments in health and education sectors cannot be restricted to political sloganeering and will need long- term strategic visioning driven by sound and evidence-based policy. Human development does not happen in a vacuum or by accident — it is an intentional end result of good governance operating in a healthy and democratic ecosystem.
What we need is for the Chief Minister and his colleagues to stop identifying themselves by their party identities and start playing the roles for which they have been elected. They now need to get their hands and heads together in ensuring that the citizens are not on a perpetual hunt for the elusive governance that the Government is duty-bound to provide. They need to understand that ‘coalition politics’ is not merely about sharing power but is about collectively owning upto the governance process. And if they do not get their act together early, all that the citizens will be left with is to emulate the Chief Minister and begin visiting temples and praying for divine intervention to find the governance that can make their lives better.
[Dr. R. Balasubramaniam, a public policy advocate, is the Founder of Grassroots Research And Advocacy Movement (GRAAM), Mysuru and a Visiting Professor at Cornell University, USA]