Governments and agendas

Say what you may about the inefficiencies of the BS Yeddyurappa government in Karnataka, you must accept that the initial days were great. While the miners may have been allowed to prosper, which led to plunder and constant government instability (which led first to the BJP split and then the humiliating loss in these elections), the government did rather well in its first year of operation. Infrastructure (especially in Bangalore city) saw an improvement. I moved out of Bangalore in August 2008 (three months after Yeddy took power) and returned in June 2009, and there was a significant visible change in the city (for the better). Policing and law and order also seemed to improved (in those initial days of the Yeddy government).

It might be early days still, only four months since Siddaramaiah has taken charge, but I don’t see anything in this direction. Bangalore roads are all torn up and travel times have doubled (primarily due to potholes). Law and order seems broken (cases like this one and this one come to mind). The chief minister reportedly feigned illness and backed out of a meeting with industry captains at the last minute (heard this from two independent sources but can’t find a link). Any way, the industry in the state is not happy.

Typically, when a new government takes over, it wants to be seen gathering some “quick wins’. Typically the easiest problems to solve are to fix law and order – all it takes is to decision the police, and it typically improves whenever a new government comes to power. Another quick win is improvement of basic infrastructure – such as asphalting roads or improving water supply. Meeting industry leaders and making global statements also don’t take much effort, but go a long way in getting the support of the industry.

If it is all so easy, and the earlier government did that, why has the current dispensation not implemented any of it? I blame it on the Re. 1 per kg rice scheme. The problem with the current government is that it has a specific agenda – as soon as he came to power, Siddaramaiah announced this cheap rice scheme and promised to implement it in a month or two. This has resulted in two things. Firstly, the statement meant that most of the management bandwidth of the government bureaucracy went in managing and implementing this cheap rice scheme. Since the CM wanted this to be done in a certain number of days, officers probably scrambled to meet the deadline, thus not being able to pay attention to other issues.

More importantly, the government saw this cheap rice scheme as a quick win. The people will be generally happy ¬†with the government if this is implemented, they might have reasoned, thanks to which other potential quick wins (policing, basic infra) took a backseat. I’m not a beneficiary of the Re. 1 per kg rice scheme so I can’t comment objectively but I’m not sure if the recipients of the scheme are happy that the scheme has been implemented or unhappy that other developments have taken a backseat.

The point with the Yeddy government is that it didn’t have a specific agenda – no “global” quick win scheme, thanks to which the government had to push on several fronts to try and score a win. And so they pushed on all fronts where quick wins were possible and managed to get them. (It is another matter, of course, that in the longer run they ran an increasingly unsteady ship and messed things up right royally, because of which they were (rightly) voted out in the next elections).

It is similar to the NDA government of 1999. There were no grand quick win plans, and that gave the government the bandwidth to push on several long-term fronts, including infrastructure projects such as the Golden Quadrilateral and the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, further disinvestment and the new Electricity Acts. UPA1 on the other hand quickly came up with schemes such as the NREGA which served as a good vote-catching quick win (and it probably did its job given the enhanced majority the UPA got in 2009).

Thus, from the point of view of sustainable development and investment in public goods, it is possibly better off to have a government which has no specific idea. If not, the specific ideas might come in the way of other development.