Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The future of governance is here.

---- Originally sent to be posted on CRI  -----

In “the discourses”, Machiavelli had written a passage on the religion of the Romans. He compared two great Roman rulers: Romulus, who was one of its founders and a later day ruler Numa. And then he says that if one were to question who of these were a greater ruler, then he would pick Numa because he was responsible for introducing religion into Rome. Through the introduction of religion, Numa could introduce unconventional laws into Rome which would otherwise have been difficult to convince. Many of these laws would go on to make Rome a great state. But the most important advantage of the Roman religion that Machiavelli suggested was that it inspired a sense of self-governance among the people. And because of this self-governance introduced by religion, the state continues to function inspite of its good rulers passing away.

Self-governance is also a goal held in high esteem in Hindu history. Every living entity in Hindu culture is meant to have a svabhaav (self-character), and a svadharma (self-duty), the latter also including the concept of self-governance. If Narendra Modi is to be judged by any, his performance in engendering this feeling by the people should not be ignored, and that is turning into a focus for most of his next generation reforms. To be taken seriously by the people on this idea, he first needed to prove himself as their benefactor, and this was performed and is continuing to be performed by speedy execution of big ticket projects under Modi. Other factors needed are good quality education, self-initiatives from the people and decentralization of governance, and this is where Modi’s reforms are heading. I would make a quick review of some of these items below which are hoped to change the face of governance in Gujarat in the near future.

In the iCreate scheme for instance, a college like campus is shaping up at Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar. It is meant to support individuals with high entrepreneurial potential towards executing entrepreneurial ideas. The scheme covers wide varying fields such as information technology, electronics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, non-conventional green energy, bio-medical equipment & devices and agro and food processing. If this scheme goes operational, Gujarat would hatch start-ups in all these areas. An obvious spin-off of this scheme that I see would be that the experts hired at iCreate can also be used to impart research ideas at Gujarat’s universities and perform scientific research in the above mentioned fields. But the takeaway message from this scheme that we should remember is that it is meant to engender self-initiative in fields India is lagging far behind than other developed nations.

“Sakhi Mandals” are another such scheme endorsing self-initiative. Each Sakhi Mandal is a group of 15 – 50 women, which are tasked to save up money from their monthly budgets and build up reserves. Amounts from these are loaned to people in need at low interests. The government too steps to pitch in with its contributions to these reserves if they are managed well for a period of 6 months. Usually, these amounts are made use of to run small businesses. The net worth of these businesses has now reached 5000 crores which started from just scratch. I take the success of this scheme as a state endorsement of self-employment and a growing public awareness of the benefits of fiscal responsibility.

Another case where people power has been deployed and which has reaped results is the check dam building initiative. With rural initiative and government funding, 650 thousand checkdams have been built in the past 7 years along with several other smaller improvisations the purpose of which is to obstruct water flow and allow greater ground water percolation. This initiative has allowed Gujarat to be the only state in India where ground water levels have started rising. Modi has taken a similar model for girl child education such as the Kanya Kelavani program. Along with other state employees, he himself goes to select houses in villages and convinces parents to send their girls to schools, which has ensured that school drop-out rates for girls is reduced significantly (to < 10%) from std. 1 to 7. And while the centre’s idea for allowing access to college education to tribals would have been more quotas, Modi’s move was to increase the number of science stream schools as well as engineering and medical colleges in the tribal regions. As a result, the number of seats for engineering colleges has jumped from 13,000 from the time he came to power to 90,000 at the moment.

Modi has deployed a similar scheme based on self-governance for improving the sex ratio in Gujarat, which currently stands at a lowly 1000:900. He goes to communities which has the severest of problems (such as the Kadva Patidar community) and has been convincing people to stop the practice of sex selective abortion. For malnutrition too, a similar solution has been deployed, the CM has taken up a task in his trips across the state to convince people to make arrangements for donating some milk from their daily use for the poor and to the pregnant (for the latter so as to avoid miscarriages out of malnutrition). In comparison to this, our PM merely expressed regret that malnutrition is a problem the nation has to deal with and followed it up with nothing. But with the socialist underpinnings at the centre, we can be assured that any solution would border on the ‘right to food’ bill. Now a question arises, can people by themselves be disciplined enough to work in their interest? At first pass, such emphasis on self-governance might be thought of as not workable. But if led by a proper role model who has proven himself to be a benefactor of the people and if the people have been convinced by that role model that they can achieve something by themselves too, then it could work wonders.

Another initiative that goes towards aiding this principle of self-governance is decentralization of administration, and that is happening currently under ‘Apno Taluko Vibrant Taluko’ (ATVT) scheme. Under this scheme, the talukas are themselves responsible for generating their own financial resources, manage spending, coordinate and implement various government programmes and prospects. This decentralization should also allow for elimination of red tape and harassment by middlemen.

One prominent challenge that stares Gujarat in the eye is to keep up with the current pace of development forever. It is likely that successors to Modi won’t be as able an administrator as him. We only hope that enough people have been inspired by his vision of development to carry on the pace without him and are able to spot such benevolent administrators in the future. To some extent, it is true that his vision of development has started inspiring the destitute, with recent reports coming that migrant workers from UP in Gujarat have gone home this time to vote in UP elections on the agenda of development. The success of Gujarat in packaging development to people’s doorstep should similarly continue to inspire development as an agenda in elections elsewhere. Our country is at a crossroads one again with another BOP crisis around the corner. At the same time, a new model of governance which is based on projecting development as a mass movement which needs the ‘sadbhavna’ (goodwill) of all the elements of society is emerging and we would be foolish not to accept this easily available self-organizing principle to amend the ways of functioning of our democracy. The future of governance has arrived and you the reader need to be a part of it. What are you waiting for?