All I want for Christmas is Good Governance

Annie Zaidi
Annie ZaidiDec 22, 2014 | 11:50

All I want for Christmas is Good Governance

Dear Santa,

Compliments of the season. I don't usually write, but I've been a very good girl this year. Worked hard, met deadlines, paid taxes, filed returns. So I feel entitled to a few things. Besides, the Indian government seems to like you and Christmas a great deal. They're upping the celebration ante with this Good Governance Day thing, which is sort of providential. Good Governance is just the thing I wanted. So, please, get the Indian government to do the following:


1. Democracy, which means a government of some people, by the majority of the people, but for all the people: You govern a populace if you manage to win a certain number of seats in Parliament. That does not mean that voters who tick a particular box on the religion/caste/language/profession forms get to bully people who tick other boxes. If you use majority numbers to oppress citizens, you lose the legal-moral right to govern. Citizens are then justified in not trusting you, or even refusing to obey you, since you are violating the Constitution.

2. Make the Constitution top boss: The Constitution defines India. You can, in your personal affairs, swear by The Collected Poems of Pablo Neruda. But if you go against the values enshrined in our Constitution, you are a traitor.

3. By heart the Constitution: Ask our members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies what our fundamental rights are, what the Directive Principles of State Policy are. Do they remember? They should be made to study the Constitution for a few days before they start work.

4. The right to food and the right to work - on a priority basis: "Development" loses all meaning if citizens are hungry. Even "law and order" is meaningless to the starving. In a civilised state, people are assured of food, especially if they are willing to work for it. The nation does need workers with a hundred different skills. Guaranteeing employment will not hurt the nation as long as you can connect the dots between the work that needs doing and people looking for work.


5. Re-train and expand the police force: The police needs to start feeling accountable to citizens. Corruption is just part of the problem. The bigger problem is that the police is comprised of ordinary people who carry into their work their biases, warped values, damaged childhoods. In addition, they absorb toxic attitudes from senior colleagues. They need to unlearn a lot. They need access to transparency mechanisms themselves. They need to act like their job is to make life better for citizens. Also, the police force has to be a more inclusive space. More minority representation - religions, castes and tribes, gender.

6. People who do violence to other people must be put in jail: As a corollary to 1, 2, 3, and 6, get them to do away with laws that enable violence by offence-takers and take away our fundamental right to free speech and expression.

7. Government transactions should be open to scrutiny: All departments should upload details of how taxpayer money is spent, and also publish their accounts in local newspapers at the end of the financial year.

8. Let people track file movements online: Most offices are computerised. There is no reason why a bureaucrat can't say what files she/he is sitting on, and why. Applications for passports, ration cards, voter cards; certificates like birth, death, marriage; tenders for government projects - people should not have to run around, spending extra time and money to find out what's going on.


9. Make it compulsory for political parties to reveal funding sources: Also, it ought to be compulsory for parties to publish campaign budgets and the sources of the money for each candidate along with the election manifesto.

10. Account for citizen time: We need a mechanism through which citizens can report the number of times they visit a government office, how long they spent waiting, why they were turned away. It is a complement to wider anti-corruption initiatives if we show are able to document unresponsiveness.

11. Solar power: Invest in research that makes it viable. Half our problems are linked to power, both in the sense of abuse of authority and of electricity. India needs electricity and electronic connectivity. If there's one thing we have, it's the Sun. There are European countries where a household can not only generate electricity, but can also sell the extra power to the state. Learn how it's done. Do it.

12. Diversify solutions: Across the board, diversity rules. Diverse electricity systems is one example. Transport is another. We're doing cars and highways like the west was doing in the 1950s and 60s. Now they're doing bicycles, and also banning car parking in some parts of major cities. Why are we not? Why not bicycle stands and rentals and lanes and bike taxis? If people can propose a wide range of solutions, the government must respond by making it possible legally.

13. Make online governance real: Most local government websites either don't list a contact email address with a name, or list one, but fail to respond to any query. A citizen response officer may be the answer if the public relations guys are too busy.

14. Invest in translations: Present all information, especially for documents that require citizens to react, in at least two languages. One language must be locally spoken (at the village/hamlet level). All websites should offer two or three language options.

15. Stick with reservations: We need to account for not just caste but also religious and gender bias in administrations. After all, "inclusive and equitable" and "participatory" are among the eight characteristics of good governance. According to the United Nations' Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the other six characteristics are: consensus-oriented, responsive, accountable, transparent, effective and efficient, and follows the rule of law.

Oh, yes, also get the government to follow the rule of law before they try to actually make up laws. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

PS Can I have one more thing? Save the Right to Information, please. Bring political parties under the RTI ambit, and keep file notings there too.

Last updated: December 22, 2014 | 11:50
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