Monday, June 23, 2008

making anti-incumbency work...

One thing that's always bothered me about India's version of democracy. The politicians keep claiming that they can't enact unpopular, but necessary, legislation because they're scared of being thrown out of office. The nuclear deal is the latest big-ticket casualty, but the argument applies to everything from parking tickets and more expensive licenses for cars (to curb pollution and congestion in Delhi) to raising the tariff for water for the middle class (to finance better supply and reduce waste).

The argument bothers me for two reasons.

The first is that it's patently untrue. Witness the BRT. It was fantastically unpopular from the beginning, and has only gotten more so, yet it's being pursued with vigor.

The second reason is that anti-incumbency virtually guarantees that you'll be thrown out, no matter what you do. Why not do something productive?

The "golden quadrilateral" highway project (justifiably popular) is an example here. It has been pursued by two successive governments, despite their traditional rivalry and the long-standing practice of bringing in your own contractors so you can shift the kickbacks from the old govt to the new.

Considering that the two largest political parties--and many of their allies--can agree on substantial parts of the agenda of what needs to be done for India to develop as a modern nation, this seems to be the way to make anti-incumbency work: Focus on projects / legislation where there is a broad consensus, and push forward regardless of party ties, while using other line items to try to differentiate the party. Leaving aside economic reforms--even though the Congress and BJP are basically agreed on what measures are needed, though they refuse to admit it--Everybody wants good roads. Everybody wants functioning sewers. Everybody wants clean water. If you're going to essentially take turns holding power anyway, what do you have to lose in actually providing them?

There must be another reason than anti-incumbency that nothing gets done.

1 comment:

sompatidar said...

I do agree with your point of view. All governments, irrespective of their parties/grouping, have mutual agreement on developmental issues.