Dialogue  January-March, 2005, Volume 6 No. 3


An Issue of Governance 

Toki Blah


On the 26th and 27th of November 2004, Synod College, Shillong organised a two day Seminar on “Coalition Politics in India and the Crisis of Governability”. Papers on the theme were submitted by a host of prominent citizens, cutting across different walks of life , including the likes of Mr PA Sangma, MP and former Speaker of Parliament, Dr.M. Miri, VC of North Eastern Hills University (NEHU), John F Kharshiing, spokesperson for the Federation of Khasi States , Dr Pascal Malyniang of NEHU, Manas Choudhary, Editor The Shillong Times, and other dignitaries. It was a well organised event and Synod College is to be congratulated for efficient management of the event as well as the ability to bring together such diverse personalities and views onto the podium of the meet. At the end of the day one walked away with the satisfied feeling that the general public is interested enough and well aware of the compulsions of Coalition Politics and of the impact such compulsions have on the day to day administration of the country and the state. It was a feeling that added substance to an established belief that political awareness has gradually started to take root in the electorate of this far flung North Eastern State of India. Of concern however is a parallel dawning of realisation that the concept of Governance is still nascent and nebulous in the minds of the Meghalayan electorate and if this be the case here in the capital of Meghalaya , there is reason to believe that it is worse in the rural countryside. What is Governance? Is there a difference between Political stability and Governance , or are they one and the same? Is the ability to rule and administer synonymous with good governance? These perhaps are questions that citizens of Meghalaya need to ask, and the recent political upheavals in the state of Meghalaya give ample evidence that the issue of Governance can no longer be taken for granted by those in Power. These developments make it make it all the more imperative that we come up with the right answers as to what we really mean by Governance. The need to understand, perceive and differentiate between what we are led to believe is good governance and what exactly good governance exemplifies, becomes crucial. Let there be no doubt that on our ability to first understand and then usher in good governance will lie our ability to successfully meet the challenges of tomorrow. Our tomorrow, lest we forget, is the today of our children. For their sake let us try to analyse this much misunderstood term – Governance and what it really means.

International Agencies , especially those closely associated with funding for development , define Governance as “the political system and its ability to introduce a manner in which power is exercised in utilising the state’s / country’s economic and social resources for development”. This definition by its very nature sees Governance as the combination of two separate issues. Firstly there is the Political system or entity and secondly there is the manner by which this entity uses its power to bring in development. If we go by this definition and turn to Meghalaya we immediately recognise the following. That there is a Political system and a Political entity that is strongly grounded on the principles of Democratic rule through majority representation. We pat ourselves on the back !We also concede that this system of administration is likely to continue on a foreseeable long term basis. So far so good. The manner however in which power is exercised by this system in utilising resources to usher in development and good quality of life to its citizens is an entirely different story. The Political system in the state of Meghalaya, and there is reason to believe that this applies to all other NE states, has been perpetuated on the belief and assumption that Politics is an end in itself .Period! If resources at all have been utilised , they have been utilised for the benefit of a privileged few than for the good of the masses. Public service is seen more and more as a lucrative business venture than a calling. Political parties prefer candidates with the ability to invest to win. Never mind how the investor manages his returns. The criteria of ability, commitment and integrity is usually given short thrift. Capable persons are often bypassed in the process. The outcome of such policies has often resulted in the emergence of leaders who neither have the capability nor the desire to exercise their power for the good of the state and its people . Power in such cases is ruthlessly pursued for pelf and self aggrandisement and where scarce resources are pocketed by a privileged few. Small wonder that Governance as defined by the World Bank and others is scarcely known nor is it recognised by most. Many of us have never seen it , let alone been introduced to it!

For a clearer perception of governance within the Indian context, it is necessary to first define the relationship of Politics and Governance. No doubt the two are closely interlinked but the distinction blurs when we equate , as we often do, Political Stability with Good Governance. These are two different things but in India , the aam janta is often persuaded to see them as one and the same. A state or a country may have political stability but not necessarily good governance. Dictatorships usually flaunt stable administrations but good governance has never been the trademark of a dictatorship. As such, coalition governments which are usually associated with political instability need not necessarily be dubbed with the stigma of poor Governance nor should single party governments , simply by reason of their stability be stamped with the hallmark of good governance. This is not to debunk the concept of political stability, as this is important in a Party based democracy and it does contribute and is a vital to good governance. The argument here is that stability is not the sole factor towards the ability to govern nor should it be seen as good governance in another avatar. This is important to understand . In a political scenario that is shifting rapidly towards coalition governments, the tendency to hide behind the excuse of instability for the inability to deliver is often glibly offered and as often gullibly accepted as a political truth. This is not factual and coalition governments are as capable to govern as any other form of government. Stability or the lack of it is no longer acceptable as an excuse for non performance.

The reader is justified to ask “Then what is?” It is the contention of this essay that irrespective of the nature and characteristics of a government, good governance is usually made up of the following components (1) accountability , which should include both fiscal and social accountability of the government and the administration it heads, to the people. This will lie in its ability to uphold the rule of law irrespective of political compulsions or otherwise (2) Responsiveness or the ability to respond to the needs of the community , the people and the nation. Responsiveness to real needs is usually at odds with dictates of short term political expediency, as the latter does not necessarily reflect genuine needs of the people. In the NE, elitist and urban centric governments, pressurised by urban based pressure groups , often bow to such pressure and thereby negate the trigger of responsiveness that could have brought in much needed change. In Meghalaya concession of the Government to the KSU opposition for a railhead at Byrnihat has cost the state dear. Government in this case failed to respond to real needs of the state.(3)The existence of a legal framework that fosters development issues. The Indian Constitution provides ample scope under this component for good governance. Sluggish political response to such legal provisions has more often than not delayed the fruits of such enactments to reach the people . A classic example is the 73rd Amendment and the introduction of the PRI as an instrument to bring in peoples participation in development . Meghalaya and its politicians till date have yet to come up with any viable proposal on how to benefit from this Act of Parliament that seeks to accelerate rural development through the devolution of power. In the process the people of the state lose out for no fault of theirs, except that they elected leaders incapable of thinking. (4) Efficient public management is another aspect of good governance . The art to manage civil society and the social capital assets that are inherent in every community is also of prime importance. In homogenous tribal societies ,such as those that inhabit the states of the NE , the inability of governments to channelise these ingrained social assets for the promotion of viable socio-economic benefits, reflect poorly on the governance that we have managed to foster ever since independence. In our endeavour towards political self rule most of us have totally neglected the traditional strengths we inherited from our ancestors. For instance in Meghalaya, the political obsession with the District Councils, an imposed institution under the 6th Schedule at the neglect of our traditional institutions has cost us dear.(5) Last but not least, the concept of good governance lies in the preparedness and willingness of the administration to share power through free flow of information and transparency in all its actions. The concept of stakeholder partnership between government and the public is new and novel to many but from all indications it is a relationship upon which future governance shall depend heavily on. The right to information is a vital ingredient that is expected to speed up the process of confidence building between the rulers and the ruled. To my mind the above components of administration make up what can be called Good Governance. Unfortunately, as stated earlier , these components have yet to find acceptance in Meghalya’s administrative makeup.

The above mentioned components however are but processes and by themselves per se do not constitute good governance. The processes or components need operate within a predetermined framework of policies and ideologies that are usually embodied in the Constitution of the state. Government sincerity for the provisions of the Constitution is in turn demonstrated by the political will that usually provides the legal frame work to steer the administration. This political will shall necessarily have to be of relevance to the majority of the people, which in Meghalaya’s case is composed of the Rural Poor. By this definition of Good Governance and within the territorial framework that it is expected to operate , ie the state of Meghalaya , Good Governance in Meghalaya shall be composed of processes and policies that aim at poverty alleviation through the provision of practical and sustainable livelihood options; elimination of hunger through interventions that impact favourably on food security issues of the poor ; legislation that address issues of inequality amongst the population and which encourages the emergence of socio-economic egalitarianism ; legal provisions that enforce empowerment especially the empowerment of women and last but not least good governance needs to provide space in decision making to those who have been traditionally and socially deprived or marginalised from such a process. In the ultimate analysis good governance shall always be measured by its ability to provide a satisfactory quality of life to the people so governed. This quality of life in turn will be determined by the easy availability ; standard and excellence ; the frequency and the regularity of basic needs and services such as health , education and food security that are offered and is available to the maximum number of citizens of the state. By these parameters can we claim that good governance exists in Meghalaya ?


Earlier we spoke of the need of good governance in the background of governments and politics that operated within the concept of a welfare state where planned economic development was taken as the prime responsibility of the state. It was also established that within such a frame work there needs be the political will. This Political Will is generally translated to legal enactments meant to enable the state to pursue its stated objectives towards good governance. With introspection and in fairness we find in Meghalaya , that though the Institutional Framework existed the Political Will was definitely wanting in all respects. The Institutional framework, the Constitution and its provisions, existed and provided us with the necessary guidance and empowerment which could have enabled us to come up with relevant processes to help achieve what the Constitution stood for - Good Governance. Instead the processes that the Political elite chose for the state in its 32 years of statehood were in complete aberration with all constitutional norms for the attainment of Good Governance. Why this happened and the varied excuses offered as to why and how it happened is now part of history and need not concern us. Of concern is tomorrow and our ability to meet its challenges. Of concern is the existence of external factors that are fast impinging on the very concept of a Welfare State. We now constantly hear and even constantly speak of such terms as LPG ( Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation) , of IPR regimes, of GATT and WTO. Rapid Global changes are taking place which are impacting on developing states and countries like India. How confident is Meghalaya and its people in meeting these future challenges ? Or rather where do our political leaders stand on such issues and how confident are we of their leadership qualities for a new tomorrow? Genuine doubt on spurious goods !

It is now absolutely clear. We have not been able to evolve processes for Good governance even within the Constitutional framework of a welfare state. What is also becoming clearer by the day is the gradual retreat of the Welfare State as the prime mover for development and social change. In this era of globalisation the neo liberal regime has taken centre stage and promises to be the harbinger of things to come. In such an environment it is clear that the private sector shall be calling the shots and the motive will clearly be prompted by returns, profits and gain. Some firmly believe that the TINA ( there is no alternative) factor has come to stay and that we should move together with it. This neo liberal concept also advocates the belief that so called Govt spoon feeding based on a Social Welfare approach has been the main cause for non development and therefore must be replaced by the dynamism and wisdom of the Market. With this belief also comes the elitist argument that the Private Sector is more capable of handling development than the intrusive welfare state with all its dos and don’ts. On this neo rightist projection was the slogan “ India Shinning” conceived and on this slogan was the 2004 Indian General Elections fought. We are living with its results ! What has come out loud and clear is that the Indian Electorate gives two hoots for any economic development paradigm that ignores the precepts of Good Governance. Amen

This writeup started off with the definition of Good Governance ; crossed over to delivery mechanisms; crossed swords with neo liberalism and finally ended up with expectations of the 21st century Indian Electorate. Well basically what does the majority of the Indian Electorate want and expect? Going by the 2004 results it is obvious that the menu is for development –but development with a human face ! I believe the current demand is for just and equitable development; the call is for strategies that will usher in socio-economic transformation that will ensure an egalitarian social order; there is a cry for alleviation of poverty and inequality; for sustainable means of livelihood especially for the rural poor; for more lateral distribution and easy accessibility of basic services like health and education and last but not least for post election attention to the poor and the underprivileged of India. These are demands that a market driven economy will find difficult to accommodate for the simple reason that the playing field between the have and have-nots in India is too uneven. But India had prophets and the 73rd Amendment is basically a strategy to amalgamate the Governance of a developing nation with the demands of a market driven , Globalisation oriented developmental paradigm. India sought to counter LPG through devolution of powers to the village level so that Privatisation can harmoniously proceed side by side with a people driven social oriented growth. This experiment has already taken off in the rest of India. The productive sector will be tempered by the social sector. The possibility of Good Governance surviving between the pressures of Coalition Politics and a Market driven economy seems possible and there is hope for the future. The tragedy is in Meghalaya we are yet to wake up to this crucial change. We might wake up too late.
        In conclusion, if this article has raised hypothetical problems and raked up fears for Meghalaya’s future, it has done so because the continued practice of Poor Governance in the state gives ample justification for such fears. If the issue of Non Governance has been flagged time and again , it is because there is little to indicate that change is forthcoming from the arrogance of ignorance. Meghalaya and its leaders have yet to figure out a way on how to adjust to the Panchayati Raj regime. Everyone knows that both the District Councils and the so called Traditional Institutions are institutions sans accountability sans transparency, where the practice of Good Management is yet to find recognition in the hierarchy of these institutions. In the name of the people, vested interests have hijacked both the above institutions and robbed them of any shred of credibility they once possessed. They are not beyond repair but in the meanwhile the people suffer for want of a system where they can implement development that they can call their own. For a so called egalitarian society we are surprisingly hard put to come up with a workable model where the devolution of power can really start flowing to the lowest grassroot institutions. In our ability to come up with a participatory bottoms-up paradigm of local self government shall lie Meghalaya’s answer on how it plans to meet the challenges of tomorrow. Involving the people in economic growth where Government, NGOs and civil society together act as stake holders and equal joint partners in development – is perhaps the only way to start on the road towards Good and Equitable Governance.


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

                                               Astha Bharati