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Sunday, July 19, 2009

#1261, 31 December 2003
The Price of Misgovernance Firdaus AhmedFreelance writer on security affairs
The young state of Chhatisgarh witnessed two ‘sting’ operations recently revealing the rot in its politics. In the first, a prospective Chief Ministerial candidate was selling mining rights for a consideration. While corruption was rightly been discerned in the deal, other equally compelling facts have not been noticed. Among these are the mix of religion, money and politics, and the ease of accessing national resources in the Dabhol tradition of the liberalization era. In the second ‘sting’ operation, the defeated Chief Minister was attempting to subvert the electoral verdict. This is characteristic of Indian politics at both the state and national levels reflecting the ease with which the scheme was thought up and executed. The implications for governance are obvious.
Not so clearly visible is the relevance of these issues to national security. The outcome of such politics will only be misgovernance that extracts a price in terms of national security. Areas adjacent to Chhatisgarh are relatively unstable, where lack of development has heightened the profile of leftist organizations sworn to effecting social and political change through violence. The ‘Red’ arc attends from the Maoist areas in Nepal through Bihar and the tribal areas of Central India into the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh. These areas along with portions of West Bengal have historically been prone to naxalism. Lack of and skewed development in these areas is compounded by evidence of political incapacity that could lead to a ‘Bihar like’ lawless situation, the latest victim of which has been Mr. Satyendra Dubey, an upright manager in the national government’s flagship infrastructure project, the Golden Quadrilateral. The implications for national security are that lack of penetration of the State in these areas is portentous for India’s future stability.
A feature of the LPG (Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation) phenomenon is self-centeredness. States in India’s west and south may prove unwilling to bail out their less developed neighbors. The diverging trajectories of these two sets of states would accentuate problems arising from ethnic politics, population pressures, migration, and dwindling economic opportunity. Witness the violence in Assam, Bihar and Maharashtra. The bomb attack on Mr. Naidu, one of India’s sunshine Chief Ministers, can be read as the ‘backlash’ of India’s marginalized sectors. A knee jerk ‘law and order’ approach has its limitations. A political approach conceding smaller states such as Telangana and Vidharba etc can only be as effective as the politics practiced, which as has been seen, does not inspire confidence.
There are several policy recommendations in play. The Sen-Dreze duo hold that economic reforms have to go further by transforming the education, social security and health sectors. Sainath brings to focus issues like migration, skewed distribution and resulting desperation. The attention cornered by the IT and services sector at the cost of the larger agricultural and manufacturing sector has its own human costs. The emerging détente with Pakistan could be utilized to divert defense funding into more relevant national security related areas lyingin the spere of development economics. All these options are predicated on a cleaning up of politics which is corroding the attractions of a free India.
The ‘tit for tat’ ‘sting’ operations in Chhatisgarh indicate that national parties are oblivious of the wider ramifications of being solely election oriented. In the light of governance the fallout is grave. Where politics could function as arbiter of emerging and ongoing conflicts, politics itself would lose its attraction as the arena for interaction and settlement. Alternative approaches are vying for attention subscribing to the philosophy of ‘power flowing from the barrel of the gun’ that would gain legitimacy by default. Election analysis after the latest round of elections has consistently alighted on development being the deciding element with voters. Politics would require a response, lest democracy itself suffer. The problem is that the need for resurrection of self-critical politics is not being recognized.
The hope is that the ‘finals’ in the form of national elections next year may indicate some realization that there has to be turning of the corner if India is to be saved. With the ruling party hoping for an extension of time at the helm and the opposition attempting to avert a passage into history, the national elections could witness a culmination of this disturbing trend. The onus is thus on Mr. Vajpayee and Ms. Gandhi, to jointly set the agenda, the limits and the standards. The silver lining is that the both are perceptive and capable enough to reverse the downslide endangering national security.

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