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Governance Vs Government:NEED TO DEMOCRATIZE GOVT, by Dr. Anupam Saraph, 14 Apr, 2011 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 14 April 2011

Governance Vs Government


By Dr Anupam Saraph


“If people want to move towards the process of democratisation, they have our good wishes”. No, it is not President Obama or Secretary Clinton but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh responding to a query from the Al Jazeera TV representative at his recent press conference about the developments in Egypt and other Arab countries.

Manmohan Singh’s own Government enjoys support of a mere 19 per cent of the electorate.  A whopping 81 per cent of the electorate did not vote for the Congress. For those like Dr Singh democratization has come to mean a Government of the people.  Or more correctly it has become synonymous with a Government of the Party that has the most candidates with the largest votes in each constituency. Or a Government of the Party that can secure the largest number of supporters in a coalition.

George Orwell would have sighed in despair. After all his Animal Farm highlighted long ago the insight that replacing a Government, by whatever means one chooses, is not the path to accomplish the purpose of democracy.

It is not the purpose of democracy to provide an alternate method for the coronation of tenure-track dynasties, dictators or kings and queens in the form of an elected Government. The purpose of democracy is to provide a method of governance where each person can participate.

A democracy therefore is not about its elections and even less so about its vote banks. A democracy is about the ability of the ordinary citizen to be able to participate in governance that makes life for the citizen worth living.

The usurping of governance by an elected Government is at least as bad, if not actually a lot worse, than that by an un-elected ruler by whatever title. To paraphrase Daniel Quinn, if governance is saved, it will not be saved by old minds forming new Governments but by new minds with little or no Government at all.

The moral man, as many political thinkers have insightfully stated, delegates his sins to a Government. Unless there is less Government as Henry David Thoreau put it, we cannot have a good Government. Better still is when governance substitutes Governments, not the other way around.

The cash-for-votes scam, 2-G and S-band spectrum scams, Adarsh housing scandal, black-money scam, food scam, farmers suicide scams, the JNNURM scam, CYG and CWG scams, Jaitapur scam etc underline how well the delegation of sin works with the Government.

Clearly, the wrongs of Governments are not about a number game. The wrongs cannot become right if everyone were to practice them.

Even the illiterate farmer form the Ganges plains describes India’s democracy as a “contractor driven democracy”. In the delegation of sins to Government, we leave the vital issues of governance to be driven by contractors who privatize public land, take over the commons, usurp the inviolable and inherent rights to water, food, shelter, even take to taxing mobility through toll plazas, and convert natural forests and agricultural fields into resource mines and real estate.

If the ordinary citizen cannot choose in a just and fair way to exercise the inherent and inviolable right to live, to access a safe, clean environment and natural resources --- land, water, food, air --- and the governance of everything affecting life, whatever the manner of appointing a Government, it’s not a democracy.

Isn’t our “democratic” Governments’ performance at protecting our national heritage --- water-bodies, mountains and forests --- that we sing about in our National Anthem miserably poor? Is our Governments’ track record on satyameva jayate any better? If our “democratic” Governments have failed to ensure water, and roti, kapda aur makaan for every Indian, are we even addressing the purpose of democracy? Would our Government’s even have a pass performance at delivering the equality, liberty, justice and fraternity that the Constitution guarantees us? Ouch- that hurts.

Further, our elected Governments have a poor track record at creating an inclusive, open and long-term policy for anything.  They privatize public interest and also find its members as part of the private parties taking over the public interest.

Our “elected” Governments have successively failed to ensure voting as a proxy to governance and not Government. The processes of forming Governments and having them stay afloat have become an end in itself rather than a means of governance.

True, Governments justify everything in the name of expediency. Forgetting that governance is not about expediency. Governments hide behind the collective. Governance is about taking responsibility. Governments put procedures, not purpose at the top. Governance is about the purpose, not the procedures.

If the purpose of democracy is to provide a method of governance where each person can participate, after six decade why has no elected Government accomplished even a small part of this?

Privatization of governance by elected Governments, under Build Operate Transfer (BOT) whatever, retiring from a business area etc. rely on private institutions to satisfy people’s needs. Thus, leaving the private interests to service the need of the people disengages from the interests of the public.

The Open Source movement in contrast creates a platform for users to take charge of intellectual property. It is an example of our times where governance has been de-institutionalized and returned to the community of stake-holders. The Open Source community is not a Government, rather a mechanism of governance where anyone can participate.

Imagine a world where you can pick from many alternatives to shape and run your neighbourhood in ways that are open, neutral to technologies and organizations, don’t discriminate any person or community, are non-exploitative of nature, natural resources and people, don’t require Government budgets and licenses to implement. Think what Open Source governance would look like.

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia based on the principles of Open Source. Users create their own encyclopedia. Or at the level of a topic, the users interested in that topic mobilize together and generate a page that is meaningful to all of them.

Simple rules of engagement have helped Open Source solutions like Wikipedia to work. The community manages these rules, not Parliaments and legislators. If you are affected, you need to participate. A few guiding principles that have worked include openness, inclusion and fairness to all

The Open Source governance would be similar. Stake-holders would mobilize around neighbourhoods and issues that concern them. Together they would transform the community even as those stake-holders outside the neighbourhood begin contributions if they are affected by the transformations.

The premise that an elected Government is the democratic solution to the problems of the nation is religious fundamentalism. ---- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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