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Friday, August 06, 2021

Rules vs discretion

From Chhattisgarh, a story of a showpiece government embarrassed by family connections.

By: Express News Service |
Updated: March 31, 2015 12:24:49 am
Raman Singh, Sanjay Singh, Chhattisgarh government, Chhattisgarh Raman Singh, Chhattisgarh news, Raman Singh brother in law, Sanjay Singh denies allegations of having obtained undue benefits.

Under Narendra Modi, the BJP has pointedly abjured the genetic transmission of power, access and benefit, an embarrassing hallmark of the South Asian flavour of democracy. The party’s rhetoric essentially states that a tea-seller can legitimately aspire to rule so long as he or she delivers good governance, and that nothing else ought to matter. So the BJP should be deeply embarrassed by the case of Sanjay Singh, a brother-in-law — though somewhat distant — of three-time Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, who shot up from a Grade III officer to a general manager for tourism in the state. Within the administration, his rise was red-flagged and disparaged in file notings, but continued. Despite the protestations of Raman Singh’s government, which has earned general admiration for streamlining the delivery of services, this is an instance of the cronyism which distorts the political process and hampers development.

One of the core strategies that  Modi attempts to bring to government is the reduction of the possibility of discretion by depersonalising and abstracting the processes through which institutions relate to each other, and through which government and citizens interact.

Transparency discourages discretionary behaviour, too, and together they provide a means to sunder the unholy marriage of patronage and cronyism. Whether the matter at issue is the auction of a natural resource like coal or spectrum, or the unusual career of a government employee, process abstraction and transparency are necessary to even the playing field.

Raman Singh has been in office for over a decade, and it would be quite unfair to expect his kin to restrain themselves from gainful employment all that while. However, they must draw critical attention if their gains are out of proportion, especially when the government is run by a party which rejects the history of family values. Of course, a family relationship is only a special instance of the web of connections that routinely subverts the process by which the government disburses benefit and opportunity. Whether it is the embarrassing rise of the brother-in-law in Chhattisgarh or the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh, another showpiece state of the BJP, the antidote is the same — the discouragement of discretion.

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