Fighterization of Government

The problem with the proposed Jan Lok Pal bill is that it’s highly personality dependent. Given the kind of powers they want vested in the Lok Pal, it is clear that the proponents of this bill (Anna Hazare and co.) have simply assumed that a “good and incorruptible person” will occupy this post. What they don’t seem to have considered is that governments usually mess up in such appointments and it’s not guaranteed that a “good and incorruptible person” will always occupy this post. And that for that precise reason it’s dangerous to create an institution whose performance is highly dependent on the person occupying the post.

I’m reminded of two “high offices” to which people are appointed by the Central Government. Both these offices have gained prominence due to their occupation by high-quality people who did much to enhance the stature of this office, but have been undermined later by the government (UPA 1 and UPA2 in this case) appointing people with shady backgrounds to this post.

The first is the office of the Chief Election Commissioner. While this post has existed since the time of the first general election, the office was brought to prominence by former CEC TN Seshan. He was followed by a few other respectable gentlemen (James Michael Lyngdoh comes to mind). But then who did the UPA appoint to this post? Congress crony Navin Chawla, who in his earlier avatar as an IAS officer had been indicted by court as being “unfit to hold public office”.

The other case refers to the Central Vigilance Commissioner. By definition, this is a vigilance office and one of the implicit duties of this job is “vigilance”, which implies action against corrupt practices. You can think of this post as being a sort of a “mini Lok Pal” (for bureaucrats only, politicians being excluded). Again, when this post was created it was assumed that “honest impeccable incorruptible persons” would occupy it. And who did the UPA try to put there (before the Supreme Court struck down the appointment)? PJ Thomas, who had been indicted in a scam about 10 years ago.

There is no guarantee that people like Chawla or Thomas could come to occupy the post of the “lok pal”, which will completely undermine the purpose of the institution. I hope the thousands of people who are blindly supporting the “Jan Lok Pal bill” (and this includes you, Bharatiya Janata Party) take this little technicality to note. I exhort them to ask themselves if they’ll be ok having Navin Chawla or PJ Thomas as the Lok Pal. If they think it’s ok even if such people were to occupy the post, they can go ahead wiht their support. My assumption, though, is that most people haven’t really thought about this angle and are blindly supporting the anti-government agitations.

Coming to the title of this post, what we need is to create institutions that are not personality-dependent. We need to create institutions and systems with appropriate checks and balances such that even if people of “lesser integrity” were to occupy it, it wouldn’t be possible for them to significantly undermine the office. We need to effectively “fighterize” these posts in order to ensure that it’s not possible to sabotage them by means of a few bad men occupying them.

And the way I see it, the institution of the Lok Pal as envisaged by the Jan Lok Pal Bill (or by the government-sponsored bill for that matter) is highly personality dependent. And that is one of the reasons I’m opposed to this current Anna-Swami-Baba movement.

Why you should vote for the BJP

Ok before you bleeding-heart liberals scream at me pointing out the post-Godhra riots of 2002, or Kandahar, or the Shri Rama Sene, let me clarify that this is a purely economic argument. My argument is that if we want economic reforms to go ahead, we should vote for the BJP. I am not commenting on social aspects, or liberalism, or foreign policy, or defence, or uniform civil code. I must also mention that the only party whose manifesto I’ve read is that of the Samajwadi Party, but I have a decent idea of what the BJP and Congress manifestos look like. Both quite horrible, though they don’t come close to the SP’s.

The main argument here is that no government wants to reform to a situation of lesser government. It is a simple situation of letting go of what you have under your control, without any tangible benefits. After all, reforms have never really won too many votes (though I think if the Congress had campaigned properly, and unitedly, in 1996, they would’ve have spared us from being ruled by Deve Gowda). Yes, the bijli-sadak-paani argument is there, but that is more about infrastructure; not about economic reforms or liberalization.

So why do governments reform? Especially when they are doing so at the cost of their own power? It appears irrational, right? Fact is that control over a particular sector doesn’t benefit all arms of the government equally. There will be a few lobbies, and a few ministries, in a few areas that stand to benefit significantly more from government intervention in the sector,as compared to other parts of the government.

Next, the ruling party doesn’t necessarily control all parts of the government. Yes, they control most of the ministries, but there are several other government posts that may not be underr their control. Some may be under the control of allies. Certain bureaucrats who benefit heavily because of government intervention in the sector may even favour the opposition. I think it should be possible to document the “leanings” of various govenment departments in various states. And which of them will get liberalized when depends on which side is in power.

So the reason people reform (apart from when under severe crisis such as under PVN) is analogous to a sacrifice in chess. You give up something in the hope that in return, the opposition loses much more. So if you look at various reforms carried out by various governments (state and central; maybe even abroad; PVN stands out as an exception) you are likely to see this “chess sacrifice” pattern. Governments are more likely to reform, liberalize and maybe spin off departments that are under the control of parties in the opposition.

The next argument is that the Congress, having been in power for close to 50 years, is likely to be “in control” of a larger number of government departments than the BJP, which has been in power for about 6 years. This is the main reason, apart from left intervention of course, that the incumbent UPA government didn’t carry out too many reforms in the last five years, and even rolled back certain reforms carried out by the NDA (essential commodities act, petrol pricing, etc.). It is also critical that whatever reforms a government wants to carry out should be front-loaded – so as to give the reforms time to “settle down” and for people to adjust, before a new government comes in and perhaps rolls them back.

The BJP by itself is no good when it comes to reform – its ridiculous stance on FDI in retail being a case in point. Yes, they did quite a bit of reforms during their 6 years in power, but one can argue that a large number of them fit the “sacrifice” pattern. However, in general they stand to lose a lot less by reforming than does the Congress (exception is in retail as most traders and small merchants are pro-BJP). And hence, they are likely to carry out more reforms than a Congress-led government would.

You might argue that it might be better to vote for a third front party, since there is very little it has to lose in terms of reforming. However, the problem with most third front parties is that they are all active only in very few states, and thus may not stand to gain much by way of a national-level “sacrifice”. And coming back to a national-party led government, my argument is that you are more likely to see reform in ministries held by the chief ruling party, than those held by the allies.

So ladies and gentlemen, if the Congress comes back to power, they will consolidate power in the departments that they have “captured” over the last five years, and in the earlier years when they were in rule. this number is significantly greater than the number of departments that the BJP controls, and hence the Congress is likely to use the ongoing crisis as an excuse to bring in bigger government. The BJP, on the other hand, with less to lose, is likely to take a more pragmatic approach.

Vote for the BJP. Bring the NDA back to power. Let them re-start on the reforms that were made in 1991-2004. Five years down the line, the Congress can come back and liberalize retail.


I usually have a practice of replying to all comments on my blog. However, you might have noticed that I haven’t replied to most comments on this post. As I had mentioned right up front, I am making an economic argument and have clearly mentioned that I’m not going to entertain any comments wrt social policy (and sadly, most comments have been in that direction). So fight it out among yourselves and don’t get me involved in the discussion. And a couple of days after I wrote this post, I was asked to help out with the Congress’s online campaign.