My article on ‘NGOs & future of Civil Society’ in today’s Deccan Herald

July 30, 2016 Leave a comment

The growth of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) over the last four decades in many parts of the world is phenomenal.  India is known to be home to nearly 3 million NGOs working in different sectors like health, education, rural & tribal development, environment issues and social development amongst others.  They vary in size and sectoral focus and many small charities have now become large, going concerns and some of them rival government departments and private sectors in their scope and ambition.  Few people acknowledge the fact that NGOs are today one of India’s largest employers and have gone into areas where many would dread to enter.  Many of them have done extraordinary work amongst the marginalized and have created platforms for the voiceless across the country.  While the sector has its share of black sheep, one cannot be dismissive about the enormous contributions that a significant number of NGOs have done to the cause of social development in India.  While the Government is well within its rights to demand accountability and transparency from this sector, one should resist the temptation to try and paint all the NGOs with the same brush.  The debate around NGOs usually is one sided depending on which side of the story one likes to hear.  The Government response has been based on anecdotal incidents involving a few high profile NGOs and the changes that it is foisting on the entire sector is likely to have unprecedented consequences.  The debate now should be objective and one needs to address both the myths and the realities that are prevailing and likely to ensue because of the complexity of the eco-system that is getting fashioned by the Government.

The changing taxation laws, the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) act and the constantly changing rules, the Lok Pal act and the inclusion of all key NGO functionaries and Board members as Public servants are a but a few in this list.  On one hand the Govt talks about sustainable development and community participation but is insensitive to attempts by NGOs to become sustainable organizations by themselves.  Limits on the percentage of revenues to determine the ‘Charitable status’ makes the NGOs dependent on external sources of funds –whether it is from donors or Corporates or Government funding.  This frequently reduces many well intentioned NGOs to become contractors delivering welfare services wherever the public systems have failed or have never reached.  While the government wants to promote service agencies, it is now becoming wary of any NGO advocating change or empowering citizens in demanding change.  It does seem ironical that the government is streamlining laws and making it easy for FDI and invites global business leaders to set up operations in India but goes overboard in creating barriers for NGOs from receiving foreign funds or working with global partners. The Government should understand that the ease of doing business should also apply to the development sector and it must not intentionally create barriers that inhibit social action and change.

How poverty is viewed and how it can be tackled is one of the key areas of disagreement.  While the state takes the view of seeing poverty in terms of levels of income, assets, calorie intake, per capita gross national product or a combination of these; many NGOs see poverty additionally as the lack of opportunities, lack of access to Government services, geographical isolation, vulnerability, powerlessness and being ‘voice-poor’. The state response is usually driven by government programs and it finds physical weakness, isolation and income poverty more acceptable and less threatening aspects of deprivation to tackle.  The government tends to neglect discussions around vulnerability and powerlessness which NGOs tend to focus on.  This naturally creates tensions in the relationship and reactionary consequences ensue.  While NGOs may want to see themselves as supplementing Government efforts, the State may see them as threats trying to supplant Government itself.  NGOs also need to appreciate that they do not truly represent ‘civil society’ but only ‘civil interests’.

The changes in the external eco-system will necessarily drive even the best run NGOs to re-configure themselves in order to survive. NGOs will have to now learn new coping mechanisms while at the same time retain the flavour of voluntary action. They will have to learn to survive in hostile environments where politics and tradition compete for pride of place with bureaucracy and international donor agendas. They will have to fashion new strategies to deal with the risks in the environment, their own ambitions, and learn to operate with humility and transparency.  They need to hold themselves accountable not merely to their Boards and donor agencies but also to the Government and the communities that they work with.

The need of the hour is to begin the process of debate and dialogue not just around managing the relationship between the Government and NGOs, but also around the very understanding of poverty and how to manage it collectively.  Unless one appreciates the complexity and enormity of the problem on hand and the need for collective action, this growing tension may result in the disappearance of civil society organizations as we know it.  And the loser will neither be the Government nor NGOs but the people and the nation at large.

-Balu

NGOs & future of Civil Society – DH article 30 July 2016

 

 

Categories: Articles in Press, Musings

Two men…. two very different men

July 1, 2016 7 comments

The media for the last week is talking about two men, two very different men in India.  Both are in politics and seem to always be in the limelight.  One is Subramaniam Swamy and the other is our Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi.  While Swamy seems to thrive on creating issues and controversies, the Prime Minister has to communicate to the Nation and the world not only his Vision for the country’s future but also constantly negate some of the issues associated with the past.

I have had the privilege of having met and interacted with both of them and found them so very different.  I met Subramaniam Swamy when I was at Harvard.  Having heard about this maverick person from India, a few South Asian colleagues suggested that we invite him to lunch and have a chat on many of the issues that he was raising back home in India.

The lunch that we had on that day in August 2009 was indeed memorable. Swamy was a walking encyclopedia and seemed to know just about everything about Indian and South Asian politics and policies.  He could hold any conversation by himself and explain with facts and figures why he believed in what he believed.  He left us all impressed with his intellectual brilliance, his erudition, his impish smile and his ‘never care for anyone or their feelings’ attitude.  When I wanted to know where he found his courage to take on powerful people, his answer was straight and simple – “Having nothing to hide, gives me the courage and the power to expose others who have something to hide.”  Beneath his apparent arrogance, I could see that he did have a lot of valid substantiation to his arguments.  His conversations were built on the foundations of data and authenticity and one could not find any fault with the content of what he said.  What some people have a problem with are the manner in which he says it.  While he may not fit into the definition of a regular politician, I felt that in a country like India where our politicians and senior policy makers have a lot of skeletons in their cupboards,  we need some one like Swamy to show the common man the filth that lays beneath the actions of the sophisticated and powerful people  safely ensconced in their ivory towers.  I left that afternoon thinking that Swamy was truly a master craftsman at Politics. He seemed to know which side of the bread is buttered and intentionally picked his fights and adversaries.  For him, there seemed to be no distinction between politics, policy, publicity and people.  All of this gave him the adrenaline that he needed and he drew his affirmation from both the hatred that his adversaries gave him and the love that his fans showered on him.


I got a call from the Prime Minister’s Office in mid October 2014 informing me that the Prime Minister desired to meet and interact with me on my ‘Development Vision for India’ and what i thought should be the new ‘policy body’  (the present NITI Aayog).   I was both surprised and happy.  Having just two days to prepare left with me nervous and hesitant, but I decided that I would speak from my heart and not worry about anything else.  My appointment was for 20 minutes beginning that evening at 4.30 pm. I had reached Delhi in the afternoon and I got a call from the PMO asking if I could come at 4 p.m. itself.  Hurriedly, I reached the PMO and was made to wait in the outer waiting area outside the room where the PM met with visitors.  Sharp at 4 p.m, the Prime Minister walked in and greeted me warmly. I was stuck by the punctuality, the warmth, show of interest and the positive vibes that he generated.  His entire team of senior bureaucrats had already assembled and I was nervous at the full audience that I had.    As I hesitantly started my presentation, the PM stopped me.  He patiently mentioned that I had not introduced myself and took it on himself to introduce me and what I did to his senior officers.  I was stuck at the level of details that he seemed to know about me.  As I rushed thru my presentation keeping the limits of time in mind,  he politely asked me to go slow and mentioned that he was keen to listen and that he would make the time for me.  What was supposed to be 20 minutes turned out to be the best two hours I have spent explaining my views on what India’s development should be.  What left me floored was the level of detail that the PM wanted to dive into. He was full of questions and patiently listened as I explained my views.  He mentioned to me that he was a man in a hurry and that he had no time for academic theories and wanted to know from my grass root experience what would work and what would not.  His love for the country and for raising her to her rightful place in the comity of nations was very palpable.  Though he constantly encouraged his team to challenge and question my views, I found them to be mostly numbed into silence in his presence.  His sincerity to learn and understand, his commitment to resolve the challenges of poverty, his determination to make growth inclusive was very evident to me.  I was touched by his gentlemanly gesture of walking me out to the door and asking me to call on him whenever I visited Delhi.  I left that evening feeling hopeful and confident that the country had someone at the helm who could now steer her to great heights.

Looking back, reading and listening to the media description of both these persons, I feel that both seem to be more misunderstood than understood.  Both of them are so very different but also so very similar.  Both are difficult to comprehend, predict and understand.  But surely both seem to love what they do and one cannot fault their sincerity and commitment to the cause that they believe in – that of making India greater than what she is today.

-Balu

 

Categories: General

My article in today’s Deccan Herald on ‘Refashioning India’s Development Story’

April 4, 2016 5 comments

In the recent World Economic forum, the finance minister of India proudly proclaimed that India was one of the few countries whose GDP was growing and is the envy of other nations.  In his budget speech to the Parliament, he reiterated this fact while maintaining that our GDP would continue to grow in the forthcoming year.  Whether it is the finance minister or our Prime Minister, they do not spare any opportunity to remind the Nation of our economic growth.  While economic growth is a necessity and is welcome, will this alone be enough to shape the destiny of India and its future?  Will the narrative of ‘economic growth’ that our political system and government is fashioning be enough?

Announcements of schemes like ‘Make in India’, ‘Start-up India’, ‘Stand-up India’ and MUDRA will not mean much to the millions of toiling millions, especially in India’s rural areas if we do not see development from a perspective that is different from a blind pursuit of income growth alone.  Development is not just about building airports and highways; it is not even about more roads, hospitals and schools.  They are surely necessary and important, but should only be seen as the consequences of human development rather than the very purpose of it.   Development has also become a buzzword in the past few years and has been used and abused to shape the political and economic discourse of entire nations. It is projected as a broad purpose and justification of all activities, often without answering the questions of whose development and how. Development, in my view should be a ‘constant expansion of human capabilities’ and it can be most meaningful and lasting only when ‘Human’ and ‘Social Capital’ is created and expanded.

This raises the question on whether the many Government welfare and social interventions announced in the recent budget will really bring about any change in the lives of the poor?  Or will it go beyond the political rhetoric and change the face of India.  And what is this change that we desire?  As one thinks about it, one is left wondering if we can bring about change in our attitude, mindsets and physical environment without a change in the entire eco-system.  Will mere income growth and economic progress assure us of these changes?  Or do we need to usher in change at a much deeper human and social level before we begin to reap the ensuing economic consequences?

What kind of human capital are we talking about?  Is it merely the capacity of human beings to acquire enough cognitive information and skills to meaningfully participate and contribute to the ‘economy’?  Or is it something more than that.  What about all the other human capacities that allow him to function freely, responsibly and with dignity?  What about the qualities of compassion, humanism, spirit of enquiry, humor, mindful existence, positive thinking and the intent to be good and do good? Imagine a world that is led by humanity that is responsible in its consumption, respectful of all of nature’s creation, constantly striving for both internal and external peace, harmony and good will.  Such a world would be wonderful indeed, where sharing and caring would be second nature to human kind and the mad rush to acquire everything for just ourselves a thing of the past. Imagine such a world where these self-evolved humans are interconnected and live with the awareness of mutual trust, interdependence and reciprocity.  That is the ‘Social Capital’ that this world badly needs, if it needs to stop hurtling towards self-destruction.

India now needs a new narrative that talks about creating and expanding this human and social capital.  Sustainable development will then not be a mere slogan or a fashion statement that is talked about, but a practical and realistic attempt to build this new ‘India’.   In that new vision for India, development will also be seen as securities and liberties for communities and individuals.  This means that people will have the political space to voice their problems and choose the solution that bests represent them. Dominant players of development – whether they are the Government or Civil Society or the corporate world will then take the time to listen to people with respect and to provide them the platform to articulate their just and legitimate aspirations.  India needs to become a pioneer in translating this vision of development into concrete reality where the rule of law is the norm rather than the exception, where no Indian will go hungry, where human rights is not a mere slogan but a way of life, where democratic participation is not a fanciful aspiration but an everyday expression of citizenship, and where food, nutrition, livelihood, infrastructure, education, health care and religious freedoms are not mere political promises but entitlements of an empowered citizenry. Only when this happens can we call India a ‘Developed Nation’.

-Balu

DH article 4April2016

Categories: Articles in Press, Musings

Going beyond CSR…a different kind of experience for SVYM

March 22, 2016 2 comments

Collaborations are in the in thing nowadays.  Beyond the economics of it, collaborations between partners who bring in different skill sets and domain knowledge end up benefiting more people that just each other.  Though partnerships in the social space are usually seen only between Civil Society organizations (CSO) and the Government, we are now beginning to see Corporates willing to partner and work with CSOs too.  One would usually see such partnerships being driven by the CSR mandate but we at SVYM recently had a different kind of a mutually enriching partnership with a Global corporate player.  This partnership took sometime to plan and think thru and began when another non-profit, the VSO-India Trust (VSO) approached us nearly a year ago. VSO harnesses the energy of youth and corporate volunteers to enable change.  They foster development partnerships to create lasting change and promote inclusion and equality for all.  More information about VSO is at VSO India Trust.  They wanted to explore if SVYM would be willing to work with IBM (whom they were representing) and host 3 of their employees.  This was part of the IBM Corporate Service Corps that was launched by IBM in 2008 to help communities around the world solve critical problems while providing their employees unique leadership development opportunities. More info about this program is at IBM CSC

The idea was to see if we could use the skill sets and competences of these employees to help design solutions to some of the problems that SVYM was grappling with, but did not have the ‘talent’ bandwidth to solve.  Based on some of the earlier experiences that we had with corporate interns and volunteers, I was a bit skeptical and was more of a distant observer as Prasanna from SVYM worked with VSO and IBM to draft out a Scope of work. After meeting and interacting with the 3 IBMers – Amy, Walter and Rameswari, within a day or two of their coming to SVYM, I felt my skepticism being blown away.  They were indeed a different kind of a team that clearly meant business from the very first day of their coming.  Though each of them came from different countries and cultures, what was impressive was their professionalism, their commitment to our cause and their serious intent to help solve our IT problems.

SVYM is a very complex and diverse organization with high aspirations as far as its IT needs go and not so high levels of IT resources. Prasanna who is taking a break from the IT sector and has been volunteering with us for the last year and more, is trying to articulate, streamline and restructure our IT resources and capabilities.  After internal discussions and deliberations, we zeroed in on our immediate priority of developing an intranet that would help augment our IT capabilities of managing both our internal and external stakeholders efficiently and effectively.  Though writing the SOW was an easy first step, I wondered whether these three people with no or very little social sector experience, be able to understand SVYM and come out with something meaningful and productive.  What left me impressed was their ability to soak themselves into the SVYM environment completely, befriend every SVYMite that they met, gather in so much information; and finally put all of this together to come out with a product that we could immediately start using.
IBM ptn

The IBM trio of Walter, Amy and Rameswari at their final presentation at VLEAD

I would not be exaggerating if I were to say that what they accomplished was much more than what we had bargained for.  They not only kept taking in criticism and asking for user feedback, but were also scouting the external environment to explore what other solutions could exist for SVYM and how practical would it be to consider integrating them too.    All in all, this was not just a pleasant experience because the IBM team ended up delivering more that what they had committed or we had asked for. What they demonstrated was the fact that people with different backgrounds and cultures can actually team up and work on a project completely outside their domain expertise. They showed what professionalism truly means and lived the humility that such work demands.  They also showed us at SVYM what it is to set deadlines and meet them too.  They also showed us partnerships need not be driven merely by contracts or agreements, but can also have societal change as the common undercurrent force driving it. Amy, Walter and Rameswari came in as IBMers but they left us as friends and SVYMites on whom we could count on, in the future too.  From our end, Parvathi was the SPOC who despite the many demands on her, supported them with the information that they needed for undertaking this project.

And the best way to thank VSO and the IBM team would be to take this partnership forward in terms of putting what they have developed to its fullest use and building on it.  And learning and imbibing some of the qualities that they lived and demonstrated while they were here would be another way to remember them every day from now on.

IBM VSO SVYM team

The IBM, VSO team along with some of our SVYM team members at VLEAD, Mysuru

Thank you Amy, Walter and Rameswari and we are sure that you also carry fond memories of SVYM and our work. 

-Balu

Categories: Story of SVYM

My article on the Union Budget 2016 in today’s Deccan Herald

March 3, 2016 Comments off

The Union budget of India arouses not only interest but passionate debate across the country.  From Corporate czars to the experts on television shows to the man on the street, everyone likes to comment on the Union Budget.  Each one tends to see it from their own perspective and form opinions that are driven by both objective and subjective analysis. After a week of talk, most of the excitement dies down and very few even remember either the Union Budget or the long term consequences of the same.

While Analysts called the budget of the year 2015-16 as being pro-corporate & urban-centric, they are quick to rush in with the view that this year’s budget is pro-farmer and heavily skewed in favour of rural India.  There were also criticisms that last year’s budget did injustice to the much needed social sector programs and the poor of India.  We must understand that the budget document reflects the core fiscal policy of the government and should not change based on political compulsions alone. While the budget is indeed prepared on a year to year basis, a reasonable policy continuance is to be expected from the Government in power. From this perspective, this year’s budget has indeed moved away from being such a policy document reflecting the thinking of the ruling BJP party and seems to be influenced by their recent electoral defeats and the upcoming elections in 4-5 major states. While this may give them electoral dividends in the short term, they should not lose sight of the long term impacts that it will leave on the nation and its citizens.

The last year saw two major policy changes that emerged. One was the fiscal decentralization from the Center to the States and the second was the transfer of social sector responsibilities to the state governments. An analysis from this perspective would be critical to appreciate whether the enhanced allocations made to the social sector in this year would result in visible and sustainable change in the year to come. Many schemes were regrouped and slashed and only a few ‘core’ ones were financially supported by the Central Government. The rationale offered was that the states had access to enhanced allocations of 42% under the fiscal decentralization plan and that they had to prioritize relevant social sector programs locally. The reality of the situation is that the transfer of responsibilities to the state governments across a range of development sectors was not matched by adequate increases in their spending capacity.  Existing administrative and program implementation capacity has been permanently affected and any enhanced allocations cannot remedy the situation immediately.  Moreover, the basic issues of corruption, inadequate monitoring and lack of desired levels of accountability have not been addressed so far.  While welcoming the step towards fiscal federalism, we need to appreciate that social sector expenditures made by all states historically in the last fifteen years has not exceeded 40% of the total expenditure.  Therefore, in order to realize the Centre’s expectations that the states shoulder major responsibilities of provisioning for the social sectors, would only be possible under massive reprioritization of spending patterns in the states as well as flow of adequate resources to fund these expenditure priorities.

It is from this hindsight that the Finance Minister and the Government should view this year’s budget.  Social development is a long drawn process and is painstakingly slow.  It is also driven by stable policy support that the Government in power provides. This necessitates that programs and schemes be driven not by political exigency but by the ground realities that prevail.  An economy in transition with widening inequities needs a sensitive, understanding and stable government with clearly thought through long term policies.  The Government also needs to understand that the poor and the socially excluded no longer need elaborate and complex safety nets in terms of sops and subsidies.  They need a state that can ensure that their human and social capital is steadily and consistently expanded over periods of time long enough to get them to participate in wealth creation.  This is the only way to ensure economic dividends both for them and for the nation at large.  This translates as budget support to ongoing programs over long periods of time, enhanced monitoring of the implementation process, redefining performance standards for the executive, and engaging citizens in the process of their own development. It also calls for an innovative description of the concept of co-operative federalism where both the Centre and the States agree to a minimum acceptable level of social progress and to hold each other accountable in delivering on the same.

While the Prime Minster likened the budget presentation to his annual exam, one must realize that the results of this exam cannot be declared in a week or in a year, but only after many years of demonstrating disciplined excellence by his Government.

-Balu

DH budget article 03 03 16

 

Categories: Articles in Press, Musings

Shashi Chandra Mohanty – Standing up and Starting up…

February 28, 2016 4 comments

I met Shashi Chandra Mohanty, a young 20-year-old from Odisha a few days ago.  He was driving the taxi that I took from the Bangalore airport on my way back from Ahmedabad where I had been to deliver a few talks.  What attracted me to him was his pleasant disposition and the smile with which he greeted me.  On getting into the cab, he asked me if I was comfortable and what language would I needed to be spoken in.  Impressed, I politely sought to know how many languages could he speak in.  He said that he was good in Oriya, Bengali, Hindi, English and Kannada.  Being in Bangalore, he said he had also managed to learn to speak in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.   Getting into a conversation, I asked him how old he was and how could he manage to learn so many languages.  That is when he narrated his story.

He was from a village in Odisha and he had come to Bangalore 2 years ago.  His family had 5 acres of land that they were cultivating and he had studied upto the 12 standard when tragedy struck his family.  His father had a stroke and was paralyzed and bed ridden.  His life changed overnight and he felt overwhelmed by the fact that he was now the family’s primary provider.  He matter of factly narrated how coming from a Brahmin family gave him little options. He was brought up with the daily narrative of how education was the only asset that poor Brahmins’ could aspire for and he had stayed focused on studying to be an engineer.  But now he was left with no alternative to look for a livelihood that would not only get food on to their table but also help him repay the huge debt that his father’s illness had got them into.  He had to sell their land to pay for his father’s treatment and get his older sister married off. What struck me was Shashi neither felt any self-pity nor rancor towards anyone as he continued his narrative.  He casually said how one assumed that people who are considered higher up on the social ladder are expected to fend for themselves and that poverty would not be an issue for them.

He realized that he had literally no skills that would make him employable and the only thing that he was good at (his studies) was not of much help now.  It was then he decided to move to Bangalore and try his luck there.  His explanation was also simplistic.  This was considered a big city and would provide even someone like him with an opportunity to earn his livelihood.  Moreover, being out of sight meant that his mother would not know how long or how hard he would be working.  He joined an apartment as a night watchman and daytime saw him double up as an errand boy.  He gradually earned the goodwill of the residents and was soon earning a tidy amount with the tips that they gave him.  Staying in the apartment also gave him access to the many drivers and they taught him how to drive.  He not only learnt how to drive but also the many languages talking to the residents and their domestic helps and drivers.  Two years later, he felt that he was ready for the streets of Bangalore. Now he worked as a driver for one of the airport taxi companies and earned nearly Rs 30,000 to 35,000 each month.  He spends nearly 10 hours driving and at least 2 hours a day continuing with his studies on the distance mode.  After nearly Rs 15000 getting gobbled up living in a city like Bangalore, he was able to send his family around 15000-20000 each month.

After telling me his story, he was full of questions for me.  He wanted to know if becoming an engineer was worth the time, energy and money.  His logic was straight and simple. If studying was what would make him employable, it had to result in incomes better than what what he was making right now.  He wanted to know what kind of a course or program would enable him to stand up on his own and start something that would not only be financially rewarding but also be a testament to his hard work.  And in all this, not once did he bring up seeking help from any person, the government or any financial institutions.  As I sat grappling for an answer, I was left wondering if all the grandiose announcements of ‘Start-up India’, MUDRA and ‘Stand-up India’ meant anything for people like him who more than deserved it.  Or if all of us including the Govt had to ‘stand up’ admiring his grit and determination and look at what hard work and a never-say-die spirit could actually ‘start off’.

-Balu

Categories: General, Musings

Death of Democracy and development in Karnataka

February 22, 2016 1 comment

Democracy can be meaningful and productive for the people only when Institutions that are created by the legislative frameworks are allowed to operate and deliver on their mandate.  Democratic Institutions are necessary to maintain social order and human progress by creating or enforcing rules. Such Institutions are truly effective only when they are manned by people with both the moral authority and technical capacity to run them. These Institutions have a great role in a particularly ‘noisy’ and ‘unhealthy’ democracy like ours. They are critical in an eco-system like India’s where people are not generally known to follow rules. Most Democratic Institutions play a ‘regulatory-enforcing’ role and their efficacy depends on the extent to which citizens believe that a reward or penalty will be forthcoming if they take or refrain from taking a particular action.

The Institutions can deliver on their functions and role only when both the citizenry and the ‘rule-making’ legislators accord them the respect they deserve. The most evident expression of respecting an Institution is by following the rules that these Institutions are mandated to enforce.  Institutionalized rules and the beliefs they help form enable, guide and motivate most individuals to adopt the behavior associated with their social position.  The king’s strength comes not from his army but from the beliefs held by each member of the army that everyone else will obey the king’s orders and that the best response is also to obey.  Another critical element for the smooth functioning of democratic Institutions is the credibility and reputation of these Institutions themselves.  One of the signs of good governance in a state or country is measured by how effective and efficient are these democratic Institutions.  Going by this standard, the state of Karnataka has a sorry story to tell.  The last three years has seen a steady and systematic decline in the standards of the many democratic Institutions of Karnataka.  More critical is the scant respect that the political executive is showing these democratic institutions. Apart from not boding well for Democracy, it also has irreversible and long term consequences that Karnataka may not recover from at all.

Let us first take the example of managing the bureaucracy and posting of officials at all levels.  Politicizing personnel administration is the beginning of the degeneration of governance.  For Democracy to be effective, the executive should neither curry political favours nor the political establishment use postings and transfers as rewards shown to compliant officers.   Karnataka’s administrative fabric has further been corroded with postings to very senior positions across the state being made on caste grounds.  Today we see more than 400 key and senior positions filled with people of one particular caste group.  Apart from weakening the administrative machinery, it also upsets the fragile social fabric that is prevalent in the state.  Unfortunately, this will set in motion an irreversible process where future governments and politicians will make caste aligned postings a norm.  To make matters worse, we have legislators and ministers insisting in having senior officials transferred out on grounds as flimsy as not receiving their phone calls or for missing their names on the invitation of public functions.

Appointments to all the Commissions are no longer based on the ability or the competence of the person being appointed.  Proximity to the Chief Minister, political affiliation and caste compulsions seem to be the deciding factors.  The controversy that surrounded the appointment of members to the Karnataka Public Service Commission is well known.   The recent appointment of members to the Information Commission also reveals the mindset of the Government.  The Chief Minister’s Principal secretary has been rewarded with the post of the Chief Commissioner even before he officially retires.  Other members have been appointed to the important body based on their political affiliation and the loyalty shown to political masters when they served in the Government.   Reducing asymmetry of information is critical to ensuring social accountability of the government and one wonders how a politically aligned Information Commission will render justice to its role.

Recent imbroglio and corruption scandal that the Institution of the Lok Ayukta was subjected too has all but eliminated public trust and faith in its role in fighting corruption.  The allegation that the son of the then Lok Ayukta indulging in acts of corruption and the Lok Ayukta holding onto his post till he was nearly impeached has all but made this Institution a public joke.  To make matters worse, the Government has not made any credible attempts to appoint the head to this decaying body.  One also wonders if the appointment to this post will also be driven by political and other compulsions rather than seek out a credible person of stature who can restore some semblance of dignity and probity.

Though other commissions like the Child Rights Commission and Women’s commission have members appointed to them, one can see the role that political patronage and caste equations have played.  Institutions like the State Human Rights Commission serve the critical purpose in ensuring that the State does not over extend its reach and one worries on its losing its importance with lobbying happening to occupy the chair there too.

The Chief Minister and his council of ministers need to realize that Governance will not happen accidentally. One needs to be deliberate, strategic and intentional about providing good governance to the people of the state.  And Democratic Institutions serve the vital role of not only ensuring checks and balances within the system but also enabling a constructive relationship between the state and the citizenry.  Apart from weakening these Democratic Institutions, trivializing them will further erode public faith in them and their functioning.  And the loser will not just be the citizens but the entire state of Karnataka including the political establishment.

The Kannada version of this article appeared in page 7 of Prajavani on 22 02 2016 Democracy-Dev Prajavani 22 Feb

– Balu

Categories: Articles in Press, Musings