The pitfall of institutionalising the process of governance is being highlighted by critics as Capt Amarinder Govt’s failure as if the politicised form of governance was a better alternative.
By Manish Tiwari: It has only been two and half months since the Congress Government was formed in Punjab and the people, especially opinion makers, have started critically appraising its performance. While the people want Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh to deliver on his poll promises, some of his colleagues are seeking to create an impression that the people are not feeling any sense of change or relief and that it is “business as usual”.
But is that so? Within two days of coming to power, Capt Amarinder’s Cabinet took over 100 important decisions aimed at fulfilling one-third of the poll promises. An expert committee headed by Dr T Haque, former chairman, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, was constituted to assess the quantum of agricultural debt on Punjab farmers and suggest ways and means for its waiver. The CM has put in place a good team of bureaucrats and police officers at all levels, including the Chief Minister’s Office, and engaged able and efficient bureaucrats and experts to advise on the issues of governance and the state’s finances.
He has been periodically sending clear signals to politicians and the officers in the field that he would not tolerate any undue interference in affairs of the government — which had become the norm during the previous SAD-BJP rule. There’s more. His government dismantled the halqa in-charge system that had completely vitiated the system of governance at the grassroots level whereas the top bureaucracy has been working overtime to set systems right and restore good work culture.
That the political masters in the previous regime had centralised decision making and justice delivery systems is well known. Officers in the State Police Headquarters and the Civil Secretariat would often rue the fact that the entire police force and administration had been politicised and as a result, the government was failing in deliverance of justice and redressal of public grievances. This was precisely the reason why the people of Punjab voted the Akalis out.
Instead of appreciating Capt Amarinder’s agenda of “good governance” — or at least his intention to do so — some of his own colleagues and detractors have been airing their grievances against the present set up and making the Chief Minister’s ‘accessibility’ an issue.
Even a political novice knows that it was the Captain’s personal charisma and mass appeal that enabled the Congress to come to power in Punjab in 2002 and 2017. And despite all odds, the past decade saw him emerge as an undisputed leader of the party. In fact, he has learnt his lessons the hard way and to the surprise of many, Capt Amarinder is now a tad more conscious of those who strut around him. The change was possible because some well-meaning officers and associates could gradually find their way into his close circuit, and started giving him fair and frank advice. This, however, may not have gone down well with some of those who had too many expectations from the new Government and have been looking for their “pound of flesh”!
They are well aware that every government needs time to formulate and implement concrete plans to bring about a change. But if this change just means changing one set of officers, be it the State DGP, with another set, just because government has changed, it would amount to taking a myopic view of the system of governance.
The critics must realise that one change which is very much visible in Punjab is that the new Government has sought to institutionalise the process of governance by replacing the politicised form of governance.
In elections, leaders make several promises so that they can wrest power from their rivals, despite knowing full well that they don’t have a magic wand or ready solution to all the problems. In the past two months, the State bureaucracy has also realised that there is no easy way out to deal with the State’s financial mess and some of them have already started advocating “political solutions”.
The Capt Amarinder Government is already fighting on several fronts, especially after the Rana Gurjit Singh controversy. But the biggest challenge before the CM is to balance out the desires and ambitions of some of the people who want to “gain access or make access to him their business”, with his primary commitment of restoring the systems of governance.
Will he succeed in striking this balance?