Governance in Kashmir: Know Thy Politician Well

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A friend called me today and in a pleading tone asked me if I knew any politician of import. I asked him why he was asking? He said he had bought a piece of land in Kashmir and some politician was now harassing him over an issue pertaining to the land. In the recent past, my boss met with such obstructionism from the bureaucracy, that he too was compelled to seek the intervention of a politician.  In either case, in theory, there are established practices and parameters set by the government. The bureaucracy is meant to serve the public; resolve their issues and be an enabler and a facilitator.  And politics should be devoted to exactly this: politics. But, alas, in Kashmir, this is not the case. There is an intense disconnect between the public and its “ public servants”. Our system’s are so loaded with inertia and the interface with the bureaucracy and other related systems is so broken that any experience with it is attritive for the “common man”.

This is thematic and not an isolated phenomenon. The only recourse to people , under these conditions, is to either seek friends or acquaintances with officials of the government , or the services of middlemen. Failing this, the most effective way is for people to seek connections and the interventions of a local politico or established politicians. It is then that something happens but again the chances of getting the work done or an issue resolved is probabilistic.  For the politician, this kind of assistance becomes a form of patronage. 

The question is: why does this happen? Why do people have to take recourse to political “fixers”?

 There are multi-farious reasons for this. The premier one is that the state is rather disembedded from society; this disembeddedness renders state society relations fraught and artificial. Second, the structures underlying government are ossified and inertia laden. Third, most people view public office as a means to an end: the ladder for merely self-promotion and personal enrichment. In the vortex of these insidious reasons, the people suffer. And the only recourse and remedy available to them is seek connections and “ friends in high circles” to get their issues resolved.  Among other things, this condition affects both formulation and execution of public policy which becomes hostage to sectional and vested interests? 

 Can this “abysmal” condition be remedied?

 Unlikely is the answer. 

However, if governance in Kashmir is to be improved and the interface of people with the  people made “user friendly”, then a genuine attempt needs to me made to alter the structures underlying government.

Given the path dependence of structural issues, and their resistance to change,  one major step that can be instituted is developing a paradigm of accountability and transparency in Government. Admittedly these are clichés in today’s world and slither off the mouth of every politician – so much so that these have been rinsed of meaning. But it is only these-transparency and accountability- that hold the key to better government and governance.  The stumbling bloc, however, is how can transparency and accountability be embedded in government and governance?

Here Nandan Nilekani- the founder member of the bellwether firm, Infosys-, has an answer.  Nilekani, in his book, “ Rebooting India: Realizing a billion aspirations. The entrepreneur turned politician essentially suggests turning Government into a portal and a platform. While Nilekani’s thesis suffers from what may be called “ technological determinism” but there is merit to it. (Obiter dictum,  government and governance as a platform or a portal does not merely mean e- governance; it is more).  The layers and accretions that have latched onto government in Kashmir, perversely the incentives to not to perform, inertia and disconnect between public and the Government can be obviated to a large extent through this approach. While the total and comprehensive revamp of the Governance structures and Government and corresponding it to a “platform” is rather surreal, selective and gradual adoption of the model is possible and even desirable.  It would not eliminate the “ human” or the human interface with government and we will not be ruled by machines. But what it can do is eliminate middlemen, fixers and corrupt people , make the Government more streamlines and governance more efficient. Nilekani’s thesis revolves around the Aadhar card( essentially his brainchild). The concept and idea of the aadhar card was short down by critics when it was brought into the public domain but it has been a success.  The same may hold true for transforming parts of the government into a platform, with a seamless interface between officials, technology and the public.  

Given the pace and scope of change that the Information Communication and Technology(ICT) have induced, the day when technology arbitrates or becomes the sole medium of governance will surely arrive on its own momentum. But prudence dictates that this process be initiated now. Much of the miseries of people will be alleviated and technology will become central to government and governance. Only Luddites can quibble with this. So what then are we waiting for? Let political will be mustered and the process of rendering government into a platform begun now!

 

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