It Takes Two to Tango

Governance is often seen as what the government does, which is only partly true. Although governance has been variously defined, most of them recognize that governance has two aspects – one, it is exercise of power and authority and two, it is about the government’s ability and capacity to effectively fulfill its mandate (for a full discussion on governance – what it means and how it can be measured, please see Assessing State of Governance prepared by Center for Good Governance for Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances, Government of India).

Effectiveness of government is critical for good governance as it largely determines the quality of public services, particularly those that the poor access, such as primary health, education, water and sanitation, etc. It also plays a major role in providing a conducive environment for others i.e. the private sector and civil society to play their roles effectively. This translates into ‘ the capacity of governments to manage resources efficiently, and to formulate, implement, and enforce sound policies and regulations’ (Kauffmann, Recanatini and Biletsky). There is no denying that government’s role is rather critical in the governance framework. However, to lay the entire blame for poor governance at the door of government of the day and in some cases of successive past governments amounts to turning a blind eye to the other party – that is, the citizens, the private sector, the media, the civil society.

A good illustration of this is provided by the proposed legislation by Karnataka to regularize deviations in building bye laws in urban areas in the state. According to the news paper report there are an estimated eight lakh building and site violations in Bangalore alone and another six lakh violations in rest of the state. There are obviously two sides to it. There is the government’s (or the local body’s) capacity to enforce the bye laws and prevent violations; but, how about the 14 lakh individuals and more perhaps as many of the buildings might be flats, (surely most of them from well-to-do sections of the society), who thought nothing of violating the bye laws?

The same news paper reported a few days back that Bangalore which had about a thousand lakes a few years ago is now left with less than 250 lakes. The water bodies are encroached upon with impunity in collusion with officials and elected representatives. Who are the beneficiaries of these encroachments? I guess they are the usual suspects – people like us – the middle class.

The Hussain Sagar lake and Mir Alam tank in Hyderabad both supplied drinking water to the city at one time. Today one would hesitate to even put a finger in them as they are so polluted. Over the years both have been severely encroached upon and are just a fraction of their original size. Some of the encroachments – essentially slums – are sponsored by political leaders to create vote banks. The celebration of ganesh festival when thousands of idols are dumped into Hussain Sagar lake has political support across the spectrum for obvious reasons – but again how about the citizens who have no qualms about polluting life giving water bodies?

The recent disaster in Uttarakhand that has stunned the country with its enormous dimension and implications is again a story of private sector companies not seeing beyond their own bottom lines – to hell with environment and ecology.

This is the reason why one must bring in the second dimension of governance into public discourse – that of exercise of power and authority by non government actors. Governance in this sense is seen as ‘the space various stakeholders viz. the state, citizens, civil society and the private sector give each other in managing their affairs and interests. In this sense, all of them not only have a stake in governance but they are also responsible for the state of governance because governance is as much about enforcement and regulation as voluntary compliance with law.’ One might argue that if there is an enlightened and effective government the other parties would behave. It is true, but in many cases placing the entire burden on government is not practical. Governance is also about respect for law and institutions of governance. In any case, a weak and ineffective government is no excuse for others to forget their responsibility. Good governance takes the both government and the civil society to be responsible. It takes two to tango.

Srinivas Kumar Alamuru

[Disclaimer: Views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of CBPS.]

4 thoughts on “It Takes Two to Tango

  1. shastri56

    For civil society to participate in governance, it must be cohesive, with a common sense of purpose, and with a sense of civic duty. Rapid urbanisation has eroded the cohesiveness of civil society, and the growth of money culture and atomisation of life has destroyed common sense of purpose, with each man for himself and devil take the hindmost. This has been the cost of blind west-aping modernisation without reference to our tradition and values.
    In villages, where traditional values remain, there remains a lot of self-governance, with many ills that obtain from traditional mores. If you blindly modernise, you threaten even that remaining island of self-governance.
    Even now, if we return to a model of combining modernisation with adherence to tradition and values, we can arouse the civic society’s participation in governance.
    If we seek civic society’s involvement without this cohesive taproot of our history and values, it can only lead to anarchy, with misgovernance turning into disgovernance.

    1. Srinivas

      Thanks, Rahul Sastry, for your observations about the need for values. I do agree that values are important, but I am not sure to what extent modernization has any thing to do with their erosion.

      If you take our ethos – it is either ‘other worldly’ or ‘me, myself and my family’. There is no sense of belonging to community – possibly because the way it is fragmented by caste, community and class. In fact, modernization might partly mitigate this heterogeneity.

  2. Bharat Oza

    Srinivas, I read your posts with great interest. I liked this one too. But I feel that ordinary citizen still does not want to break the rules. It is a certain organized class in collusion with the ruling elite that takes the lead in doing so. For example, in case of the violation of building bye-laws I would rather blame builders than the flat owners. One way to deal with this issue is to involve all concerned in the process of governance. Why should the by-laws not be framed in consultation of all the stake holders ? This is not done and therefore others don’t feel involved. Many times regulations are only for someone’s benefit and cause higher cost and inconvenience to others. I found that in the U,K. such process of consultations is widely prevalent at all levels of Government. I think it will certainly help here also if it is introduced.

  3. Sebastian Ouseph

    Hi Srini,
    I fully agree with “There is no denying that government’s role is rather critical in the governance framework”.

    But not entirely with “However, to lay the entire blame for poor governance at the door of government of the day and in some cases of successive past governments amounts to turning a blind eye to the other party – that is, the citizens, the private sector, the media, the civil society”.

    The reason is as you stated, “One might argue that if there is an enlightened and effective government the other parties would behave”.

    Expecting society to appreciate that “Governance is also about respect for law and institutions of governance” or that “…..a weak and ineffective government is no excuse for others to forget their responsibility” is I think too far-fetched. Utopian, I should say. No doubt it is true. Society does have a responsibility in this regard. But then adopting such a stance, to put it mildly, would tantamount to an act of escapism on the part of any Government; an act of shifting the burden of failure to society; an easy way out to absolve itself of the guilt of non-performance.

    I think the case of Singapore is a good example. Singapore is what it is today, mainly because of some measures strictly enforced by its Government like – instant fine for being caught spitting in public places; not being allowed to have eatables in its metro trains and a host of such other measures.

    It would be rather quite presumptuous to say that the Indian society is more advanced, educated, responsible or with better civic sense than the Singapore society. That it is perhaps the other way round, would be more factual statement. So, if the above mentioned measures had to be imposed on the Singapore society to produce results the way it has, how realistic would it be to expect the Indian society to act ‘responsibly’ without any such external force?

    I might also add that societal behavior as seen today in India may not be reflective of its true nature. People are forced to resort to unfair means or cut corners to get things done, not because they like to do so but because they have no choice. Going strictly by the rules does not get one anywhere, unless of course one has all the time & resources to fight the system. Resorting to unfair means and getting things done is considered as ‘smart’ or ‘practical’. Things have come to such a pass obviously because it is tacitly encouraged from the top. After all to win the next elections one needs money.

    It all eventually boils down to GOOD LEADERSHIP. Bold initiatives to regulate society in a better way will have to necessarily originate from the top. Top leaders should have the courage of conviction and perseverance to ‘impose’ strong measures for the betterment of society. Good leadership is all about enforcing such measures by using their persuasive power to convince society about its necessity and carry them along in this endeavor. It is no easy task.

    Our ‘leaders’ know that best. It is after all a trade-off between enforcing bold measures for the betterment of society on the one hand and winning votes in the next elections, on the other. Our leaders know very well what to choose.

    It is in a way, a clash between ‘enforcement’ of some desirable measures for the betterment of society and the generally accepted concept of a ‘democratic society’. Given even a small bit of power for ‘enforcement’ our leaders make a hash of it (1975 Emergency). Can we therefore have a BENEVOLENT DICTATOR please? Well……. Just another utopian wish!!!!


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