The most misused cliche about governance is ‘That country is governed best which is governed least’. The cliches have depreciated so much that their value, in contemporary governance, is close to zero.
There are several models of governance. In a unitary or federal, but statist economy, the model is one of total control by the central government (eg. North Korea) or with some control shared with the appointed provincial governments (eg. the erstwhile Soviet Union). China introduced a sui generis model: it kept near total control with the central government but allowed private players to make business decisions. China called it ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’.
Open liberal economies — whether under a unitary or federal constitution — followed a different path. The starting point was laissez faire. In the early years of modern capitalism, it was believed that anything goes under laissez faire. The so-called robber barons of the United States enriched themselves but they also created wealth and jobs. The system produced enormous inequalities. It was also vulnerable to gross failures, violent trade union action and other excesses.
Control vs Regulation
Obviously, laissez faire, as prevalent, could not continue and the State could not remain a silent spectator. The era of regulation began.
Regulation is not control. Countries with open, liberal and market economies struggled to discover the difference between control and regulation. It took them years to put in place appropriate regulatory mechanisms — not amounting to control — and appoint qualified regulators. On the other hand, countries that started with control and are now liberalising — like India — are still struggling to discover the difference, and often end up with either the government exercising remote control or regulators morphing into controllers.
This essay is concerned with one kind of erosion of liberal democratic governance — the Executive Government insidiously acquiring control by diminishing or debilitating other organs of the State and other regulators established by law. The NDA government seems to have perfected the craft.
Gaping Holes in the System
Look at the Table:
Can a country with a population of 132 crore have in its higher judiciary (high courts and the Supreme Court) only 1,110 posts of judges, of which 410 are vacant? The gainer is the largest litigant (the Central government) whose illegal actions, and inactions, are the subject matter of thousands of cases that remain pending for years.
The same can be said about the other authorities and bodies. The key post of Deputy Governor, RBI, in charge of the Department of Banking Supervision, has remained vacant since July 31, 2017 — yet we bemoan the failure of supervision over the Punjab National Bank and other banks! Key regulators and tribunals are running on two or three wheels.
The Hidden Agenda
The purpose of this essay is to ask ‘Is this the minimum government that was promised by the BJP in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in 2014?’ The more important follow-up questions are ‘Who benefits by keeping posts vacant in crucial regulators and authorities?’ and ‘Who benefits from fewer RTI disclosures and fewer tax case judgments?’. The answer is obvious.
We must understand the true nature of the RSS and its offspring, the BJP. The RSS is an authoritarian organisation: one purpose, one thought, one credo and one leader. When it captures the government through its political arm, it tries to impose on the people its pet theories of one history, one culture, one language (“Hindi is our national language”), one religion (“all those who live in Hindustan are Hindus”), one civil code, and one election.
Democracy in its true sense — liberal, multiple voices and thoughts, and checks and balances — is antithetical to the RSS/BJP way of governance. If other institutions of a democracy are weakened, it gives greater power, in the real and practical sense, to the Executive. Hence, the deliberate effort to keep other institutions weak and debilitated. And even when appointments are made, they are totally centralised in the Prime Minister’s Office and done after what is widely-known in Delhi — profiling. The latest victim of profiling is Justice K M Joseph.
Minimum government is intended to acquire maximum control, liberal democracy be damned and damaged.