What exactly is good governance that every political leader claims to bestow on the people, best enshrined in their 2019 election manifestos?
If voters are not acquainted with what constitutes good governance during election time, when else will people know? Never mind the claims and counter-claims, citizens need to know about good governance, so that it does not merely remain a poll time rhetoric.
Governance is not same as the “Government”. It is much more. For example, can a government provide governance without the involvement of civil society?
Governance includes developments in communities, academics, businesses, the unorganised sector and self-promoted enterprises.
For most political leaders today, governance is what the government does or how well it controls and commands or offers doles in the name of welfare.
Governance is an outcome and sum total of what and how different pillars of the state perform and function. The distinguishing feature of governance include how actively involved and participative citizens are.
Good governance is not the result of a one-time initiative of a political party that has been in power for one term. It encompasses long term concerns and consequences.
A certain collective spirit between an elected government and civil society should be evident in the functioning and implementation of development programmes.
Some chief ministers claim good governance as dictated by their intentions and some others talk about Ram Rajya, while still others, it is Swarajya.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked of Su Raj from the Red Fort on the eve of the 70th anniversary of independence. In 1929, Mahatma Gandhi said that Swaraj means peace to people and prosperity and happiness for everyone. But for most leaders today, it is an index of personal popularity.
Popularity today is a managed affair, not necessarily based on fulfilling promises or sustaining development. Political leaders talk of good governance as “achievements” of their government. Governance cannot be an outcome of popularity of any government’s flagship schemes.
Two years ago in Switzerland, a referendum was held on guaranteed basic income by the government for every family in the country. It was rejected by an overwhelming percentage of people. After considerable debate, the Swiss people viewed the proposal as “unsustainable”.
They felt that such a dole makes them dependent on the government and does not promote human dignity. Finland, Netherlands and Singapore too toyed with such an idea, but gave up for the same reasons.
Can such a referendum take place in India? Political parties, when in power, are only too anxious to dole out sops. Good governance implies luring people in the name of welfare, making them dependent and as unproductive as possible.
Clarity and understanding about good governance is needed not just among political leaders, but also in the news media and civil society.
In the ultimate analysis, good governance in a parliamentary democracy is not possible without good politics; good politics is not feasible without good political parties and political parties cannot be good without concerned and responsible leaders.
All of this is not possible without an active citizenry, who do not fall prey to populistic or temporal lures. Our political parties have become more powerful than “We the People”, as they endeavour for centralisation.
Governance has to go beyond an election-centric view. If the government and the pillars of the state are not sensitive to increasing election costs, then it makes entry into electoral politics prohibitive.
With significant sections of the news media coming under the sway of politicians, a rise in motivated poll surveys and spurt in fake and paid messages, it is unrealistic to expect elections to be free, fair and inclusive.
Two national studies conducted by the Centre of Media Studies (CMS) in 2005 and 2007 had pointed out that the 'note for vote' phenomena was not confined to any state or section, but spread across.
An Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) analysis of Election Commission data brings out that in the last 15 years, the percentage of criminals, billionaires and those with conflict of interest, is on the increase.
The much-hyped economic reforms of the last 25 years had not improved level playing opportunities in the country. A number of studies have brought out how centralisation is on the increase, despite measures for decentralisation.
Despite anti-defection laws, defections continue to destabilise elected governments. And political parties are not willing to come under the Right to Information Act (RTI) even when it could help to revive themselves. These are trends enough to demonstrate that India is not on the path of good governance.
This 2019 poll campaign has many firsts to its 'credit'. Never before have armed forces been dragged into poll rhetoric. Neither have communalism and nationalism been raked up as they are being done today.
No political party has referred to corruption involving citizens in availing public services, raised environmental issues or acknowledged a languishing primary education without a policy and direction.
As the actor turned politician Kamal Haasan said, this election is all about “buying, bidding and luring”. I have been an active observer of election campaigns for the last 50 years, but have never seen a poll scene as gloomy as 2019.