SOPS FIRST, SOBS LATER

Demonetization Dividends for NaMo

The chain of transfers, postings, doles, promises et al being handed out by the incumbent government is a norm than an exception. These form the bulwark of any election process in India.

BY DANFES

The problem with elections is that they do not pick governments to govern, they choose dole masters. Those who would have promised the moon, tend to unjustifiably snatch victory from defeat & those who lose necessarily may not have deserved to fall by the wayside. Even though historically, a voter would know that all that is being dished out just before the elections is nothing but bait to ensnare him/her, yet the tremendous vulnerabilities & extreme social pressure coerce him to go against his/her grain.

The current government is no exception to the rule, when it comes to doles. Although NDA II just like UPA I had resisted the temptation of pandering to populist measures & focussed instead on long-term concerns, it has also slipped into a sops campaign & promises pool just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections of 2019. It is because of such myopic thinking & contrived policies that our economy & growth recedes many notches under that take ages to spring back to life before another cycle of gullibilities has set in. The problem is not as much with the doles & as it is with the poor execution & implementation of such welfare programs, partaken alongside contingent decision making. When both run at cross purposes to each other, therein seeps in the disorder & difficulty of fulfilling such promises.

Reforms vs. Promises
The first visible set of reforms came under the Narasimha Rao government of nineties. It went about in right earnestness, liberalising reforms in all the sectors. These were carried forward by the NDA I & subsequently by UPA I. Both pitched for high growth, road & infrastructure building, telecommunication, real estate, information technology while revisiting of some of the other core concerns involving economy.

But alongside such positive measures, each government has added a dose of indiscreet populism & ideological arsenal to its performance pyramid. An attempt is made by the government to appoint its own ‘Yes Master’ officers who are pliable, who follow a certain ideology & who at the cost of serving the larger public good tend to appease their political masters & assist them in exploiting the frailties of systems, allowing them free ground in meeting with their narrow vested partisan interests. These could be linked to subsidies, government schemes, and local area development funds, issues of transfers, postings, security, sanitation, employment & opportunities, work contracts so on so forth. It has become second nature to political parties to promote a cult, cadre centric awarding of contracts & opportunities as their way of returning the favour to their ilk. Other sections, however deserving tend to get neglected & hence lay in waiting for their turn to follow the same cycle of ineptitude, cronyism, & favouritism. With the result we see projects started by one dispensation remaining struck in red tape for ages & public schemes launched by the other never taking off.

Competitive politics is better than vindictive politics. There is a huge difference between the two. The irony is that while many legislative initiatives remained stuck in UPA II for want of bipartisan support, these got through in NDA II because of the same denominator. Legislations like IBC, GST, DBT, Aadhar, demonstrate a mature and valuable continuity of reforms. Today joblessness and farmer distress are genuinely emphasised. There is a dearth of quality jobs for the skilled worker, a technocrat a doctor or an architect. We are not against a loan waiver or direct benefit transfer. But it is equally important to address the other critical issues. Promising doles, sops galore just before the election becomes so apparent a ploy to trick the electorate that all the good that the government may have done in the immediate past also gets painted as propaganda & bracketed too little, insignificant. Now that NDA II has offered reservations to almost all Indians, seeking to appeal to groups that feel left out of creeping reservations; The policy will only increase administrative procedures and add a cumbersome rationing process at the expense of merit and job expansion.

Postings & Transfers
Before & after the polls, we see a churn in the bureaucracy that is left to pamper their masters, having either shed their moral & constitutional obligation to serve the public in accordance with the oath & laid down SOPs, or they have been rendered so ineffective by lawmakers that they find no other way to carry on with their duties but to be pliable & pitiable. The present government is accused of having put all such officers in places of prominence who it finds leaning to the Hindutva ideology or who they think are innocuous heads with no capacity to deliver on their own. We all have seen the ugly mess around postings & transfers drama in CBI, RBI, ED & other investigative institutions. One wonders if there is another parallel appraisal form, document or a dossier prepared on the basis of individual choice & preference to an ideology, party or grouping that become sort of a barometer to effect such migrations. Such inclination away from the agenda of development is a pity. When infrastructure and capacity building should be the goal, successive governments waste copious amounts of time, energy & talent in such non-issues to score brownies & display of one-upmanship at the cost of collective conscience & nation building. That is the reason that we continue to be inadequate in all our aspects of growth & governance even after 07 decades of independence.

You may well be within your right to promote social security doles, but the moot point is that it can’t be reduced to a political gimmick. It is a serious issue that needs to originate from under the strongest edifice of plausible thinking & sustainable budgeting, in ways that increase capabilities and economise on government funding, turning the Centre-State division of responsibilities into an advantage.

Take the example of demonetisation. It was probably seen as a means to gather information on the corrupt, increase the tax base, build on international information sharing initiatives, and increase formalisation of the economy that could use new developments in technology & data availability. But this resulted in very large costs, physical, emotional & economical on the public.

Voters must have the last word for it is their turn to settle scores or set the record straight. Till then, good bye, Good luck.