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Development Administration Fears: Is Manipur Under Absolute Authoritarianism?


What is the nature of governance today? Starting from the Go To Hills, the War On Drugs and the latest lifting of Prohibition have all been ONE-LINE ANNOUNCEMENTS rather than fully articulated policy statements. All these have been presented to the people as the Belief of the Leadership rather than Deliberated Product of the Government and her machinery.

By Amar Yumnam

Whenever I ponder over Bureaucracy in Manipur, two names always come alive in my mind. One is Mr RR Rashmi, and the other is Mr Hawaibam Deleep. Both of them had been involved in endeavours for sensible management of finances of the Government of Manipur. Mr Rashmi, as we all know, had retired as the Chief Secretary of Manipur; I feel for sure that he functioned without allowing Behavioural Politicisation of the bureaucracy.

Mr Deleep also was an officer committed to doing things differently in whatever department he was posted. One particular instance remains fresh all the time. When Dr Manmohan Singh introduced the new Economic Reforms in 1991 as the then Finance Minister and under the Leadership (Leadership emphasised as different from Managership) of Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao. When the Reforms were first announced, very few people could understand the components of the policy, and I was afraid that none in the government of Manipur could digest it. Look, I was wrong. When the Manipur Budget, first after the introduction of Reforms, was presented, and my comment on it in a daily the very next day was titled “Long in Diagnosis and Short on Policy”. The Budget Speech reflected a significant understanding of the recently introduced Economic Reforms of India, and that itself was a very pleasant surprise. A few days later, I came to know that the draft of the Speech was prepared by Mr Deleep and he also admitted that the limitations on the policy dimension were consequent upon State’s financial capability.

What am I trying to convey by relating this piece with the names of two retired bureaucrats of the Manipur Government? First, the Government, as constituted by the elected representatives, of those days did not push for Behavioural Politicisation of the Bureaucracy while they might have tried for Institutional Politicisation of it for ensuring an easier control. In other words, the Government in those days took the Bureaucracy into confidence and indeed ensured that the bureaucrats put in their individual and collective capability to more fully articulate the will of the government. Thus, the design of administration was participative and deliberative. Second, as the trust has been put on them by the Government, the then Bureaucracy responded with their mind instead of indulging in the usual Blame Game by escaping. The synchronisation between the Government and the Bureaucracy was a very robust one.

Before I come to the current scenario, let me spend some time on the importance of the Bureaucracy. To begin with, let us be very clear on the fact that, given the political-economic scenario of Manipur, what we need is Development Bureaucracy as Rashmi and Deleep exemplified.

As Kenneth Meier and Lawrence O’Toole, Jr (2006) put in Bureaucracy In A Democratic State: A Governance Perspective: “One of the most important and persisting challenges of modern government is how to reconcile the demands of democracy with the imperatives of bureaucracy.

In many countries around the world, politicos and pundits bash “bureaucracy,” frequently in the name of popular governance. Bureaucrats, meanwhile, often look to protect their decision making from uninformed or polemical interference by amateurs who seek influence without having the expertise or experience to handle technically complex policy issues.

Bureaucracies are hierarchical institutions that can provide the capacity and expertise to accomplish complex social tasks, but they are frequently characterized as undemocratic and even threatening to democracy. Democracies are systems of government that are based, directly or indirectly, on the principle of popular control.

They attend in differing measures to principles of majority rule and deference to the perspectives of intense interests among the public. But as such, they need not necessarily show keen attention to the values of efficiency, effectiveness, or specialized expertise. Bureaucracy may be thought of as the government’s tool to exercise coercion as an instrument for productive action. As institutional forms designed to emphasize different values, bureaucracy and democracy sit in an uneasy relationship with each other.

Now what is the nature of governance today? Starting from the Go To Hills, the War On Drugs and the latest lifting of Prohibition have all been ONE LINE ANNOUNCEMENTS rather than fully articulated policy statements. All these have been presented to the people as the Belief of the Leadership rather than Deliberated Product of the Government and her machinery. The Leader indulges himself in too much of a Defence of his Beliefs in the public space and in a way of challenging the public if they could afford to behave otherwise rather than falling in line; this is a behavioural manifestation very different from the one expected in a democracy. This implies that the Bureaucracy has not been given the space to mobilise the individual and collective capability to deliberate and contribute towards evolving a policy founded on rationality; Belief should be founded on Rationality before becoming a policy. The present atmosphere is a very fertile ground for the bureaucracy to indulge in the usual Escapism and Blame Game. No Development Administration can emerge in such a context. The presence of a non-deliberative atmosphere is most visible in the functioning of the law-enforcing wing of the bureaucracy. Inconsistencies are becoming too common in the daily performance of this law-enforcing wing. This is why the public space is abounded with ridicules of this agency.

In fine, any announcement making it look like a policy should be presented to the public after satisfying the principles of policy-making. This can be possible only if there is Political Leadership behaving Like a Leader arousing shared emotional commitment rather than a Political Manager who shouts for compliance; a Democracy is to be Led, Not Managed. To begin with, the bureaucracy should be given the space to participate in the Deliberation, Articulation and Evolution of any policy; this is how the bureaucrats can be made to function and ultimately accountable. Manipur has definitely seen good bureaucrats and now too there must be good ones. As Max Weber (1946) said bureaucrats are oriented in such a way that they would serve any master, whether authoritarian or democratic. If they are used for authoritarian purposes, the damage to democracy could be very deep-rooted and long-term. Manipur is asking for Development Administration within a Deliberative Democratic system, and not for political demonstratism. The eighteenth century Political Economic Philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, spoke of himself on how he escaped from the fears of ghosts thus: “In no man’s judgment can a stronger persuasion of the non-existence of  these sources of terror have place than in mine; yet no sooner do I lay myself down to sleep in a dark room than, if no other person is in the room, and my eyes keep open, these instruments of terror obtrude themselves; and, to free myself from the annoyance, I feel myself under the necessity of substituting to those more or less pleasing ideas with which my mind would otherwise have been occupied, those reflections which are necessary to keep in my view the judgment by which the non-existence of these creatures of the imagination has so often been pronounced.”

(Amar Yumnam is Visiting Professor, CESS: Hyderabad)

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