Ours is a federal country, which means that it boasts of both the center and state having powers to rule and govern, although not symmetrical. It has been inherited from the Canadian based model of federalism and hence has a central bias.
But what most tend to forget is that 73rd and 74th amendment brought in a legal third tier, dealing with both Municipal Corporation and the Panchayati Raj.
While the central government mostly controls the important aspects of defense, communication, foreign policy, and currency, the state governments have control over the agriculture, law and order and education. The third tier, on the other hand, deals with the various facets of sanitation, water supply, drainage, and maintenance of water bodies.
You must have heard a lot of enthusiasm among the people who care about nationalistic issues, ranging from national security, corruption at the center, employment, and fiscal policy. In fact, people also care a lot about state-level issues like agriculture, especially with the recent political scoring on the issue of loan waiver. But do we really care about the municipality elections? If we are in a rural area, the most we care about is “who” is going to give us “what”, and this “what” is mostly in monetary terms.
I have overheard my elders in my maternal uncle’s village “investing” money to win local Panchayati elections. The cost? Mostly Rs. 2000 per household, along with a gold chain and new clothes for children. This is the only cost that big parties have to bear. While this may be a big amount for the beneficiaries, the bigger parties who are able to afford it, find it the best ticket that they have to earn more in future, a kind of an investment.
Most people don’t even know the candidates from local elections in urban areas. While we get a holiday to vote for general elections, the private firms where the villagers and the urban poor mostly work and are heavily influenced by the local level politics are never given any paid holidays for the same. Then come the urban middle class, who seldom care about the local issues.
While the government in the center can influence the local governments, they cannot have control over the execution part. The center can lay plans, but the execution depends on the local administration and executive appointees like the SDM and BDO.
While fighting for national independence and post it, the major focus of our country was in stabilizing the nation which was divided into different chunks of heterogeneous powers into one powerful entity – the idea of India. Thanks to strong leaders like Sardar Vallabhai Patel, we were able to integrate these smaller provinces into the Indian union. Looking at the middle east and African countries make us wonder about the geographical turmoil that they still hold, not being able to overcome the failures of the governance issues left by the Britishers, along with the constant civil wars thanks to differences in the version of their Islamic interpretation.
Post the integration of the nation with constant hiccups from the failed foreign policy with China and Pakistan because of the pseudo-liberal policy of Nehru, came the issue of food. The skewed and anti-farming policies of the British which were consistently neglected by the Indian National Congress pre-independence (only until they realized that peasants could be a center-point to their struggle against the British, resulting in accepting All India Kisan Sabha’s agenda in 1936) had left the agriculture sector in anguish and suffering. Awful taxation methods like the Permanent Settlement, tinkathia system which screwed up the motivation of farmers to grow edible crops and hence were forced to grow plantation crops like Indigo pushed the farmer’s income down by ladders.
The focus on food started in the last ’60s, as the existential period of famine in the 1940s had left a crippled population deprived of a basic necessity like grain. While the newly formed democratic government in the center post the first elections had the priority over farming in the first five-year plan, it could never actualize until came the “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan” motivated Prime Minister, Late Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri. It was thanks to his Green Revolution that we became self-sufficient in matters of food.
Then came the need to prioritize defense to fight the external threats. Many small countries “rented” out their countries in exchange for money and security for a while. Pakistan got billions of dollars to rent out bases to the Americans and later to the Chinese. Sri Lanka had done the same. While this brought the short-term money, it didn’t bring the countries prosperity as such and hence while Sri Lanka suffered from devastating civil war situations, Pakistan became a hub of terrorism.
We, on the other hand, remained free from the clutches of the hegemonic powers of those times and tried to build ourselves as a nuclear power with a vision to have bargaining power in the later times. We stayed off from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Nuclear Suppliers Group came out as a result of our nuclear programme, but we didn’t give up on the increasing pressure from abroad. We fought against Pakistan in the meantime and won. Our priority was set then too – we couldn’t compromise on national security. To avoid further wars, we invested a lot in our nuclear and space programs.
Can you imagine a Rwanda or a Namibia to focus on building their nuclear arsenal? Did they have a necessity of focusing on building their own version of Outer Space Treaty? Were the much prosperous and terror-free bordered Scandinavian countries more concerned about national security issues from a rivalry in the region or more focused on building human indices? A simple analysis will tell you they were obviously focused on the latter. We couldn’t. Our priorities were different. How can we build ourselves if there was no one left in the first place?
After a successful run with the pressing issues of national security at that time was a focus on increasing menace of epidemics. We eradicated Smallpox. We have also eradicated Polio and Guinea worm. We nearly won the war on AIDS Epidemic, although that still continues and is on high priority of the government in power. We even fought and became free of unheard of diseases like Yaws in the previous decade, and could achieve this feat in a matter of years. We became a hub of generic medicine of the world.
We invested in building satellites. We invested in building a strong force like the NDRF and focused on mitigation measures. That is why the death toll is one of the lowest for this year’s Cyclone Fani.
Back in 1991, we focused on coming out from the clutches of a crippled economy from the shambles of a socialist regime. We successfully came out of it and now are one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Many countries like Argentina, Russia, Pakistan came at the verge of bankruptcy while we survived. Greece couldn’t. South East Asia couldn’t back in 1998. But we did.
We have made it a priority of giving back to terrorism now. We have come out clean with our talks with respect to terrorism. We gave it back to Pakistan, the release of IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan was not a gift as claimed by the liberal media.
Now, while the world focuses on terrorism, with the rising concern in the Western countries and even in countries like Norway, Sweden, and France scoring high in Global Peace Index, we are able to defy all skeptic voices on account of our preparedness to a terrorist attack. The most recent one is how we have managed to conduct both IPL and General Elections at the same time.
India didn’t always have the gratification of having strong leaders at the center. We have now started to focus on cleanliness – but it would sure take time. Ours is not a dictatorship, rather a federal democracy with each tier having its own voice. We built a liberal democracy, most end up being monarchies and suffering from a disillusioned crowd of numb people run by a psychopath. Most become a banana republic but we didn’t. Most countries like China bans diversity, we don’t.
Our priorities have been right. Because it has always been dependent on the scenarios back then. But before we blame the government for all the flaws in society, especially with regards to cleanliness, we should think of our own responsibilities.
Do we vote for local elections? Do we have our agendas set? Do we have a clear roadmap for what we prioritize? Do we not need to do our own bit in keeping our own surrounding clean first?
Maybe with time, as came the ticket cancellation charges, will come a time where the culprits are punished for littering on road.
Taking the longer, tougher, yet the prioritized road is the solution.