The challenge of governance (Column: Spy’s Eye)

BY D.C. PATHAK
In the rule of Prime Minister Modi, India has rapidly risen to the position of a major Asian power that has a say in the global issues of development, security and human welfare. This has largely been made possible because of an upright foreign policy framework adopted by the Modi regime — revolving round mutually beneficial bilateral relationships serving India’s economic and security interests, in line with world peace and special attention to the friendly neighbours.

Defence of the nation against any external threat of attack has been strengthened a great deal but the safeguarding of internal security has become a formidable challenge with passage of time because of the rise of Islamic radicals both outside or inside of the country, the advent of militant agitational politics and a concerted campaign by the agents of India’s adversaries at home and abroad to play up the Hindu-Muslim divide and project the Modi government as an authoritarian regime that suppressed personal freedom. The Centre needs to do a few things to improve the domestic situation.

First, the law and order authorities must have a better grip on the ground. There is an increase in public violence, sexual assaults on women and crime for instant money gain like digital fraud, chain snatching and looting an ATM — Covid restrictions may have something to do with this. A more vigilant police station is the call of the hour. Considering the large segment of population covered by a Station House Officer, the country needs gazetted officers to head police stations with Inspectors, Sub-Inspectors and ASIs under them — constabulary is not required so much for civil police work and it should be enough if a section of the armed police was attached to important police stations as a back-up force. There will then be no need to have Circle Officers and this will cut costs for policing.

Police outposts must be put in charge of Sub-Inspectors with one or more ASIs helping them. Police stations need plenty of vehicles for mobility and prompt response. For years after Independence, a colonial practice prevailed at the police station by way of the complainant being asked to provide transport for an IO’s visit to the scene of crime. The country must spend on the safety and security of its citizens. Civil police has to be made officer-oriented and the constabulary cut down to make thanas cost effective and more efficient.

Policing in rural India remains in bad shape and that is one reason why the forces out to destabilise the nation are having their way. Today, the police station is also the first responder to a threat to national security emanating from enemy agents and ‘sleeper’ cells. A functional and technological upgrade of police stations has to be completed as soon as possible — the Centre’s oversight on this has to be strengthened, notwithstanding the fact that law and order is a state subject. The Centre should not hesitate to admonish a state that was showing serious lapses on the law and order front — this is a responsibility cast on the former by the Constitution. It should also exercise its legitimate share of responsibility in ensuring that DGPs and chief secretaries of states were selected out of the three-member panels drawn up by UPSC — this has the backing of the Supreme Court.

A second shift in governance meant to give positivity to India’s ‘demographic dividend’ would be to declare health and education as strategic sectors to enable the Centre to have primacy in building primary education and primary health infrastructure throughout the country and overseeing the utilisation of allocated funds. These are the areas known for corruption down below. There is plenty of private investment coming into higher education and speciality hospitals because that is good business too but putting all children at schools and taking them to a primary health clinic when required is a welfare facility that only the government in a democracy could provide.

Even in the British era, there were municipal clinics each with a doctor (for whose comfort there was an employee only for pushing the cloth fan hung from the ceiling on a pulley), a dressing compounder and a minimal stock of prophylactic medicines. Each panchayat must have a primary school with a toilet (its building design can be standardised by the state) and a teacher in charge, recruited locally as far as possible. Digitisation is an aid for higher courses but for children an exposure to physical class under human care is essential even when technical aid for education would be used and ‘social distancing’ norm observed. This is a challenge of management and there is no reason why the state government should not be tested for that — governance is not only about politics. Business houses should be encouraged to adopt districts for establishing and funding primary schools and primary clinics under CSR.

Thirdly — and this is perhaps the most important transformational aspect of internal governance that the country badly needs — India must go back to the districts where the Collector-SP duo had enough autonomy to redress immediate grievances of the citizens without the latter having to run to the state or national capital for help. In most cases, these positions are held by young IAS and IPS officers who had the zeal and moral orientation to serve the people — before getting spoiled by the political and other influences as they moved on. They can be given a new role of monitoring all development schemes in their district segments — central, state or local — periodically for the benefit of the state and central governments. Land acquisition issues, law and order impediments, political interference, corruption or misconduct of contracting agencies — all these would be in their direct knowledge. For public transparency, the governments concerned should not only announce ‘launching’ of development schemes but also declare their ‘completion’ with equal fanfare. There are not many announcements made about completed projects by the state governments.

The next facet of internal governance is the handling of economic revival in the unlock phase of the Corona crisis. Jobs were destroyed particularly in the MSME and unorganised sectors and transport, hospitality and tourism industries were crippled. Because of the strength of the indigenous economy, this revival is going on well — the Prime Minister’s perceptive call of ‘vocal for local’ and the policy approach that ‘government had no business to be in business’ will certainly give a lift to our economy. The revival has to be from below because the IT-based industries and digital giants of India at the top, were in any case fully globalised even in the worst phase of the pandemic.

Privatisation and monetisation of public sector enterprises will add to the jobs as they progressed with better management. In the Indian context, the government should enlarge the recruitment for defence and police as the nation is in need of expansion there and try at the same time to reduce the secretariat jobs linked to an excessive vertical hierarchy. With re-skilling and diversification of their charter, the personnel of defence and police at different levels can be prepared for multi-tasking and acting as standby for other work in a contingency — some of this happens even now in Kashmir and elsewhere. This can strengthen the democratic content of governance as the ‘strong arms’ of the state are exposed to public service calls.

And finally, a growing challenge to good governance is arising out of the sudden expansion of the collectivity of ‘social media’ that has phenomenally enlarged the inter-personal and social communication facilities — which is a positive development — but has also converted it into an instrument of combat. There may be a very large body of users who still believed that hurling choicest abuses or giving uninhibited exhortations for doing this or that was all done in their protected privacy — in exercise of their freedom and that they were beyond reach. What they forget — and this might apply to even the educated and socially savvy class — that all digital media are ‘public platforms’ from where you cannot do what was prohibited by social sanctions and the penal code, there.

Incitement to violence, call for militant action that created inter-community animosity or violating the law on nudity for instance, are likely to and must attract adverse notice of the government. The move of the government to create a framework of rules for social media platforms including OTT entities has not come a day too soon and cannot be faulted for its timing. Democracy requires a certain discipline of public conduct — communication for influencing opinion if done on social media has to be examined in suitable cases for its ‘content’ as the Supreme Court has rightly mandated. It has to be determined if a medium provider — which is a business enterprise — should have a share of responsibility in not letting a user put legally inadmissible material on its platform. It should not be too difficult to identify such a content. Social media can be used not only as a weapon for combative politics but, what is disquieting, also for spreading ‘radicalisation’ and conducting a ‘proxy war’ against India. A firm but judicious intervention of the government is necessary for preserving democracy — based on a clear understanding of what is criticism of the government and what constituted an offence under the law.

(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)

–IANS
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