‘Something lacklustre about this government’

Assessing the performance of a government or its leader is difficult in the absence an accepted formula or framework of assessment. Certain things, however, are quite plain about the performance of the Congress government headed by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in Karnataka as it completes three years in office on Friday.

Comparatively, the Congress government’s record in the first three years seems tad better than its predecessor BJP government’s. The BJP rule was full of absurdity, sound and fury. A series of scams and scandals saw several Ministers quit ignominiously. Unending dissident activities and corruption charges saw the exit of its first Chief Minister by the end of the third year and he was jailed subsequently. In comparison, the Congress rule has been free of such political drama so far. Despite minor rumblings, there is stability. The third year of its term saw some corruption charges raise their ugly head but they are nothing in comparison with what was seen under the previous regime.

Short of expectations

The Congress rule, however, has hardly impressed and inspired people. There is something lacklustre about this government’s performance. In the first two years, popular accounts of the government veered around one major criticism — that the Chief Minister and his team were lethargic. One former bureaucrat compared it to a flight on the runway waiting forever to take off. None seems to have the confidence to say that it has taken off. Recent corruption charges apart, the dominant narrative is still that of performance falling short of expectation, of inefficiency and indecision. At the time of assuming office as Chief Minister, Mr. Siddaramaiah enjoyed the reputation of being “an efficient, bold, decisive and incorruptible” leader. The first three years saw the complete demolition of this image. This is despite the absence of any major challenge to his leadership.

Obviously, many things seem to be going wrong.

The Chief Minister seems to have been caught up in a strange trap of his own beliefs. He wants history to remember him as a champion of the downtrodden. Nothing wrong in it. Such commitment to social justice is indeed welcome. The problem, however, seems to be that he has a very conventional idea of social justice which is not in sync with time. It does not appeal to anyone, including those who are benefiting from it. But for a substantial increase in the allocation for SC/ST welfare and a law which addresses the loopholes in utilising these allocations, he has taken the much trodden path of populism to achieve social justice. This is a worn-out model in which a stale mix of doles, reservations and patronage pass off as provision for social emancipation. The weaker sections harbour high aspirations these days and what would really uplift them are good education, adequate healthcare and ample economic opportunities. The government’s social justice model is silent on this. Its lopsidedness makes both the Chief Minister and the government appear biased towards certain sections, eclipsing even some of the good decisions taken by the government for balanced industrial growth, strengthening rural local self-governance, and providing urban infrastructure.

Communication gap

Beyond this idea of social justice, the Chief Minister has never come out with a bold agenda for progress, which is so crucial to impress upon the burgeoning middle-class voters who are also opinion makers. His politics seems to have no place for communication. Major policy changes are being announced without ever gauging pubic sentiments and testing the possible political repercussions. The rationale for some crucial policy decisions — be it the proposed anti-superstition Bill or the much-acclaimed free rice scheme — is never explained boldly to the government’s critics. Setting up of the Anti-Corruption Bureau in the place of Lokayukta police made the government’s motives look suspicious but no one cared to clear it. Often decisions are revoked, making the government look amateurish. Even the recent announcement of a vision group of corporate bigwigs to advise the government on Bengaluru’s governance appears to be a volte-face, given the Chief Minister’s previous “socialist” distance from the private sector. It might do well, but as the people are yet to hear the larger vision that the government has for the State, isolated measures, however good they might be, hardly inspire confidence.

(Narayana A. is faculty at the Azim Premji University)

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 7:30:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/something-lacklustre-about-this-government/article8592540.ece

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