Is there governance in Andhra Pradesh? Is the government working? These questions have become repetitive. All party discussions, involving ‘beneficiaries’ and ‘losers’, does not help in improving our understanding. A common refrain on a commoner’s lips has been that government does not respond, come what may. Not new; it has been like this for the past 14 years. The big indicator everyone agrees upon is the pile of files. But those in the government would contest this. They would say look at our schedule. We are busy. True, they are so busy in meetings solving people’s problems, that they do not have time to listen to people themselves, who are their office door.
In this regard, we need to look at the initiatives of three distinct individuals as Chief Ministers – Chandrababu Naidu, Y. S. Rajashekhara Reddy and N. Kiran Kumar Reddy. All the three have one thing in common. They matter the most in the governance. Cabinet and Ministers in the Cabinet, senior or junior, did not matter. They kept every official busy, but could not avoid this question: is there governance at all?
All the three crafted programmes such as Prajala Vaddaku Palana, Raccha Banda, Indiramma Kalalu, etc., which enabled them to be in the limelight. But all these programmes were not meant to solve the problems, rather to swamp the people and get away leaving them bewildered. Mannerisms, methods, deployed boogey’s, etc. are different, but the culture is the same and espoused by them thoroughly.
Media personnel, and their ‘supportive’ intellectuals, do know that government is indeed working. Chief Minister’s office in Hyderabad had become a files godown. Files are moving. They would move only after certain background mechanisms start creaking. So much so, even Ministers and MLAs have been reduced to depend on these mechanisms. Each of the CMs have/had their distinct mechanisms – the biggest and most daring mechanism was that of YSR. Wheels within wheels. Ultimately, all wheels have to churn out the same – a favourable decision. Individuals have changed in the last 14-15 years, but the path of governance remains the same.
Decisions are taken only by the Chief Minister, based on files prepared by a small office. This small office (size varied with each CM), had the onerous task of organizing meetings, hammering out consensus among competitors, framing the proposals as per law, or as per needs, and putting it for final stamp from the CM. All other decisions, social welfare, transfers, pensions, doling out occasional handout to a destitute (old, woman, differently-abled) are mere fillers for public consumption, ably played out by the ever present media. A few media persons always know who is visiting the CMs peshi for what purpose and what kind of discussions are going on. But they are part of the crony system. Occasionally a story comes out when the rival lobby wants the story out simply to pressure upon a favourable point. All in all, top echelons of every pillar of democracy know what is happening in the name of governance. But people and citizens are not aware of it.
In the age of ‘right to information’, under the very nose of ever vigilant RTI activists, only one office keeps working, and has been working. No doubt, there is all round reluctance to sign GOs, confusion over GOs, schemes are announced without the cabinet knowing it, Cabinet Ministers get busy with their ‘business’ enterprises since they do not have any work to do, most Cabinet meetings are about the contents and approvals in various files, and not on any development vision, most MLAs (including Opposition MLAs) sit in CM’s office and get things done from such hallowed precincts, and a small clutch of individuals would decide, and most possibly override constitutional bodies such as Legislature, local governments, Auditing office, etc.
Chief Secretary cannot even whimper, forget protesting, because they are ‘pulled’ from lower rung, fulfilling their dream earlier than they would have expected. Ministers are satisfied that they are in the Cabinet (with all the paraphernalia and perks). Otherwise, there is always another MLA, from the rival group, for the Chief Minister to chose. Crumbs are always available for representatives of all other pillars of democracy.
Only courts are the last recourse, and, that is why we see more IAS and IPS officers approaching courts for decision, while procedures and rule-based system are lying at the door-step of the Chief Minister’s office.
About a decade back, media columnists used to write furiously if there was any smell of Governor’s rule. Opposition would be up in arms. They would have said ‘democracy is being killed’ by such rule, single person’s rule. However, in the last 14 years or so, it has been only Chief Minister’s rule, a single person dictating, directing, participating, signing, approving, laughing, thundering, receiving and issuing orders, requests, applications and budget releases. All others including the mighty Ministers, respectable IAS and IPS officers, merely penning and following this one person’s rule. Yet, there is no protest or struggle against this system.
What kind of an example is this? A future, ‘democratic’ Chief Minister would find the entire administration tuned to this ‘sham’ful procedures obnoxiously binding him. Roshaiah, almost had a choke, after the abrupt departure of YSR, in avoiding this set-up. Not that he was any angel. It was simply beyond him to operate like this. Dismantling it might be easier, but the culture cannot be worn off easily. Fortunately, for ‘thus’ accultured elite, Kiran Kumar Reddy has become a savior.
The big surprise is how this is continuing when Congress is in power. TDP had no choice because CBN was the only person who could scale and stay on the hillock. Congress at the State level is not known to encourage such single person dominance. But times have changed it seems. Power lobbies seem to have decided to continue the ‘zero’ procedure approach. It is so cosy for everyone. There is no dictatorship, to given any ruse for protest. There is perfect democracy. Everyone in their own place, understanding each other’s weaknesses and strengths. A fine balance achieved.
The most worrisome aspect is this is not changing, despite Ministers and officials being in the dock, for toeing CM’s rule, in the courts in recent months. If courts can’t change, elections can’t change, what can change this pernicious culture of governance?