ROLE OF GOVERNANCE AND CIVIL SOCIETY

The words ‘terrorism,’ and ‘terrorist,’ are often used as interchangeable words, their sole objective being to frighten, to cause panic, to cause physical destruction and to cause destabilisation of elected, established government. Governance is perhaps one of the more important instruments to address the issue of terrorism. Many times, people mistake governance with government. The former is however, a composite term, encompassing within its ambit, a vast array of institutions— the executive, legislature, judiciary, media, human rights organisation, civil society and others. If all these function as they ought to, then we are talking of good governance. Shortcomings in any of these institutions have an impact on governance. Government is basically an executive, but all these organisations and institutions put together, give what we call governance.

A fundamental flaw in our approach to countering terrorism has been the excessive reliance on a militaristic approach. Our actions are mostly reactive, though at times, a proactive stance is adopted, using intelligence as a tool. Fortunately, for some time now, we have also started looking at and addressing causative factors, and this I believe will be the key to conflict resolution. If we do not understand what drives a person to join terrorist organisations, then we will rarely come up with the right solutions.

Why does a person turn to terror? There is evidently a sense of frustration, of disillusionment and disappointed with the established order, which constitutes the ‘push’ factor. Terrorist organisations offer relief, and that becomes the ‘pull’ factor. This then is the motivation—a desire for relief from frustration and disillusionment in the established order, which the terrorist groups promise to deliver. Good governance then is an effective tool to countering terrorism as the prime motivation to join terror groups will no longer exist.

There is a great deal of talk of ‘minimum government’ and ‘maximum governance,’ but what are the challenges faced in the delivery of good governance. The list is long and includes issues such as demographic transitions, moral and physical corruption, crises in national values, leadership crises, poverty, poor education leading to unemployment and so on.

One of the major problems today is a loss of faith in our institutions, with institutional integrity increasingly coming into question. Here, I would like to give a view on the perceptions people have of the judiciary, the media and the bureaucracy. My remarks here are not meant to belittle any of these institutions, but to simply inform of how these institutions are perceived by a large segment of the population.

There is perceptible concern about the judicial process, especially of the delays in justice delivery. The judiciary is the last hope of freedom, but is it executing its role as it is mandated to do? There is a perception that justice is inordinately delayed, and as we well know, ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. When a person does not get justice to his cause, a feeling of frustration and anger sets in. I personally have been impacted, when I lost my brother, who was an IAS officer, a divisional commissioner in Jorhat in Assam. He was killed by a bomb planted in his chair. The accused, all of them very influential and some of them powerful ministers were initially not interested, but later, when arrests did take place, the case was transferred to the CBI. Every single one of them were acquitted by the court, which indicated a miscarriage of justice. Such incidents drive people to pick up the gun to seek justice. The perception that justice is only for the well to do people and not for the ordinary man thus gets ingrained in the public eye. Today, the people who are influential, if arrested after committing a crime, immediately develop medical problems and get transferred to a posh hospital, instead of spending time in jail. That seems to be reserved for ordinary persons, who languish in jails for years.

We also need to question whether the media is playing the role it should. Today, the media itself is promoting a certain amount of disenchantment. This has much to do with the phenomenal spread of the media in recent years. Earlier, the print media had just a few newspapers. Today, we have a plethora of both the print and electronic media. This has led to the phenomenon of ‘breaking news,’ with each media house trying to out do the other. In news debates, at times it appears that the media is the prosecutor, defender, juror, and judge, all rolled into one. Trial by the media is now a common occurrence, which influences public opinion. When ultimately justice is delivered, which is not in consonance with public perceptions, it leads to disappointment and a feeling that justice has not been done.

The executive has a very important role as a policy-maker, but the implementation of policies is where we suffer. This is in the hands of the line institutions such as the bureaucracy. Good policies can come to nought if poorly implemented and if welfare measures do not reach the intended segment. There is also a feeling that civil servants lack empathy and are oft arrogant. They do not have the time to meet people and hear their grievances, due to work pressures, meetings and other activities. This causes loss of faith by the public and leads to a feeling of being excluded from governance structures. There is thus a need to reaffirm the faith of the people in the bureaucracy and to ensure the implementation of policies of the government which are all well intended.

A perception also exists about the legislature, that debate has given way to noise. It may be a good idea to stop live telecasting of legislature debates, as the very fact that the debate is being aired live, leads to law makers posturing for the cameras, rather than focusing their energy on reasoned debate. This creates more of discord in society, and puts doubts in the minds of the public.

Another key issue is the all pervasive spread of corruption, which is deep rooted in society. The question arises, are we fighting corruption or are we just showing that we are fighting corruption? The anti corruption drive cannot be a show, but must deliver and be seen to be delivering. It is a sad fact that the big fish are seldom caught and if caught are seldom successfully prosecuted. There is little point in convicting people for petty crimes, when the big criminals, who have committed huge frauds get away scot free! These are the questions being asked by the public and each time such questions remain unanswered, a bit of faith in our public institutions gets eroded. Over time, this leads to frustration and some people then veer towards terrorism, in an effort to seek justice. Obviously, something needs to be done to make the functioning of civil servants more accountable and for justice delivery to be swifter and more sure.

Thought also needs to be given to reform the process of elections. Unfortunately, the electoral process has been reduced to a slanging match, with parties hurling criticisms at their opponents, rather than indicating their plans for the development and upliftment of society. Huge expenditures incurred in each election also is a cause of corruption. We need electoral reforms, and an idea suggested to stop elected representatives from moving from one party to another and cause the downfall of a government was that in such cases, President’s rule be imposed for the rest of the term rather than have another government elected at all. There are many suggestions, but this is an aspect which needs to be seriously looked into at the earliest.

Another cause of concern is the frequent leaks to the media houses of classified information, which sets up a frenzied trial by the media. What is not being questioned is how has a top secret document found its way to a media house? Is there a case for making the media a subject of the RTI act? There needs to be some level of accountability by the media houses too, else, in their search for improving their TRP (Television Rating Point), they say what they want, with scant regard to the truth, sowing in the process, doubt in the minds of people on institutions and on government capabilities to govern, of benefit reaching the people, on the capabilities of police force. There is a need to go back to the slogan ‘Satyamev Jayate,’both in letter and spirit.

Another aspect of governance pertains to core government responsibilities like education and health. These cannot be bartered away into the so called public private partnerships. In education today, we boast of opening IIMs and IITs all over the place, but are we providing quality education or are we quantifying education? Many educational institutions lack proper facilities and some are poorly staffed. In Telangana itself, 75 engineering colleges had to be closed down in 2016, as there were no students. In Plato’s Republic, everything could be done except for converting a man into a woman. Today’s education has been commercialised and we have unfortunately converted Saraswati into Laxmi. The issue concerning healthcare and education need to be seriously addressed as they constitute an important part of governance. If the education system is such that a large number of youth remain unemployable, then a readymade platform is being provided to terrorist organisations to recruit such youth and swell the number of their ranks.

The field of health care also presents a picture that is not rosy. It is the government’s responsibility to provide affordable healthcare to the common man, but that is still a far cry. Failures to address challenges in education and health care drive people away from the mainstream, and increases the possibility of their potential recruitment into organisations that are inimical to the state.

What is required in governance structures is accountability, periodic audit of performance and transparency in the system. While the Right to Information (RTI) Act has injected some element of transparency into the system, in its application it is being misused and at times is used as a tool of blackmail. While RTI is a useful tool, those seeking answers through RTI, should also be held accountable for their actions. As Governor, I once made a trip to the Bastar Division in Chattisgarh, where I also visited a temple in Jagdalpur. promptly, there was an RTI query, seeking information whether ‘the temple visit was part of the Governor’s itinerary, whom did the Governor meet there and what did he discuss’. I replied that the the visit was indeed part of my itinerary, I met Lord Balaji there and prayed to him to please give good sense to people like the applicant!

Such types of RTI queries are meaningless but are increasingly becoming more common. Similarly, Public Interest Litigations (PIL) are also becoming tools to block development. Any person who feels aggrieved goes to the court and gets a stay order. Why are the courts giving such stay orders, which block development schemes for years? Why cannot the court hear the case on a day to day to basis and decide on the matter, one way or the other?

The time has come when governance issues need to be addressed with full seriousness and on priority. The issue of corruption in public life needs to be addressed as a core priority, to restore faith in the system. Alongside, we need to inject some element of accountability and responsibility in to all institutions of governance, and into civil society. This must encompass non government organisations (NGOs), human rights organisations, the media and the public. In Chhattisgarh, there was a case where an individual was apprehended for his links with the Maoists, tried and convicted by a court. It was surprising that Nobel Laureates came from all over the world, to plead for this man, and seek his release. But no such voices were heard when Maoists gunned down 38 policemen while they were sleeping in a barrack. Human rights cannot be a one way street, made applicable to terrorists, their sympathisers and to anti social elements. The security forces personnel too have rights, which are oft glossed over by such organisations. They need protection for their actions, as they are operating in a very difficult environment, and if such protection is not afforded, they will have little motivation to fight against elements inimical to the state.

Addressing issues of governance is an important tool in the fight against terror. This will reduce the catchment area for terrorists and inject a sense of responsibility, both in institutions of governance as well as in civil society. Good governance alongside an effective justice delivery system will go a long way in eliminating the scourge of terrorism in the country.

This article is extracted from a talk given by Shri ESL Narasimhan, Governor of Andhra Pradesh at the Third Counter Terrorism Conference organised by India Foundation in 2017 at New Delhi.

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