The State of the State under NDA

Ka raju Sun, 16 Apr 2017

The State of the State under NDA

On the eve of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s 126th birth anniversary, it is worthwhile to pay heed to his argument that “a political democracy without an economic and social democracy is an invitation to trouble and danger”. To him (as also India’s other founding fathers and mothers), a nation can be a substantive democracy only by guaranteeing those socio-economic and political conditions that would actualise fullness of life for all citizens, especially the most vulnerable and marginalised. At a more fundamental level, it follows that only by doing this can a government continuously reaffirm its and by extension, the State’s legitimacy. Unfortunately, while India’s current ruling dispensation has relentlessly worked towards enhancing its own political capital, it has also overseen the degradation of the State’s legitimacy. It has done so by a) democratizing the use of violence, b) undermining the principle that every individual citizen has claims on the necessities of life and c) impairing the State’s existing institutional capacities.

By monopolising the use of coercive power for the State (and institutionalizing checks and balances to regulate it), our founding fathers and mothers eliminated what Thomas Hobbes characterised as “the war of every man against every man”. In doing so, they radically upturned the principle that civil society could supersede the State in dictating what the socio-political and economic order would be (which it routinely did, often violently and on the basis of repressive scriptural rules). They enshrined secular values in India’s Constitution and made the State their sole custodian and enforcer. Barring a few notable exceptions, for the past 60 years the State in India has scrupulously tried to further those values.

This social contract has more or less collapsed in the last three years. Under the NDA government, the State no longer claims sole monopoly on the legitimate use of coercive power. Whether intentionally or otherwise, it has democratized violence by allowing non State actors (including gau raksha senas, moral policing squads and assorted organs of the Sangh parivar) to usurp and freely exercise power to enforce what they deem moral and acceptable. This non-State enforcement is based on regressive societal norms that are invariably antithetical to constitutional principles and seek to revert to a social order based on “graded inequality”, as Dr. Ambedkar famously argued. In doing this, the government has partially abdicated the very essence of stateness, which in the Weberian sense is enforcement.

This problem has been exacerbated by the government’s disinclination to engage with differences constructively. On the rare occasions that it does decide to deploy the state apparatus, it (mis) uses it to harass, dis-empower and even murder citizens. The government’s complicity in the murders of eight under trials in Madhya Pradesh, the attacks on numerous journalists and activists in Chhattisgarh, the undemocratic dismissals of state governments, the censorship of the media, the assaults on students/academics and the detention of opposition leaders have been well recorded. Together these indicate

 Schemes BE, 2014-15 Act, 2014-15 BE, 2015-16 Act, 2015-16 BE, 2016-17
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan 28258.00 24096.63 22000.00 21661.44 22500.00
 Mid-Day Meal 13215.00 10523.48 8900.00 9144.89 9700.00
Integrated Child Development Scheme 18691.00 16606.42 8754.00 16834.55 16260.00
National Health Mission 21912.00 20499.22 18295.00 19882.19 20362.00
Indira Awas Yojana 16000.00 11096.15 10025.00 10116.20 15000.00
Tribal Sub-Plan 26714.00 19920.72 19980.00 20348.12 24005.00
SC Sub-Plan 43208.00 30035.07 30850.00 30603.70 38833.00
National Social Assistance Programme 10546.00 7086.71 9082.00 8616.40 9500.00

Table 1: Diminishing Budgetary and Actual Expenditure under the NDA Government

a massive contraction in the State’s enforcement functions viz a viz illegal/ extralegal elements, and paradoxically, a corresponding expansion in the application of those functions viz a viz law abiding citizens with views contrarian to its own.

Secondly, the NDA has also systematically reduced the scope of the State’s duties towards citizens, who apart from an inviolable right to justice (social, economic and political), also have a right to development. Radically reconceptualising the State’s relationship with the individual, the NDA has over the past three years treated citizens as mere clients of government services (that can be arbitrarily withdrawn anytime), rather than holders of inalienable rights. This is best illustrated by the gradual withdrawal of funding from critical welfare schemes, as is what happened in the last three budgets.

 What is especially shocking is the insidious manner in which most of these schemes were further scuttled, as is evident from the reduced actual expenditure incurred on those schemes in both years (see Table 1). Extrapolating from the experience (of reduced utilization) between 2014-’16, the enhanced allocation in this fiscal year would also appear to be more driven by the spirit of being seen to doing good, rather than a sincere effort towards uplifting and empowering the vulnerable.

In addition, the government has also diluted schemes through particularist means. Consider for instance, how funds were withheld from states for the MGNREGA (reportedly, Rs. 11,000 crores or 60% of wages were inordinately delayed) and states were clandestinely forced to erode the demand driven nature of the programme (thereby subverting the Act and India’s federal structure). Consider also the situation of the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahayog Yojana (which aims to provide funds for all pregnant and lactating women above the age of 19 years for up to two live births). Reportedly, poor budgetary support (of the required Rs. 14, 512 crores, only Rs. 2700 crores have been allocated in 2017-‘18) will limit coverage to only 90 lakh of the 2.6 crore live births every year. Furthermore, despite worrying evidence of widespread exclusions of beneficiaries due to fragile technology, and in stark violation of Supreme Court orders, the NDA has made Aadhaar a pre-condition for accessing securing subsidized food entitlements under the National Food Security Act, ICDS, and availing work under the MG-NREGS. Together, these symbolize a disconcerting lack of commitment to the expansive welfare state that has sought to support and empower roughly 77 per cent of our population.

The third problem is the manner in which the government is reportedly eroding the State’s institutional capacities. Contrary to Dr. Ambedkar’s exhortation (which he made at a special session of the “Political Scientists Parliament” in 1951) that “no single individual can presume the authority that he knows everything, that he can make the laws and carry the Government”, the Prime Minister of India is unwilling to delegate responsibility or authority. This simply cannot work in a federal polity. This is partly because of the multiplicity of stakeholders, but also because of the sheer quantum of the work/responsibilities involved in a large country like India. Consequently, the government has been unwilling to oil existing administrative infrastructure which does not bode well for its reform agenda. For example, stagnant allocations to the Integrated Child Development Scheme have crippled the capacity of implementing agencies. Unable to hire human resources, a shockingly larger number of positions (1.16 lakh anganwadi workers, 1.19 lakh anganwadi helpers, and between 35-40 percent of supervisory and other crucial posts) lie vacant.

Ironically, this excessively centralised governance style is also coupled with the NDA’s disinclination towards expert advice (as has been suggested with regard to the disastrous experiment with demonetization) and an aversion to strategic planning (the scrapping of the Planning Commission and the Five Year Plans are prime examples). The resultant situation does not allow for a convergence of priorities and goals, as well as a confrontational relationship with nearly all states and opposition parties. It is a matter of no surprise that the government faces bitter opposition on almost every policy initiative.

The unfortunate reality is that the state of the State under the NDA is deeply troubling. In its zest to appear visionary, it has heedlessly discarded the values and institutions on which we have come so far. However, if we are to accord the promise of this nation to all, we need to deepen compassion in governance, not reduce it. If we are to keep rising to ever greater heights, we must reform and strengthen our foundations, not demolish them. And if we want to be counted as equals in the fellowship of nations, we must be steadfastly committed to the rule of law. Lest our journey end, these are truths that we must protect and nurture, no matter what the cost.

K. Raju and Pushparaj Deshpande