Government and Policy Choice(s) for Mehbooba Mufti: From Government to Governance

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Mehbooba Mufti is now Jammu and Kashmir’s 13th Chief Minister and the first female to occupy the highest office of the state. She has assumed office at a critical and delicate juncture- time period defined by multiple transitions and a political condition that is, to say the least, fluid. Mehbooba’s party, the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) , is caught in the crucibles of these changes and on account of obvious reasons, faces an uncertain future. Perhaps the only way that Mehbooba as leader of her party and the state’s Chief Minister can salvage or even redeem her party is to reconnect to the people of the state in an organic and robust governance idiom. In a nutshell, welfare or comprehensive welfare through ‘good governance’ must be her motto. This is easier said than done. The reasons again are obvious: the institutional framework that undergirds government and governance in Kashmir is static, defined by inertia with stubborn legacy issues emanating in different forms and avatars, the disembeddedness of the state from society and a system of governance that privileges patronage, among other things. These are all daunting issues and problems that have become path dependent over time. The systems of Government and Governance in the state are then highly resistant to change and reform.

 What then can Mehbooba really do? Is she at the mercy of ossified and static structures of government? Will government be Mehbooba’s bane? Or can she employ an approach that redounds to good government and governance in the state? 

The answer is a qualified yes.

 While Mehbooba may not be able to undo extant structures of Government in the state- especially Kashmir-that lead to a paradigm shift in the Kuhnian sense, she however, can create alternate structures that lead to ‘good governance’. By alternate structures is meant a process based approach to governance that skirts government and leads to governance.  Clarifying this approach calls for a brief definition of both government and governance.  Government, reductively speaking, is the complex welter of institutions, and laws through which governance is carried out. Government then is about the exercise of authority and control with power central to it. Governance, on the contrary, is a process and is more or less discrete. Both these are over simplified caricatures of government and governance but should suffice for our purposes.

 Now given these definitions of both government and governance, what can Mehbooba do?

 At the risk of sounding tautological, only to underscore and emphasize its importance, Mehbooba must focus on moving from government to governance. The question is how?

 The first step is to take a review of either.  The review would reveal that the state she now governs is a weak state with weak institutions in terms of both capacity and capability. In essence, and at least for now, she has to make do with this institutional weakness. This , however, does not mean succumbing to these lacunae. 

 Mehbooba must create and develop a core team which help here arrive a public policy solutions and interventions to move from Government to governance. Then she and her team must arrive an ideational consensus on the nature of governance to be instituted and then bring different and differing interests and interest groups under this broad ideational rubric. This obviously means and calls for developing a strategic vision and road map for governance and public policy. The public policy paradigm must be a stakeholder one with elements of both top down and bottoms up processes. The mantras here must be fairness, efficiency and effectiveness which, in turn mean targeted state interventions in policy and thrust areas of focus. One caveat is necessary here: approaches towards public policy- conception, design and execution must not be merely technocratic or functional. Policy choices should be informed by a synthesis of technocratic and functional approaches and socio-political dynamics and needs. This would lead to not an enabling state but enabling processes and procedures where efficiency and effectiveness of a policy measure or intervention would be determined by response times or lags. One good measure for employing and instituting these measures is a yearly or a bi-annual government performance measurements that cuts across sectors and departments and gives the governing class a reasonably accurate picture of governance, governance lacunas and voids and ways to improve these.

  A much but overused and over determined approach to ‘good governance’ trotted out by academics and practitioners has been ‘decentralization’- that is, bringing government people to the closer. While decentralization sounds good in theory, there are obvious issues with and the time frame and period for its implementation is long. Mehbooba Mufti does not have the luxury of either time or choice to institute decentralization now. However, what the Chief Minister can do is to institute a surrogate of decentralization or its proxy in the state. This can be done by tightening up public policy , peeling special interests off from its design and execution and creating monitoring mechanisms throughout the public policy value chain, so to speak.  Elements of ‘e governance’ whereon access to government platforms and portals is easy and non discriminatory can be one mechanism for bringing about the desired transparency in the process and impact of public policy.

 This is insofar as the conceptual basis of moving from government to governance is concerned. These may not be the best of ideas but as they say even the best of ideas flounder on the rocks of reality. Unless buttressed , supported and complemented by sound and prudent structural aspects of governance, these efforts will come to naught. The reference here is to the bureaucratic component of governance. Mehbooba, for obvious reasons, can neither jettison the bureaucracy, nor antagonize and nor allow it to manoeuvre her. She must adopt a modus Vivendi towards the bureaucracy that keeps it at arm’s length but at the same time streamlines it and makes it more responsive and efficient.   How can this be done?

 The answer may lie in transactional forms of governance where the collective interests of the bureaucracy must be towards public service and welfare. Transactionalism would also imply and mean that the notorious ‘ babu neta’ nexus be broken and the bureaucracy reoriented towards its raison d’etre. Broken down, transactionalism would mean creating silos in the bureaucracy- an approach that is actually derided in public management theory and practice- and hold these silos accountable. However, what is key here that these silos must speak to each other. That is, relate to each other in a way that makes interdependence key. Silos must monitor themselves but a layer of accountability and transparency can be created by ‘peer to peer’ monitoring. That is, once each silo presents an accountability report of its performance, this performance must be measured by another silo and the results of both benchmarked against a national or even global standard.

 Cumulatively, the approaches identified here, the prescriptions laid bare and their adoption may lead to a paradigm where government shifts to governance. Yes- instituting this paradigm will not be seamless and there will be noise and leakages but the overall results will be welfare maximizing, efficiency and equity maximizing which, in the final analysis, will redound to the welfare of the people of the state. But what will be key is initiative and momentum. Mehbooba to regain the political and governance initiative must seize the initiative now and keep the heat on to maintain or even build momentum.  She neither has the luxury of choice nor time. She must make haste slowly and begin the arduous and painstaking work of ‘good governance’ now.  A minute lost could mean an opportunity lost.

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