On 24th January, 2017, the anniversary of our adoption of Jana Gana Mana as our National Anthem, the BJP’s National Convention for “Good Governance through People’s Participation” began, at Uttan, near Mumbai, in the verdant campus of the Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini. The Chief Guests were the two Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Shivraj-ji Chauhan enthralled the audience with his stories of responsiveness to people’s inputs. Two stories stayed in my mind. One was of an old lady giving him a perspective on the reason for female infanticide. She bluntly asked him whether he was going to give the dowry for her grand-daughter should she have one. His response – although it came more than a decade later – was to create the MP Government scheme to do precisely that. The second was when he was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time, a couple of decades back. His constituency’s people held a massive sabha to honour him for the achievement, and after congratulating him, made one simple demand – please organize Rs 5,000/- to help us clean the well that supplies water to our town. He asked them how much they had spent on the sabha. They proudly said, “Rs 1 lakh”, which was a significant sum then. He asked how they put together that sum, and why then did they need Rs 5,000/- to clean the well. They told him, the sabha was their expression as his constituency, and the well water purification was his job as their elected representative. Their response shook him to the core, and gave him an understanding of how the ‘governed’ were seeing ‘governance’. He decided then to work hard to change this mindset of our people where the Government is the only doer of public good and citizens are only recipients of its largesse, as beneficiaries. This mindset of Mai-Baap Sarkar, seeded by the British, and nurtured post-independence by our elected representatives, needs to change if our people are to see real and long-term uplift in their lives. To that end, he began regular ‘Panchayats’ (beginning with the Mahila Panchayat) of various kinds to help him understand citizens needs and to evolve Govt programs that seek their active and responsible participation.
Devendra-ji Fadnavis spoke of several experiences. Two stood out for me. The first was to do with involvement of local ‘villages’ within Nagpur municipality in making themselves open-defecation free, when he first became Nagpur Mayor. And as CM, of ‘Jal Yukta Shivaar’, the Maharashtra government’s hugely successful program for creating local solutions for local water resources problems – with local citizenry’s active involvement and contribution. He also spoke of his desire to involve business in the process of Government, chiefly to help with investment in Government programs where the need exceeds resources available with government. This idea has been implemented by Indian kings of old. The Peshwas of Pune quite often obtained funding from local business people to fund their war campaigns.
The time has probably come for business to go beyond merely funding government programs or ‘campaigns’. Business can well rise to the occasion as the ‘Fifth Estate’*, and seek to play not just a donor/lender’s but a leader’s role in Governance.
Examples exist of business leaders providing leadership in Governance. Michael Bloomberg became Mayor of New York, and the USA now have Donald Trump as President. The next four years will tell how this experiment worked out for the US, but today, the American voter has voted in recognition of this kind of leadership, which doesn’t come from the ‘political class’. In India, Nandan Nilekani for one, has shown that business leaders can surely provide leadership in specific government initiatives.
Is it not time for Indian businessmen to enter Governance? Governance is, clearly, too important to be left to politicians and bureaucrats alone. Also, shouldn’t Politicians involve business leaders in Governance, in a far more organized manner than before?