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Forget the delivery, it’s all about the promise

To win elections, what you say appears to be more important than what you do

Why did the Bharatiya Janata Party win and the Samajwadi Party get wiped out in Uttar Pradesh? Did the BJP win because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of sabka saath, sabka vikas? Or did Akhilesh Yadav lose because of his government’s governance failure, particularly when it came to law and order?

Most post-poll analyses have concluded for either or both of these propositions. The larger consensus is that the BJP won because of Mr. Modi’s muscular campaign predicated on development and a better future for all, while Mr. Yadav got done in by his governance failure, aided and abetted by his damaging feud with his father and a disastrous alliance with the Congress.

The unchanged Indian voter

While both arguments have merit, it would be facile to conclude that the Indian voter is changing, and development now makes a more compelling case for the electorate than old-school politics of caste and community. Because, if that were the case, the BJP-Shiromani Akali Dal combine should have won rather than getting routed in Punjab, where the same ‘Modi plan’ was pitched.

The governance argument used in Mr. Yadav’s case doesn’t really hold either, going by the results in the other States which went to polls at the same time. Both development performance and governance were not too bad in Uttarakhand and Goa, for instance, but government change did happen (well, almost, in Goa’s case!).

Go back a little bit and you find the same divergence emerging. If Mr. Modi’s ‘Gujarat model’ was indeed so compelling, why did the BJP suffer such a humiliating rout in Delhi? If development was the key, why did the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam get pitched out in Tamil Nadu?

The reality is that when it comes to governance delivery and electoral outcomes, there appears to be little correlation between performance and results. Generally speaking, the developmental die appears to have been cast in the first decade of reforms. States that picked up the ball early and ran with it are at the top of various types of development rankings as well as governance rankings (where governance is generally defined as a combination of social development indicators, law and order, and bureaucratic performance as measured by some indicators of economic growth such as investment, capital formation or project completion). Those that were at the bottom have, by and large, stayed at the bottom. And regardless of these rankings and shifts, governments have risen and fallen, both in the “better” States and the worse-off ones.

While there appears to be little correlation between winning elections and actually delivering development — perhaps the most glaring example of this mismatch was the first National Democratic Alliance’s debacle in 2004 after the ‘India Shining’ campaign — there does, however, appear to be a clear linkage between governance and development: better the governance, higher the development, and vice versa.

Good governance and growth

One of the earliest studies to look at this in the post-reforms period was a 2000 paper by former Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, which argued that good governance and growth were closely interlinked. Better governance resulted in better and more implementation of development programmes and generated better outcomes for public spending. Poor administration and corruption (two sides of the same coin) resulted in the reverse. Better governance also led to a better investment climate, while a poor land order environment impeded development activity.

A more recent and far more focussed analysis of the linkage between governance and growth is ‘Governance performance of Indian States’ by Sudipto Mundle, Samik Chowdhury and Satadru Sikdar, which used a range of economic and social indicators to look at levels of governance. The indicators ranged from State highway density (in km per 100 sq. km of area) to infant and maternal mortality rates, per capita power consumption, how much a State generates as tax revenue on its own (excluding Central transfers), the rate of violent crimes, and percentage of trials completed within three years to arrive at rankings.

The basic rankings were no surprise: the developed States (Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Punjab) were at the top; the usual suspects like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar were at the bottom. The surprise was in the change over a decade (between 2001 and 2011) when these rankings were adjusted for base development. In the adjusted Governance Performance Index so developed, States like Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh had climbed the most number of ranks, while the leaders had actually slipped a few notches. “Evidently,” the authors argue, “governments in these States are attempting to offset their negative legacy of relative backwardness, delivering a much better quality of services than would be expected at the relatively low level of development of these States.”

Did that help in winning elections? Not really. Politically, better-performing States have seen just as many regime changes as non-performing ones. Clearly, promising a bright future in a convincing enough manner works better than actually delivering it!

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2020 4:51:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/forget-the-delivery-its-all-about-the-promise/article17664152.ece

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