30 Sep 2016 20:15 IST

What governance of States means in Indian politics

Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he speaks during a rally in Mumbai on October 9, 2014, in this file photo. It was during his 2014 general elections campaign that the term 'governance' entered the Indian political lexicon. (Reuters)   -  REUTERS

A study tries to answer this question and based on it, assess political parties’ performance

Governance was a term that entered into the Indian political lexicon during the 2014 general election campaign. The erstwhile UPA government’s ‘policy paralysis’ came in for much criticism not only from commentators in the media, but also from BJP politicians campaigning during the elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi coined his now famous slogan during the campaign – ‘minimum government, maximum governance’.

The BJP-led NDA came to power with the express intention of providing a government that works, implying that governance had come to a standstill during the UPA-II regime. It was a narrative that worked and captured the imagination of the electorate, the proof of which was the NDA’s comfortable victory at the elections.

But if one looks beyond the election rhetoric, trying to define governance can be a tricky exercise. Not only governance is a complex term, it can mean different things to different people. And the problem only gets compounded in a diverse country like India.

A paper published recently in the journal Economic and Political Weekly titled ‘Governance performance of Indian States – Changes between 2001-02 and 2011-12’ written by economists Sudipto Mundle, Samik Chowdhury and Satadru Sikdar tries to give a precise meaning to the term governance and assess the performance of Indian States based on this definition.

State governments’ governance

Also, since 2000, the action from the Centre has shifted to the States and their governance promises and record are coming under increasing scrutiny by the electorate. Though identity politics is still a reality, governance issues are also gaining prominence across States. Even in the so called ‘BIMARU’ states, Akhilesh Yadav and Nitish Kumar’s development and governance plank has resonated with the electorate. The way the more developed States compete with each other to attract investments — both domestic and global — is further proof of this.

There have also been several studies, of late, which have ranked States according to their level of competitiveness; most notably that of NCAER and the Centre’s DIPP.

The authors of the paper set out five criteria to base their ranking — infrastructure, social services, fiscal performance, justice, law and order, and quality of legislature. So the emphasis here is equally on economic as well as social outcomes, such as justice and law and order. The study assessed the performance of 19 States accounting for 96 per cent of India’s population. When it came to infrastructure, there was incredible diversity of performance between States. Though between 2001 and 2011, Bihar had made rapid strides in power generation, its total installed capacity was still only one-fifteenth that of Gujarat.

Infrastructure

Also, if one looks at the top six States in infrastructure between 2001 and 2011, there is very little change. In 2001 the top six States were Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, Kerala, Haryana and Tamil Nadu; in 2011, Karnataka made it into the top six, while Punjab slipped to seventh. But in terms of performance, Uttarakhand performed impressively moving up from 17th to eightth, followed by Karnataka and West Bengal.

When it comes to social services delivery not surprisingly Kerala was at the top in 2001 and 2011. Tamil Nadu moved two ranks to claim the second rank, while Himachal Pradesh slipped from second to fourth. Gujarat slipped from fifth to ninth. Despite the recent questions raised against the Kerala model of development, these rankings reaffirm its efficacy.

Also, Gujarat’s slip lends credence to the argument that growth and infrastructure alone are not sufficient for raising social indices in the State. Though Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are at the bottom of the table, when their “performance is rated after correcting for levels of development”, they too have made impressive strides.

In fiscal performance, which is a combination of the States’ tax efforts and their development spending in 2001, the top States were Karnataka, Gujarat, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Additionally, in 2011, two States made an entry into the top 5 — Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, with Haryana and Gujarat dropping out, though both of them were ranked sixth and seventh respectively.

Law and order

The long drawn out litigation process in India where cases drag on for years has been a matter of intense debate for some years now. In delivery of justice, law and order, Punjab, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are the top five States in 2001, and in 2011 Gujarat and Uttarakhand break into this list with Chhattisgarh slipping to sixth. At the bottom are Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in both time periods.

While measuring quality of legislature the study looks at Assemblies where the least number of MLAs had serious criminal charges pending, Assam and Punjab are the top two States in both 2001 and 2011. West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh are in the top five in 2001, but in 2011 Rajasthan and Uttarakhand make it to the top five. There is an alarming slip by Tamil Nadu to 14th rank, and Bengal too slips to 12th position.

Final rankings

So after collating all the five parameters the study concludes that in overall quality of governance, in 2001 the top five States were Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Kerala and Haryana, and in 2011 it is again Gujarat and Tamil Nadu holding the top two positions with Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Punjab making up rest of the spots.

The most interesting conclusion of the study is the relative stability of the rankings in both years 2001and 2011. The six best ranking States in 2001 also remained the best performing in 2011 — Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Punjab. A similar trend is observed at the bottom of the list too.

In terms of relative rankings adjusted for development impact, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Chhattisgarh have made impressive progress in the 2001-11 period. The study says the stability of rankings in both years could also be a pointer towards growing regional disparity with more developed States pulling further away from the less developed ones.

For Tamil Nadu, the interesting aspect to note is since 1984, power has alternated between the two major Dravidian parties — the DMK and AIADMK — a trend that was broken by AIADMK in the 2016 Assembly elections. In 2001, AIADMK had come back to power, and in 2006 it was DMK which wrested it back. But remarkably, it hardly altered the State’s ranking in quality of governance going by this study.

So despite their bitter rivalry, both the Dravidian parties seemed to have provided relatively good governance to the State.

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