Sunday, 1 January 2012

What is wrong with our country?

I wasn't there but there is an interesting report at of a conference organised by the Indian Institute of Bangalore basically asking this question, though titled in usual academic fashion much more impressively as “Strengthening Institutions, Enhancing Governance”.

At the conference, apparently, the representative politicians blamed our people, and the academic researcher blamed the lack of research support available to our lawmakers and policymakers, while the academic argued that money power alone doesn’t work in India and that it is politicians who are to blame for the miserable state of social and political affairs in our materially progressive country.

In my view, actually, all of us are to blame.

We the people are to blame for electing the wrong kind of people. for the wrong reasons, and with the wrong expectations ("helping" with interventions to enable "my" case to have priority or to get through the inefficiencies of the system, rather than sorting out the system itself so that it benefits everyone in a fair way).

Politicians have asked to be elected on the wrong basis and for the wrong returns to those electing them. But, once elected, politicians have power, and they have, as their followers expected (though the politicians were free to do otherwise) misused power. Such misuse started slowly after Independence, but has happened increasingly in recent times (one of the speakers at the conference singled out the period after liberalistion as the worst, but that was only to be expected given what had preceded it).

And if our political system does not have enough (or indeed any reasonable) research support, that is not because we are incapable of providing it for intellectual or financial reasons, it is because political leaders have wanted and needed research less and less as we have reverted after Independence to the pre-British mode of governance.

None of our pre-British rulers based policies on fact-gathering; it was the British who wanted to have facts on which to base policies; and, after Independence, we are only interested in getting our own way, even if that has meant reducing the efficiency and efficacy of the whole system.

So what do we need to do if we want to see substantial improvement in governance in our country?

Return to the dominance of reason, of fact-gathering, of prioritising tolerant debate by listening to and considering divergent views, and of establishing and following laws, policies and procedures that are set up for the benefit of everyone not merely for a particular individual or interest-group (whether commercial, religious, caste, linguistic or regional).

That sounds sensible, but will only happen if you and I are willing to sacrifice self-interest for the good of the whole, AND if we can work out good and lawful ways for dealing with those who are bent only on self-interest.

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