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Commentary on public policy in India

R. Devarajan
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PUBLIC POLICY & CITIZENSHIP — Battling Managerialism in India: Arvind Sivaramakrishnan; Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., B1/I-1, Mohan cooperative Industrial Area, Mathura Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110044. Rs. 595.
PUBLIC POLICY & CITIZENSHIP — Battling Managerialism in India: Arvind Sivaramakrishnan; Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., B1/I-1, Mohan cooperative Industrial Area, Mathura Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110044. Rs. 595.

R. Devarajan

The book under review presents an extensive and authentic survey of the issues and strategies involved in the evolution and execution of public policy vis-à-vis citizenship in India. All in all, it is a loud lament about how things have gone wrong — thanks to “managerialism” and “neoliberalism” — and ways of retrieving the situation. It is the clear and considered view of the author that these two ideologies have played havoc with the Indian social and political milieu since Independence.

Managerialism advocates the doctrine that organisations have more similarities than differences. Therefore, the performance of all organisations can be optimised by the application of common management principles. The corollary is that there is not much difference between managing an academic institution, and steering an advertising agency.

Radical changes

The term Neoliberalism was coined in 1938 by a German scholar called, Alexander Rustov. He ascribed to it the dominant role of Price Mechanism, Free Enterprise, and Competition in the context of a strong and impartial political economy. Essentially, it is about facilitating the movement of goods and resources in the comity of nations. Towards achieving this, it seeks to eliminate barriers to free trade such as tariff walls, restrictions on capital inflows, and so on. During the last 30 years, almost every public service institution in India has experienced several changes — sometimes radical — in its policy and procedures. This book seeks to highlight the key features of these changes in a holistic perspective, besides focussing on three specific sectors viz., health policy, agriculture, and education, in three separate chapters.

While doing so, the author condoles and condemns in no uncertain terms, how these efforts “continue to be damaging and destructive, and neither managerialism, nor neoliberalism can provide coherent or successful strategies in response.”

Drawbacks

According to him, the public policy in India betrays two main drawbacks in respect of health, agriculture, and education. “The first is the repeated adoption of managerial…approaches and strategies, which simplify every problem to which they are applied, and thereby ensure policy failure….this policy failure is effectively camouflaged by the usage of managerialist terminology.”

“The second theme … is that the failure has ... one other major source, namely, the systematic alteration of policy to favour both the ideologues of the free market and those who already hold financial and other power of various kinds.”

The last chapter deals with “Citizenship.” Calling attention to the “current captivity” of the Indian citizen, the author deplores how “managerialism and neoliberalism ... have a common enemy in the informed citizen, or more widely, in the idea of citizenship within the State.”

In this context, it is vital to understand the difference between a “citizen” and a “subject”. The word “subject” is popularly associated only with duties and obligations ; but the word “citizen” brings to mind both rights and responsibilities . However, the exclusive exercise of rights by any one individual citizen will disturb the social harmony and the structure of the society.

While the content of the book is rich and rewarding, the style of writing is rather long-winded and uninviting. Further, when expressing views in a free and forthright manner, the language employed ought to have been less caustic and drastic.


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