Today’s Livemint editorial talks about how Indian cities need better leadership and how its current political structure hinders good administration:
India does not have the political structures required to run its growing cities with large budgets. One of the key problems is the lack of quality political leadership at the third level of government (the problem is perhaps even more acute in the village panchayats). The two are linked: talented politicians are unlikely to be attracted to a job that has little power while handing over more power to city governments will backfire unless the quality of urban leadership improves. Much of the debates on devolution seem to bypass this key obstacle. Indian cities need the quality of political leadership that was available many decades ago, when people of the calibre of Nehru, Patel, Bose, Rajagopalachari and Prasad led city governments.
Several countries in the world have empowered mayors. New York mayors such as Rudy Giuliani or Michael Bloomberg can be effective because they have power; Boris Johnson has far more freedom to manage London than his Indian counterparts; the campaign to bring the Olympics to Rio de Janeiro has been led by mayor Eduardo Paes; even many Chinese cities have been hothouses for political talent that later went national. In India, state governments that have traditionally been run by rural elites have not been keen to hand power to city governments that are usually treated as cash cows to fund patronage networks in the hinterland. The way Karnataka politicians have treated Bangalore or Maharashtra politicians have treated Mumbai are two obvious examples.
Full Article: Indian cities need better leadership, February 14, 2014.
On February 1, Meena Seshadri, a software professional, a social worker and the wife of a well known politician, spoke to the B.CLIP class on various topics related to a public life. Her session was on the realities of practicing politics and working at the grassroots level.
She talked about the choices that shaped her life, described her experiences as a software professional and as the wife of a politician and how she balanced both roles and the difficulties she faced. She also spoke about the role and responsibilities of a public servant touching on the multiple aspects of running for elections—from campaigning, fund raising, to convincing the citizens to participate in solving the problems faced by the city. She described the daily challenges that one would face working at the grassroots level and the need for a strong professional and personal support system, along with the need to have a steady flow of personal income. Meena also spoke about the importance of giving back to the society and the personal satisfaction she felt with her work in bringing about a change in the country.
Meena’s session was informal and interactive, with the B.CLIP students asking her multiple questions ranging from the significance of gender in politics, fund raising and methods to reach out to citizens .
The most fundamental concept in politics and governance are the concept of a State and the rule of law.
The story goes that in prehistoric times before any political institutions came into being, people lived by obeying the ‘law of the jungle’, which was essentially every person for himself. You could enjoy your freedom to the extent that your strength and power could allow it. This is also referred to Indian mythology as matsyanyaya, or the law of fish – where the little fish is eaten by the big fish which is eaten by the bigger fish.
Evolving out of this, people decided to surrender some of their rights, especially the right to violence – in order to protect the rest of their rights. They surrendered these rights to a State, a political entity that enjoys a monopoly over violence. These states can be of any type – a monarchy, republic, democracy or any other form. Modern India is both a republic and a democracy.
The complementary concept is that of the rule of law, or dandaniti. The notion is that a common set of laws and rules applies to all people, and that no one – not a minister nor a government functionary is above it. And the highest aspiration of anyone in political life ought to be to obey the rule of law as well as enforce it.
This was a part of Nitin Pai’s introductory briefing to B.CLIP students on December 6, 2013.
For more on this, read:
The Origins of Political Order, by Francis Fukuyama. [Google Books]
Nitin Pai on Reading Arthashastra on the rule of Law.
Save the Small Fish, by Devdutt Pattanaik.