To Become a Rich Country, India needs Governance Reforms: Gurcharan Das at #ThinkersSandbox
Most of the discussions and debates have been and continue to be centered around accountability only. It is only a few that talk about the fact that it is state inability that is letting us down.
English writer Charles Dickens once wrote a famous novel called “A Tale of Two Cities”. The tale of two cities in India from where many observations can be deduced and hence improved upon are Faridabad and Gurgaon. In the 1980s, Faridabad was posited as the future of Delhi. It had an active municipality, a vibrant industrial estate, agriculture, rail connections and more importantly a state government which was determined to show that Faridabad was the future of Delhi and of India at large. The other city, Gurgaon, was a sad story. It was all wilderness, rocky soil, and distressing agriculture.
Today, Gurgaon is the Millennium City as an engine of India’s economic growth with seven golf courses and 36 million square feet of commercial space occupied by the world’s largest corporations, while Faridabad is still fighting corruption and groaning under the weight of red tape and official extortion. So, what happened here? Did Gurgaon’s disadvantage turn out to be an advantage? Or, did it rope in an outsider to help build a city that we see today?
Almost no government meant that there was less red tape and less corruption in Gurgaon. Builders and self-reliant citizens dug borewells when there was no water, put up gensets when there was no power, built schools when there were no schools or very poor-performing schools, and so on. New India is in a sense Gurgaon’s story in the large. It is a story of private success and public failure. People in Gurgaon when they look around, they wonder as to why they need a government with corrupt politicians and negative bureaucrats in the first place. Although rising without a state is a brave thing in itself, will it be sustainable in the long run? Wouldn’t Gurgaon be better off with a functioning drainage system, well-maintained roads, sidewalks, transportation system, parks, libraries, etc.? No, both corrupt Faridabad and laissez-faire entrepreneurial Gurgaon are not the role models for India’s future. Faridabad can succeed with less corruption while Gurgaon can make progress with better functioning services, and so can the new India. It should not take India some 10 years to build a road or a citizen to get justice. A bureaucrat working just three hours a day and another one who works more than 12 hours a day should not get promoted on the same day. There are issues that need to be fixed.
A liberal state which is effective in its doing is based upon essentially three pillars. Firstly, it has an executive that has a capacity. Secondly, the executive so formed must perform in compliance with a certain rule of law and lastly, this executive must be accountable to the citizens of the country. These three are the pillars of modern liberal democracy. In India, the focus for the last 70 years has been on accountability rather than on state capacity. Most of the discussions and debates have been and continue to be centered around accountability only. It is only a few that talk about the fact that it is state inability that is letting us down. Unlike China which is a top-down success, our country is a bottom-up success. In China, there is a bureaucratic elite that has managed to build a great infrastructure and has therefore led one of the most amazing success stories of modern times. India, on the other hand, revolves around its people. It is individuals who are truly behind India’s success story. Since both these countries are going to be respectable middle-income countries in the years to come, the usual mistake that we often commit when talking about them is to ask questions like “Which country will become rich first?”. The question is not about this race. The concern, in fact, is that both these middle-income countries can get stuck in what economists call as the middle-income trap, a trap that Latin America got into. Therefore, the real race is between India’s ability to fix its governance and China’s ability to fix its politics.
For India, bringing in economic reforms and implementing them has been an easy task as compared to reforms related to governance. This is because India has always been a weak state and a strong society whereas China is a reflection of a strong state with a weak society. For achieving progress, a universal fact is that one needs both. A country requires a strong state to get things done and at the same time it needs a strong society to make that state accountable for the things it does.
The struggles that our country has seen from the time of our empires and kingdoms to the present-day movements like the Anna Hazare Movement are indicative of a collision between the state and the society. Therefore, the need of the hour is for India to embark on a task of reforming its governance.