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Government Without Governance: Manipur sailing without radar

Manipur Legislative Assembly | File photo

The scenario of Manipur today is one where there are neither stand-alone policies of the traditional framework nor of the contemporary Social Policy. Manipur is now sailing a ship without radar.

By Amar Yumnam

We know the government is there. We also know for sure, being a democracy. that this is a government formed by the representatives elected through the electoral process. Let me hasten to add that we are not talking about legality, but about how the issues relating to the present welfare and future prosperity of the public are being addressed. What I really fear today is that the government seems to be caught with labouring to digest the core conceptual aspects of why the government should be there. We hope the government is not intentionally creating an atmosphere of moral ambiguity society-wide, and thereby facilitate the friendly agents to indulge in whatever they feel like. If this is so, the question naturally arises about why we are yet to witness the articulation, presentation, debate and consequent maturing of any plan and process of action – policy – while we keep hearing pronouncements of whimsical steps as if they are policies.

There is now the necessity to appreciate anew of: What is governance?; What is policy and why of it?; How has the concept of policy undergone transformation from the understanding it had till about the mid-1990s?  To make matters straight and simple, let me quote from Governance Theory and Practice A Cross-Disciplinary Approach of Vasudha Chhotray and Gerry Stoker (2009): “Governance is about the rules of collective decision-making in settings where there are a plurality of actors or organisations and where no formal control system can dictate the terms of the relationship between these actors and organisations.

 There are four elements about this definition that are worth dwelling on a little bit more. First, we should clarify what we mean by rules. The rules embedded within a governance system can stretch from the formal to the informal. Decision-making procedures generally find expression in some institutional form and can be relatively stable over time, although not necessarily unchanging. Indeed one reason for growing interest in governance is precisely because established institutional forms of governance appear under challenge, and new forms of governance appear to be emerging. In studying governance we are interested in both the formal arrangements that exist to structure decision-making and the more informal practices, conventions and customs.

In short we are most often interested when it comes to governance in what Ostrom (1999:38) refers to as ‘rules-in-use’, the specific combination of formal and informal institutions that influences the way that a group of people determine what to decide, how to decide, and who shall decide: the classic governance issues. The concept of ‘collective’ is the second element in the definition that is worth dwelling on. Collective decisions are, rather obviously, decisions taken by a collection of individuals. But crucially although we can normally express our preferences through various mechanisms by way of the agreed decision-making processes, the outcomes of the process are then imposed. You are not guaranteed what you want even in a system of formally democratic governance. Collective decisions involve issues of mutual influence and control. As such governance arrangements generally involve rights for some to have a say, but responsibilities for all to accept collective decisions. Thirdly, we should dwell on what we mean by decision-making. Decision-making can be strategic but it also can be contained in the everyday implementation practice of a system or organisation.

Deciding something collectively requires rules about who can decide what, and how decision-makers are to be made accountable. Governance frameworks can focus on collective decision-making in societal systems or internal processes within organisations. Governance can be concerned about collective decision-making on global issues, and concerned about the rules governing a local executive or administrative body. It is important to recognise these macro and micro elements of the governance debate and distinguish between them. But equally it can be noted that micro and macro perspectives are connected to one another and ….. both perspectives offer something of value. The final element in our definition of governance that deserves further attention, is the idea that in governance ‘no formal control system can dictate’ the relationships and outcomes. Or put another way: governance is a world where ‘no one is in charge’.

Monocratic government – governing by one person is the opposite of governance, which is about collective governing. Authority and coercion are resources available to some in governance arrangements but never in sufficient quantity or quality to mean they can control the decision-making process. The characteristic forms of social interaction in governance rely on negotiation, signals, communication and hegemonic influence rather than direct oversight and supervision. ……. The interdependence of our lives makes constructing mechanisms for collective decision-making an essential and significant human activity. We need to understand the changing ways in which the governance challenge is being met, and whether there are ways in which the way we meet that challenge can be improved. With all governance mechanisms there are input and output challenges to be met. Are the right interests involved in decisionmaking? Does the governance arrangement help the delivery of better outcomes?”

The problem with the case in Manipur today is that there are issues related to all the core principles. What Manipur experiences today is not one of collective decision-making, but of “direct oversight and supervision.” It is the kind of atmosphere where some will be free and the rest would be subject to the ‘direct oversight and supervision’. It is also a reality that such atmosphere is not for a coherent policy which would bound all. The tragedy of lack of a coherent policy to which all are collectively committed and engaged in shared endeavours is the absence of a social direction. This absence of social direction is happening at a time when the very understanding of policy is also undergoing a huge transition. Earlier, there were, Education Policy, Economic Policy, Technology Policy, Foreign Policy, Trade Policy, Ethnic Policy and what not. All these were stand-alone policies with no interrelated mechanism.

Today, the world talks of Social Policy/Public Policy in an inclusivist perspective. The larger social objectives would first be defined, and all other policies would be how to collectively converge to this Social Policy and make the objectives achievable. The scenario of Manipur today is one where there are neither stand-alone policies of the traditional framework nor of the contemporary Social Policy. Manipur is now sailing a ship without radar.

(Amar Yumnam is Visiting Professor, CESS, Hyderabad.)

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