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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 47, November 7, 2009

Haryana: Setback in Electoral Battle after Defeat in War on Development Deficiency

Saturday 7 November 2009, by J. George

The Congress party nearly lost the electoral battle for the Haryana Assembly election because of the development of faultlines. Stability with security for inclusive and sustainable development therefore has emerged as the major concern. That must guide the future course of choices as the calculus of Cabinet formation is being worked out. This in essence is the mandate given by the voters in Haryana. The emergence of a strong Opposition must therefore be used towards sustaining the growth momentum attained during the last phase.

The Congress party needs to do a candid and fast diagnosis now that they have won the vote of confidence. By getting the Governor’s address also passed on the same day the Congress party has only succumbed to the bureaucratic machinations. A truthful probe will show that these machinations are the root cause for the electoral setback suffered by the party. It was clearly evident that the war on development deficiency, notably, is a work in progress since there remains a heavy backlog in the social development agenda. The voter is well aware of these ground realities and hence there was no room for speculation about the result. In 2004 the electorate gave a fitting response to the political arrogance that had built into the society, a sense of insecurity and uncertainty. The 2009 result is a vote against bureaucratic arrogance. The performance of the bureaucratic machinery needs immediate attention by the new set-up.

The final arithmetic of the electoral battle, though fragmented, can be turned into a win-win proposition with a transformation in the leadership. There is a strong Opposition now that has already shown its fangs on the first day of show of strength. This is good for the democratic health of the polity.

A case in point is the manner in which the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has started their development business in right earnest by reforming the bureaucracy. For instance, the DPJ has embarked on the resolve to reverse the path of ‘bureaucrat-led politics’, abolishing the practice of “amakudari” (descent from the heavens) whereby superannuating ‘babus’ or those nearing that stage got nominated to top positions in different public and private institutions that were under their control. The other is of setting up a policy and strategic planning cell under a seasoned and senior leader; by this move the sails of machination and manipulation have been taken away from the bureaucracy. The tenor for development was thus rightly set by the new DPJ Prime Minister in the first ten days after being sworn in.

Administrative Reforms: Dire Need in Haryana

The Haryana Chief Minister, B.S. Hooda, had rightly laid the foundation for bureaucratic reform by setting up a State Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC). The current mandate can thus be utilised to point to the fact that the people are asking why the babudom should not be more sensitive and sympathetic towards an ordinary Haryanvi. This is yet another instance of the ‘bureaucrat-led politics’ virus in Haryana. The Congress led UPA I at the Centre did produce a number of reports under the ARC 2. The mandate is in fact asking the party what did this Haryana ARC produce or do. It was indeed supported by the public through their various contributions to the revenue kitty of the State. It is also well known that the CM had to personally intervene on a number of occasions to make the babudom work for the welfare of the people. The failing and nearly absent civic amenities in most of the towns in general, and the NCR towns in particular, are classic living examples. And this is the region that stands out for development deficiencies.

Development Deficiencies

The spread and depth of development deficiencies undoubtedly and squarely determined the final outcome. And the main determinant of deficiency is the absence of efficiency in the delivery of public services throughout the 90 Assembly constituencies. The key to the results in Haryana therefore is available in the visible paradox template between economic growth and social regression. Who sets up the paradoxical template? In this respect the State level babudom and a host of spin doctors must learn some rudimentary lessons in transparency and honest assertions of the civil society.

The multi-cornered contests in most of the segments certainly testify that economic growth is high and widespread. The average increase in the asset value of 42 MLAs seeking re-election was calculated at 388 per cent or Rs 4.8 crores during 2004-09. These calculations have been carried out by a civil society organisation from the election documents submitted by each contesting candidate. It has been shown that these increases range between 987 per cent and 5485 per cent.

Confused Social Agenda leading to Exclusion of the Voiceless

The canvassing for the electoral battle in Haryana, we may recall, was rooted on three broad issues. The development platform was the most visible and potent one while ‘outsider-insider’ and clan affinities formed the remaining two. It is both a quantitative and qualitative reality that development issues have two sides. The growth momentum to the State’s economy did get a boost during 2004-08. However, it was accompanied by confusion in the social development domain. A broad spectrum view on development, however, was not provided by any of the competing parties in the electoral battle.

So what definition of development set the tenor for the electoral battle? In 2005 it was gross underdevelopment and fear that circumscribed the electoral engagement in the State. Since 2007 faster and inclusive growth assumed dominance. The common element in both these phases has been the development of physical infrastructure with the Gurgaon model performing the sheet-anchor role-model. If so, how many seats have been lost by the INC in this region alone?

Besides being capital intensive such development models greatly discount three crucial elements necessary for a vibrant social milieu. They are social institutions and cultural legacies, greater emphasis on migration due to pan-India inclusiveness and challenging demands on the public service delivery mechanism.

Elements of Development Agenda

The electoral battle-lines thus appear to be hemmed in by these three elements. The fruits of globalisation and other related developments, in fact, have dwarfed the issues of ‘insider-outsider’ or ‘sons/daughters of the soil’, though clan issues on the wider social development canvas have been in the forefront at regular intervals. Thus the war on social institutional legacies, like the ‘khaps’, remain uncomfortable irritants. The results do indicate a demonstrable deleterious effect on the outcome of the electoral battle.

Some commentators have unfortunately removed the ‘anti-incumbency’ lexicon from the current discourse at the hustings. This is a term that is very much integral to a democratic society and will always be there as an undercurrent in all electoral battles. The term clearly underscores the fact that the voters cannot be taken for granted. The basic essence of ‘aam aadmi’ rests on the uncertainties associated with this term. The politicians make promises and the bureaucrats convert them into credible action plans. Thus the executive wing must have the requisite capabilities and capacities.

The election results have clearly shown that development deficiency is directly proportional to these two traits. That is the premise why the Prime Minister in his first attempt in 2004 squarely addressed the issue of Central bureaucratic reform by replacing the highly convoluted annual confidential reports with performance-appraisal-reporting mechanisms. Performance deficiencies are solely responsible for most of the ills in the governance system.

The trials and tribulations of the opinion-makers in the Haryana society cannot be forgotten in a hurry while determining the causes of the current setback in the electoral battle. The government employees were repeatedly teased with their patience before granting them the benefit of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations. Similarly the university, college and school teachers had to struggle very hard to get a small pie of the pay packet. Certainly someone will take the credit and someone will pay the price. The INC obviously paid a heavy price for the intransigence and capriciousness of a coterie of the bureaucracy.

Public Service anchorage

The development deficiency in the State is due to deficient public service delivery. This element has determined the final outcome of the electoral battle since both the index of Opposition unity and the index of outstanding local issues have a direct correlation with each other. When the former is low even a very high index in the latter gets covered up for a brief while alone. The fence-sitters and high voter turnouts then become crucial determinants.

The issue of public service delivery is a generic that is pivoted on the ‘babudom’. Undoubtedly, arrogance and lack of sensitivity of these functionaries at the State level were brushed under the carpet by the INC. However, it has a tremendous undercurrent that no battle-ready stakeholder will be able to ignore irrespective of whether or not it is recognised upfront. For instance, the physical development deficiencies these regional or social development activities like bringing to fruition of the Panchayati Raj institutions with complete accessories of functions, funds and functionaries, has remained a pipedream in the State. So has been the flagship programme of the NREGA. The Rural Development Ministry appears to be chasing a mirage in the State. A deeper probe will clearly identify that the leaderships at different levels were deficient in conducting a sufficiently effective crusade during the past four odd years. Along with the rural and urban continuum, the urban local bodies have been a major loser. Hence the development deficiency depth has a capital intensive urban development angle that was highlighted during the campaign all through the period of the electoral battle. The spread of rural development deficiencies too have been articulated in all the 90 Assembly constituencies.

The urban local bodies, despite many reform templates, could never be relied upon by the human settlements. The collapsing urban utilities are legendary in the Haryana towns along with phenomenal growth in the slum population. Certainly the State leadership could have performed a stewardship role particularly through the JNNURM template.

Understandably, development overkill of the Special Economic Zone variety or the Rajiv Gandhi Education City got obscured by the greater calamity of the economic slowdown. Neither were underdevelopment issues of the agricultural sector sufficiently highlighted. These are indeed vexatious issues for the war on development insufficiency and no winning member or party will be able to survive the next term merely on their promises.

Lok Sabha versus Assembly-incompatibility

The Lok Sabha election results and Assembly election results have different paradigms. Who is going to partner the Congress will be the key question in the next few days. The answer should not be determined by worshippers of goddess Laxmi since it will merely encourage ascendancy to trading. Independents and the HJC in their basic and raw form are Congress rebels who failed to connect with the leadership. What is the price for this reconnect? Certainly the key is to be found in a credible leadership on the stability and security platform along with a performing, friendly and unleavened executive that supports the constitutionally mandated local institutions—three cornerstones of success in the war against development deficiencies.

Development Priorities

Haryana will be celebrating her 43rd birthday in November. The best birthday gift to the people of Haryana will be a public proclamation inviting them to prioritise the development agenda. It must be remembered that grassroots planning is a must for moving on the inclusive growth trajectory. District level constitutionally mandated planning committees need to be put in place. This can be accomplished only by allowing them to move out of the paper on which official notifications were issued. Bureaucrats got away with their crime but the politician faced the wrath of the voters. There are a number of apex public institutions in the State that flout many citizen-friendly laws and instructions. For instance, it is a shame and criminal negligence when basic stipulations of the RTI Act are trampled upon with impunity. The CM and his Cabinet colleagues thus can take a leaf out of Rahul Gandhi’s mannerisms by specifically looking for RTI related statutory signages in public institutions.

The development agenda has to be set by walking the talk. Climate change is the major challenge for any development activity. The carbon footprint of the executive class-led development strategy, we have observed, will only result in disaster. Haryana can set up broad based consultation processes to become a carbon friendly non-polluting State.

Human development is an overarching concern whose time has come in Haryana. Development deficiencies give rise to inequalities that encourage rent-seeking behaviour by the service-provider. Service-providers need urgent attention for enhancing their capabilities. The institutions of higher learning in the State have to perform this as a first charge for it is their social obligation. Similarly, all apex level public institutions must undertake a crash skill upgrade regime at regular intervals. This upgradation in capacity is required so that the RARE (resource allocation reducing expenditure to government) is suitably addressed. The virus of outsourcing has created panic and attained disproportionate influence in pelf-seeking behaviour.

Public service efforts when made can only lead to accomplishment (P-SEA) of the desired and planned outcome. It needs to be repeated that efficiency and equity requirements are complemented by the public delivery mechanism and programme designs. Hence the service efforts and accomplishments will indeed make a sea-change.

The leadership in the democratic polity is charged with myriad ameliorative responsibilities. Primacy, however, must be given to activities that bring in growth with social justice and security. The war cry is strong and clear in setting the development agenda for the next five years. Who will take on these responsibilities without rancour? The answer is available in the results of the electoral battle.

Prof J. George, an economist, has been a perceptive commentator of the development paradoxes in Haryana. His forthcoming monograph is entitled ‘Development Journey in Haryana: Pathways and Paradoxes’.

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