The rise of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister in 2014 was chiefly attributable to the confidence he inspired among the people on two counts – his personal integrity as a leader and his reputation for administering the government with a strong hand. These had become a dire necessity for the country. The citizens were truly fed up with the permissiveness of corruption that had overtaken an ineffectual governance earlier. The Modi regime declared its resolve to eliminate bribes and succeeded in demonstrating that ministers and ministries would be free of the taint of corruption in his time. It is his credibility as a Prime Minister who would keep his promise of giving a clean government and launch several schemes for the direct benefit of the common man that got him a thumping majority in 2019 again.
A far more knowledgeable electorate this time – particularly the young generations who saw in Modi a leader who was attuned to them – did not fall for the call of caste and region that the opposition traditionally relied on. Large sections of people disapproved of the crass personal attacks made on Narendra Modi in the elite circles of the national capital. Deep inroads made by BJP in the name of Prime Minister Modi in states where the party was hitherto not known to be strong, demonstrated this clearly.
The new Modi government is expectantly showing a sense of urgency in pushing its development agenda forward – the monitoring of the ministries by the PMO has been strengthened through the empowerment of his aides and a firm advice given to the ministers to become productive by spending full time in office and meaningfully sharing work with their junior colleagues. A difficult task for the new regime is to take the corruption-free and transparent governance closer to the ground and use whatever concurrent powers Constitution had given to the Centre, for cleansing the working of the state governments as well.
It is heartening to find that steps have been initiated to get rid of rogue elements in the bureaucracy – through forced retirements – and introduce more stringent yardsticks of performance evaluation. The Centre would be well advised to invoke Art 311(2)(c) of the Constitution, for dismissing an official without enquiry, to make an example of a case where a wilful act had the effect of damaging national security or causing internal destabilisation.
The country is in dire need of making all institutions and establishments engaged in public service functions – whether in government or in private sector – accountable for their acts of negligence or other failures. Universities, hospitals, banks, insurance companies, public distribution outlets, registration centres of the government and the inspectorates empowered to prevent adulteration and other hazards – all have a well paid management but the top people always escaped accountability for any systemic or individual failure because of the cushion of ‘bureaucratic’ placement that works to their advantage. We are in the age of ‘flat’ organisations where the insulation of hierarchy is not supposed to mask failures of supervision by the seniors.
The head of an organisation responsible for delivery has to have a hands-on function of supervising the operations conducted by those below and enough to show that this was indeed done through spot checks, audits and a proactive vigilance unit. Today even corporates in the private sector have accountability of individual independent directors fixed in the new norms of corporate governance. There is no reason why the management head of a government unit with a public interface be not made to have his or her share of responsibility for significant lapses or mishaps. At least twice a year the central or state government should release a summary of information on the corrective action taken to prevent any avoidable failures reported from across its enterprises.
Media has been full of reports showing total lack of involvement of the top management of a leading hospital in Bihar located in an area vulnerable to an endemic like encephalitis – in answering questions on what steps had been taken to keep the establishment ready for an emergency. The Vice Chancellor of a leading university in the national capital likewise had nothing to show by way of how he moved to deal with the plans of student leaders to hold a political protest with outside participation and raise violent anti-India slogans to create an environment of militancy within the premises. No action has been reported in recent times against any government functionary for the widespread diversion of items meant for ration shops catering to the poor.
According to a recent report, a group of security guards employed by rich farmhouse owners in Delhi collectively kidnapped young women from Metro stations etc and committed gang rapes without fear of law. One did not read about any follow up action or any press conference by the police spokesperson clarifying if the owners had got police verification done on these employees before engaging them. A published study report talked of a score of children disappearing in Delhi every day on average. Such a socially destabilising report has not produced any public response from the authorities concerned. All of these collectively reflect on the state of domestic governance in the country and the environ of lawlessness existing in many states.
It is hoped that strong currents of corrective action will start flowing from the ministries of home affairs, health, civil supplies and other wings of the central government. Absence of action from supervisory levels tends to suggest existence of corruption in some form. People today closely watch the developments around them and draw their conclusions on the state of governance in the country – without necessarily drawing a line between the central and state dispensations.
The new Home Minister of the country has started taking action to strengthen the vigil on internal security and consolidate the arrangements for coordinated processing of information and initiation of integral responses. The share of responsibility of the state governments is being defined – as the handling of political violence in West Bengal adequately brought out. In a democracy, rule of law presages development and governance down to the grassroots level has to measure up to this reality. The Home Minister must use the powers given to the Centre by the Constitution to tighten the vigil on the officials of the All India Services assigned to the states who were accountable for effectively supervising development projects as well as law enforcement.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])