The increasing role of social media, alternative online news channels and individual blogs in shaping public opinion has generated new paradoxical challenges before institution builders. Younger generation is all the more impatient with in-depth analysis. The twitter generation is making new demands on the process of institution building. In any society, the existing institutions implying norms, values and rules, which guide our choices and help us make tradeoffs come under strain when new yardsticks of success and failure emerge. The more materialistic a society becomes, shorter is the timeframe in which choices are appraised. One of its consequences is that long-term investments in institution building are compromised. The leaders are in rush to get results and therefore the processes of consultation, feedback and larger participation of stakeholders are often cut short. The result is costly errors and erosion the values underlying decentralized and democratic governance. In different cultural communities, historical neglect of public services and the functioning of private market are perceived differently. Some communities learn to be helpless while others are impatient. They agitate for their rights often in a non-violent manner but some times, a small fringe may even choose non-democratic means. Unless the dialogue, debate and open discussion are encouraged at all levels, the tendency is for centralizing an authoritarian style to become dominant in the polity.
There are some interesting experiments that can be tried to reinforce more participative and decentralized governance.
If one cabinet meeting takes place every month in one of the states, the opportunity for decentralised dialogue will increase. In case we have to discuss water and sanitation, then the meeting should take place in Mizoram where the society has achieved excellence in both. A meeting on in-situ water conservation, agriculture growth, de-bureaucratized governance, farmer cooperatives, public infrastructure, etc., can be in Gujarat. Institutionalization of public employment programmes can be discussed in Maharashtra.
Two things will happen in this process. The excellence achieved by different states can be showcased and national policy can be influenced from the state’s experiences, a goal of the current model of governance. Second, the feedback can be shared and decision to scale up can be taken on the spot. The remaining problems of the state can also be discussed in an open house so that delays can be avoided and the governance can become more responsive. The Cabinet can also meet representatives of different stakeholders including workers’ unions, farmers’ associations, industry associations and get better understanding of the developmental needs of the state. The distance between the centre and state will reduce. Mutual learning will increase and respect for pursuing common goals despite political differences may increase. In Madhya Pradesh, a village panchayat has followed the method of holding Panchayat meeting in different wards turn by turn and admirable results have been achieved. It is time that the top level of administration begins to learn from grassroots.
If the Cabinet committee spends two days, then half a day should be spent on listening to the experiences of achievers in different sectors in brief so that a positive mood is generated. For these achievers, Delhi is too far, but through decentralized meetings of the Cabinet, various ministers will get empowered because they may not get to learn about achievements of grassroots functionaries through bureaucratic channels. Those who disagree with me on this issue may ascertain from the ministers concerned as to how many such examples have reached their tables from different states. In how many cases, have the national policies and programmes be modified, started or stopped based on the feedback from the achievers in that sector will be the next question. Ideally, the state innovation councils should pool such lessons and share with the government. But, in most states, these councils have not met regularly and hence this function of vertical learning, i.e., the top level learning from the bottom has not really taken place [exceptions apart].
A similar model must be started by the PSUs, banks and other central government undertakings so that board meetings can take place in different states. The idea is same: to make the minds on the periphery or the margin central to the thinking process in the respective organisations. In olden days, as the Kautilya’s Arthashastra provides, the king used to roam different parts of the kingdom in disguise to find out the reality of that time. The responsive kings would take action showing their concern for the problems that were otherwise ignored. The impatience of the younger generation has to be responded through new models of governance. I hope that this experiment can be tried and continued if the results so justify. Different ministers can do the same thing for holding their periodic review meetings in different regions for achieving higher connect with the grassroots. Country is craving for new idiom of governance, accountability and transparency. We can ignore the signals and make peaceful platforms of dialogue and development less relevant. I hope that we will give
peaceful and participative change a better chance.