Fourteen eminent Indians have written a cautionary letter—an “open letter to our leaders”—on the dangers that threaten the country. The very fact that such voices have come out in the open should force the government to take note of the problems it highlights—a governance drift, corruption and malfunctioning institutions.
There is a large dose of truth in what they write and it is important to note that these problems are linked. The governance gap—the difference between what effective rule and service delivery demand and what is actually dished out—is linked with the issue of graft. Officials tasked with service delivery refuse to work without money changing hands. This is linked to lack of political oversight at the ministerial level. Ministers, both at the state and Union government level, have simply abdicated this responsibility. Perhaps abdicated is too strong a word in this context. But what else does one say for a situation where ministers are simply not concerned as to what their officers do.
On paper there are institutions meant to check this, ranging from the Lok Ayuktas in state capitals to the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). But close to 40 years of drift and decay means that these require urgent reforms. And what India needs today is very different from what was required four decades earlier. One key reform is taking away the control of such vital institutions from the executive and making them independent in the true sense of the word.
In this context, the letter makes some concrete suggestions. These include: the creation of genuinely independent regulators and empowering Lok Ayuktas and the creation of an independent Lok Pal at the national level.
Will this work? Here some amount of doubt is in order. The fact is that our political system is quite debased—even if it has some very bright and honest members—that it is hard to implement the changes recommended completely. Even in places where the right institutions exist—the energetic and free-willed Lok Ayukta of Karnataka justice Santosh Hegde comes to mind—the political system has enough traction to derail the best laid plans. The political will required to make these changes would be formidable. This requires that all political parties—or at least those leaders who control their levers of power—appreciate the gravity of the problem and do something instead of fighting each other.
This is not to deflate a laudable effort but just to point the formidable obstacles that lie in the path of cleaning India’s Augean stables.
Is India caught in a crisis of governance? Tell us at email@example.com