Irresponsible Governance

Irresponsible Governance

Congress, BJP, Communists, BSP, Sena Etc Reveal Equally Bad Traits

By Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman, March 4 2008, Editorial Page Special Article, http://www.thestatesman.net

A “black” American, born of a black Kenyan father and white American mother, and having a Muslim middle name Hussein though Christian by faith, may become the freely elected President of the USA in January 2009. He has stood up himself and anyone who knows Western cultures will know how hard it would have been to overcome workplace prejudices. Martin Luther King Jr’s dream of America becoming a nation where people “will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character” might start to be fulfilled.

Can the same be said of modern India, ever? When will Muslims, Dalits, tribals and whomever become well enough integrated with mainstream Hindu societies ~ and vice versa ~ that we have army generals, fighter pilots, submarine commanders, nuclear scientists, media moghuls, top executives, and yes, freely elected Prime Ministers of India from any externally identifiable group without batting an eyelid? The policies followed by the Congress, BJP, Communists, BSP etc., exemplified by Mr Chidambaram’s pandering Budget-Speech last week, suggest that the answer will be never.

Selling illusions

Mr Chidambaram mentioned “Scheduled Caste” six times and “Minority” (meaning “Muslim”) five times in his speech~ if he or the Sonia-Manmohan Government genuinely felt any of the schemes mentioned were in the true interest of these groups, these schemes could have been simply and quietly implemented without fanfare or political advertisement. Making a big deal about them in Parliament during a Budget-Speech precisely reveals the actual underlying cynicism and hypocrisy. The fact may be it is not the schemes themselves that are important but the illusions created and sold about them, illusions that have electoral value because they deceive the purported beneficiaries into thinking that somebody powerful cares about them and controls their well-being.

A quarter-century ago in Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India, I applied the arguments of the black American economist Thomas Sowell to the Indian case. I said: “the racial composition of contemporary American society is a complex mosaic, and no-one can say with certainty how it has come to be what it is today. In such circumstances, for the government to try to isolate a single contingent characteristic like “race”, partition society on the basis of census data according to this characteristic, and then construct public policies accordingly, is to introduce an enormous arbitrariness into economic life. By merely defining a group by reference to a single contingent characteristic, which all its members seem to possess, the intrinsic complexity of the individual person is lost or overlooked. Two members of the same race may be very different from each other in every relevant characteristic (income, education, political preference, and so on), and indeed resemble members of other races more closely in them. A policy which introduces a citizen’s race as a relevant factor in the assignment of jobs or college places partitions the citizenry into vague groups: members of groups who are very different from members of other groups in characteristics other than race rarely competing with each other anyway, while the burden and beneficence of the State’s policies fall on members of groups who are not very different from members of other groups in characteristics other than race”.

Sowell himself (in Knowledge and Decisions) put it like this: “costs are borne disproportionately by those members of the general population who meet standards with the least margin and are therefore most likely to be the ones displaced to make room for minority applicants. Those who meet the standards by the widest margin are not directly affected ~ that is, pay no costs. They are hired, admitted or promoted as if blacks did not exist. People from families with the most general ability to pay also have the most ability to pay for the kind of education and training that makes such performance possible. The costs of special standards are paid by those who do not. Among the black population, those most likely to benefit from the lower standards are those closest to meeting the normal standards. It is essentially an implicit transfer of wealth among people least different in non-racial characteristics. For the white population it is a regressively graduated tax in kind, imposed on those who are rising but not on those already on top.’”

What Sowell said about American blacks may well apply to India’s religious and caste minorities today. Problems of tribal India are more subtle requiring more technical sociological and anthropological study.

The Leftist idea common to the Congress, Communists, BSP etc has been to perpetuate dependency of Muslims, Dalits, OBCs etc upon the whims of State power (as wielded by such Leftists themselves). By contrast, the Rightist/Fascistic idea of the BJP, its RSS parent, the Sena etc has been to try to bludgeon Muslims, Dalits and everyone else into submission whereby they must adopt majority customs, habits or political beliefs or (in true Nazi fashion) come to be exiled or banned from mainstream society. Both Left and Right in India have also promoted new government-induced “Sex Wars” between males and females ~ passing laws drastically raising the risk and cost of maintaining marriages and family households, which then simply collapse as has happened elsewhere.

In general, the Congress, BJP, Communists, BSP etc have been united in being wholly incapable of seeing India’s people as individuals in their own right in all the diversity and complexity that entails ~ as free citizens who possess individual rights to belief, property, security, privacy etc. Instead the idea has been to politically categorize people as members of mass-groups that may be then manipulated as puppets using State power in one direction or another. The result has been a general failure in the country to develop the notion of responsible individual citizens (hundreds of millions in number) dealing with responsible public and civic institutions including the State.

Citizens and State

Even in nations that are heirs to a long history of democratic political development, the link often has not been made in the public mind between enjoyment or lack of enjoyment of public services, and costs upon individual citizens from whom resources must be ultimately raised. In a fiscal democracy “those who bear the costs of public services are also the beneficiaries” (JM Buchanan); conversely, those who demand public services must pay for them in real resources one way or another. If citizens feel they receive little or nothing of value from government, there is an obvious loss of incentive to be counted as responsible voting members of the same community, and instead reason to evade taxes or flee the country or cynically believe everything to be corrupt.

On the other hand, if citizens demand public services without expecting to contribute private resources for their production, this amounts to being no more than a wish to be free-riders on the general budget. While Indian citizens have been arbitrarilty partitioned by government according to religion, caste etc., widespread cynicism has prevailed about secular provision of public services by government at any level. At the same time the idea is far from understood that beneficiaries of public services must sooner or later expect to bear real resource-costs one way or another. Everyday politics thus becomes highly irresponsible. Political New Delhi has created such a state of affairs over decades and continues to contribute to it.

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