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"Crisis of Governance"

R.N. Malhotra Memorial Lecture by Hon'ble Shri I.K. Gujral, Former Prime Minister of India, 16th February 2000, IIC, New Delhi

Shri Jagmohan
Smt.Anna Malhotra
Dr.K.N. Malik

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am thankful to the R.N. Malhotra Foundation for providing me this opportunity to recall my fond memories of a friend and offer homage to an outstanding son of India who valiantly served it in various capacities. Many of you would have been associated with late R.N. Malhotra as a colleague and a warm-hearted friend who was a thinker of high order and an efficient administrator. As a merited economist, a banker of the Nation, a financial expert and a model bureaucrat, he has left deep imprints on the Indian administration.

His path and mine intersected several times. I warmly recall our stay together in Taipei as members of a non-official delegation that initiated Indo-Taiwan commercial relationships. A respected financial expert of that country heading the National Bank, recalled how R.N. would outshine in every meeting of the world's bankers. The tribute was candid.

During the stay, I discovered a literary dimension of Malhotra's personality. His knowledge of Persian and Urdu poetry was amazing. While reciting Hafiz and Iqbal, he would scholarly elucidate metaphors and similes of their popular couplets.

Late R.N. Malhotra - blessed be his memory, had devoted a major part of his life audaciously serving the Nation in various capacities. This lecture in his memory may serve some purpose if it provokes thinking of the challenges and perceptions of governance that confront the Nation.

Mr.Chairman,

May I say that of all the great revolutions and earth-shaking events witnessed by the last century, the most significant from our point, and from the point of view of the vast majority of humankind, was the decolonisation revolution. After long spell of a fateful history, this sub-continent, though partitioned, got back its identity and sovereignty. Our freedom struggle was unique in many ways. While struggling non-violently, the Gandhian leadership had spelt the paradigms of a Sovereign Democratic Republic that was to "secure to all its citizens justice, liberty, equality, fraternity to ensure dignity of the individual and unity of the Nation".

At end of more than half a century of the Republic, it is time for us to take stock how far we have succeeded or fallen short of the expectations of our people. Most of us in this room belong to the first or second generation of post-colonial ruling elites that had led the peoples' struggles for freedom or represented their aspirations. We made golden promises when our people entrusted us to govern the Republic. While judging the performance we may ask if our record of peoples' welfare and upliftment satisfies them? Do they - the public, feel happy about the record of Human Rights, of frontal attack on poverty and backwardness and the style of administration? We cannot evade their inquiries pertaining to illiteracy, malnutrition, child mortality, homelessness, and unemployment. Is it because mostly we continued with the colonial system of government? Is it because there has been more continuity than change in our mode of governance? The form of government, the jurisprudence, the power structure, the police system continue to assign passive role to the civil society. We retained almost the entire Government of India Act of 1935 in the Constitution for governance at the state levels. Only recently the Parliament passed an Act creating a vast network of elected panchayats and district councils below the state level whereby some three and a half million elected representatives of people were to run these grass-root democratic institutions, and among them, I say with pride, about forty per cent are women. How much of power and money been devolved to them? What are their inbuilt handicaps and how have they performed?

We do notice that with the passage of time, the people are protesting sometimes violently and more often by keeping away from electoral processes. It may be worth asking as to why the incumbency factor has acquires importance during the elections. Why is the electorate expressing anger by voting out the incumbent governments whom they had favoured earlier. Is it not the time that the polity moves from governing to governance that assigns primacy to peoples' participation. To a system that enables the people to govern themselves.

As Prime Minister, I realised that in the prevailing milieu how difficult it was to offer good governance and engineer relevant people-oriented social change in the absence of an active participation by the civil society.

Mr.Chairman,

As you know, there are some basic requirements for the creation of the civil society. The first requirement is to build a legal foundation of the State from the top to the bottom and to ensure that the laws of the land are universally and impartially enforced. Secondly, an independent, efficient, judiciary that speedily hands out justice is indispensable for a civil society. Thirdly, as I have indicated, government has to be vastly decentralised, with the people given opportunities to govern themselves and take charge of their own affairs. Fourthly, the concept that government is the giver of everything and the sole provider, is inimical to the building of such a society. The citizen must be empowered and enabled to appreciate that in many ways he or she is his or her own master and responsible for sustenance of a peaceful social order based on cooperative co-existence of different interests in society. There is an urgent need for improvements in health, hygiene and greening of urban sprawls. An enlightened civil society alone can assist in ensuring that every child goes to school, that teachers actually teach and doctors attend regularly on patients at rural health centres. The much needed sense of respect and equality for women in our traditional societies and a climate of tolerance in our lives also requires the public help. Governments alone cannot and need not run human societies nor build nations without a great deal of active and conscious help from the citizens.

Mr.Chairman,

May I recall the far-reaching 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Constitution have laid down rules and dictums to set up the needed third tier of Administration. The results are varied. In some states, the performance is dismal while in some areas the Panchayat administrations have performed remarkably well. In the state like Bihar, even first elections to Panchayats have not been held despite all cajolings and inducements by the Centre. In the tribal belt of Madhya Pradesh, public involvement has performed impressively.

An N.R.I. foundation supporting the installations of solar energy in the tribal belt of Bastar was impressed by young women and men leading Panchyati electoral campaign promising eradication of illiteracy and a woman Sarpanch upbraiding an electrician for failure of a street light. They narrated to me the scene of a solemn swearing-in of the elected Panches who had pledged to eradicate illiteracy in five years, provide potable drinking water, vaccinate every child and ensure that all residents of village are treated alike and that they would not permit discrimination against women, castes or creeds and that they would ensure that child marriages are banned.

Recently, elections in some states established that the incumbency factor was not all pervasive. The Chief Ministers whose policies had made the Panchayats partners in the administration and had remitted authority and resources to the grass-root levels got the public support. Some enlightened Chief Ministers are effectively using informatics technology to network the panchayats that may prove helpful in reaching out to the vast backward areas.

There is a reverse side of the picture too. As Prime Minister, I had convened a meeting of the Chief Ministers to persuade them to hand-over managements, appointments and transfers of the primary school teachers to the Panchayats and local bodies. The resistance was formidable that emanated from their misplaced sense of authority and power it overlooked the prevailing truancy of the teachers and doctors. They perceived passing over of the authority would create rival centres of power.

Mr.Chairman,

In the prevailing system of governance, the civil services occupy pivotal position. By and large they are non-partisan administrators and neutral supervisors of the polling booths. Infrequent complaints are exceptions and not the rule. Some self-centered parties and politicians try to compromise this valuable legacy.

It is dangerous to politicise bureaucrats directly or through proxy organisations in the name of cultures or religious beliefs. Apart from damaging the secular institutions, a committed bureaucrat of whatever hue, will forfeit public faith in his impartiality in administration and in conduct of the polls. In the end, it will irretrievably harm pluralistic democracy that can be sustained on the foundations of a non-partisan bureaucracy.

Of course, the civil society will be well served if the bureaucracy is humanized, more compassionate and adapted to the changed social environment. Under no circumstances should their outlook and conduct get polluted by any cultist or sectoral philosophy. May I repeat that Indian democracy minus a non-partisan civil service will be damaged beyond redemption.

Mr.Chairman,

Long before Independence, leaders of the freedom struggle had accorded primacy to peoples' fundamental Rights. In 1927, Congress Working Committee had approved a Swaraj Constitution for India based on the Moti Lal Nehru Committee report that promised to secure to every citizen specific guarantees of nineteen fundamental Rights. These judicially enforceable Rights were subsequently enshrined in the Constitution.

Unfortunately, the Directive Principles of the State policy - Chapter-IV of the Constitution, though equally important did not get similar treatment for their judicial enforcement. It was left to the legislatures to make such specific laws as would provide - for instance, for free & compulsory education. Though belated, the time has come that these provisions are made enforceable by judicial decrees. It should be clear that these directive principles provide fundamentals of good governance, and for this the state is duty bound to implement them by legislation.

To repeat and to emphasise, may I say that importance of Part-IV of the Constitution from Articles 38 onwards are fundamental for the welfare of our Republic. How can we, for instance, visualise its resonant future unless every child is compulsorily sent to school and "the childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment", or a citizen is denied the right to "adequate means of livelihood". And that the state should ensure that "economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment". Viewed in totality, all of these Articles urgently asks for a comprehensive social security network that is not yet available.

May I again emphasise that unless the Directive Principles of State are accorded the needed legal sacrosance, the roadway to peoples' participation will continue to be full of pot-holes and speed breakers.

Mr.Chairman, distinguished friends,

As we enter second half of the Republic's Centenary, it is relevant to ask if the Nation's social aspirations and democratic urges can be met by the hierarchal order that still prevails?

Mr.Chairman, distinguished friends,

Many of you would have seen the 1999 Human Development Report in South Asia, authored by late Mahbub-Ul-Haq. It pertinently points out that "South Asia (including India) is facing a crisis of governance which, if left unchecked, could undermine the region's democratic progress, and the economic and social well-being of its teeming masses. Home to nearly one-fourth of humanity, the region is characterized by governments that represent the poor but aid the rich; taxation that is insufficient and regressive; and expenditures that are misdirected and ineffective".

The Report ably "analyzes issues of governance from political, economic, social and civic perspectives. It provides an in-depth analysis of the phenomenon of corruption and advocates a concrete and realistic reform agenda for promoting 'humane governance'. In this regard, the Report introduces a new index that ranks countries according to their performance in the spheres of economic, political and civic governance". In this our country, though better than some in the region, does not come out proudly.

The unique feature of this Report is "the concept of humane governance puts people at the centre of all governance policies, strategies, and actions. The basic precepts of the human development model are to improve the capabilities and expand the opportunities of all people, irrespective of class, caste, gender, and ethnicity. The concept of humane governance takes this model forward by asserting that governance, if it is to promote human development, has to be not just pro-people or people-centred, it has to be owned by people".

Keeping in mind the conceptual framework of the Report, "humane governance is governance, indeed good governance, which is dedicated to securing human development. It requires effective participation of people in state, civil society and, private sector activities that are conducive to human development. It further enjoins the state, civil society, and the private sector to help build capacities which will meet the basic needs of all people, particularly women, children and the poor. Humane governance will also ensure that human development is sustainable".

With the help of the indices worked out by the Report, it is now possible to measure achievements or under-performance of the humane governance. As the Report says, "Humane governance has three inter-linked dimensions: economic, political, and civic. Economic governance consists of those factors required to sustain economic development. Political governance is defined as the use of institutions by government to govern, and civic governance as the right and responsibility of the governed to participate in and promote good governance. It is to be expected that a country with high economic, political, and civic governance would also have high human development. Humane governance can only be achieved through a combination of all three dimensions of economic, political and civic governance. One dimension does not come before another. They must occur in unison for the concept of humane governance to be realised".

The report further suggests that "an effective way to nurture a pro-people political system is to guard against the personalization and concentration of power. This involves separating power among state institutions - the parliament, the executives, and the judiciary, to serve as checks and balances. For any process to work, the rules must be observed transparently, neutrally, and universally. Institutions that are strong provide the necessary resilience to the political process by enshrining the rule of law".

In paying my homage to late Mahbub-Ul-Haq, may I quote what he had observed: "Human history offers only two models: the evolutionary change as in Britain and the revolutionary upheaval in France during the 18th Century, either a change through the ballot box or through the guillotine. Let us hope that our ruling groups are smart enough to read the writing on the wall and to introduce much-needed reforms in the system. The alternatives are far too grim to contemplate".

Mr.Chairman, distinguished friends,

The Human Development Report may be viewed as a part of the world-wide debate on the needed modifications in styles and expanse of governance. The Japanese believe that for "Deciding the public good" radical changes are called for. Such changes should accord centricity to the civil society. Mr.Yamamoto Tadashi, President of the Japan Center for International Exchange, who visited India last week, asks, "What is the public interest? Who defines the public interest? Who should serve the public interest? Today, these questions are being asked by a public concerned about a breakdown in the system of governance that had served Japan well during its modernization process. This national soul-searching also reflects civil society's increasingly active role in responding to pluralistic social needs and as an effective innovative force for social change".

Since India is now soaked in the process of globalisation, we have to take notice of the world-wide trend that is seeking to ensure that the changes would place the people at the centre and enthrone the civil societies. In Europe the socialist governments are talking of 'Third Way-ism' that is moving away from the Fabian and Webian socialisms and placing added emphasis on the civil society.

Concluding, may I say that it is interesting to witness that the poor, the women and the private enterprises are together demanding the people-centric changes that lessens dependence on centralised administrations. These changes are getting support from the corporate sectors who normally sit on other side of the pole. The liberalisation demands changes. Resistance emanates from such identifiable segment of society who wish to sustain and perpetuate status-quo in the social, political and economic order that gives them exclusive power and supremacy.

It is time for us to appreciate that without making our governance people-centric, promise of the Constitution that was framed by "We, the people" gets fossilized. The challenge is to create social transformation, enabling people to actively participate in the reform process that will replace force with dialogue, arrogance with sympathy, isolation with cooperation, ignorance with knowledge, conflict with peace. We feel obliged to create ways for a better understanding and much deeper tolerance between administration and the peoples. Our task is huge, even gigantic but the prize of this effort is invaluable.

Thank you very much.

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Bio-Profile :
Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

Bio-Profile :
Mrs. Shiela Gujral

Excerpts from the book "A Foreign Policy for India"

Selected Speeches

Latest Articles