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Idrajit Barua's article

Please help make the Manifesto better, or accept it, and propagate it!
Our very esteemed new member from Assam has sent in this note for
discussion. While it relates to Assam, its message is universally
applicable across India.
I'll place this on the publicatons page of IPI, too. Other members can send
in their writings that they would like to see on IPI's page.


                          by: Indrajit Barua   

On the eve of the swearing in of our newly elected
government, the world woke up to the advent of Gen.
Pervez Musharraf as the self appointed chief executive
of Pakistan. The contrast between the two nations that
gained independence at the same time was too striking
to be missed. Gen. Musharraf has come out with a host
of reasons to justify his coup d'état.  The ends do
not and can never justify the means. But something he
said did strike an emotive chord in my heart. 

This is what he said: we have struck rock bottom; we
cannot sink any further; we must rise and rise we
shall, by the grace of God."

My fellow citizens, we in Assam have also struck rock
bottom. Our economy is in ruins, thanks to the bloated
political and bureaucratic executives who do not
generate any goods and services for the wealth they
take away from us. There is no governance to speak of.
Nothing is done in a government office without the
benefit of a bribe. Our infrastructure is in a mess;
the road system is in very bad shape; municipal
services are almost non-existent; the electrical power
system is on the verge of a total collapse; public
sector units have eaten up their net worth, and …..
this litany of things that have gone wrong has become
a cruel joke on the people.

The two elections to Parliament have witnessed a
debacle for the ruling party: not a single seat could
be won by the AGP in two successive elections. In a
silent rage, the citizens have struck back at their
rulers  - in the only manner left to them. If things
go on in this way, the people will surely express
their anger yet once again. But the problems besetting
Assam will remain, for a change of the political
executive is no guarantee that our fortunes will
change for the better.   
The weakness of our political executive has never been
more obvious. The bureaucracy has proliferated beyond
all good sense and reason. Assam with one-third the
population of Andhra Pradesh  has twice as many
government employees. The gap between revenue income
and the salary bill is currently at Rs. 130 crore per
month. This gap will never be bridged in the given
scheme of things; on the other hand, it will increase
with every passing year.

Funds meant for developmental works are consumed in a
routine manner to pay salaries. This huge cost of
governance is a luxury we can no longer afford. Common
sense dictates that expenditure should not exceed the
tax realized, and that investments should not be less
than borrowings and external aid funds. Thus, the very
size of the government is its fatal weakness.

The Union Government has asked some States (including
Assam) that habitually live beyond their means to put
an end to further recruitment in government
departments. This is no doubt a sensible suggestion.
But what is disturbing is that our state government
has protested against this move, and that too on the
grounds that banning further expansion of the
bureaucracy will cause unemployment and social
disorder. This wrong perception that government can go
on expanding in size just to create employment is a
gross error and is also a travesty of facts, for no
one - governments included -- can go on living beyond
their means for ever.   

To make matters worse, the State Government has
launched some ambitious new projects that are bound to
lead to further economic distress in the given
situation. The projects are such that they can never
contribute anything to the State's income and will, on
the other hand, consume whatever little funds are left
for the improvement of infrastructure facilities like
roads, schools, health care units and similar
facilities which contribute to making life better for
the citizens. 
The only reason why we tolerate any form of authority
- even democratically bestowed authority - is that we
prefer to live in a regularly organized society where
the authority - the government - is committed to
improve the quality of life of its citizens. What we
find here is that government exists only to make
things better for those within the system. There is no
accountability, no attempt at anything like good
governance and no serious attempt to improve the
quality of life of the citizens. The only issues that
should concern us are the economic issues. It seems
that our political executive does not understand
economics and does not have any wish to learn. Until
such time we have a political executive that
understands and appreciates the necessity of sound
economic policies, we are bound to be adrift
rudderless in a world of our own making.

The first task of our government is therefore to
downsize itself - to reduce its fat and flab that does
the people no good. The reluctance of the political
executive to cut salary bills will only exhibit its
own weakness and insecurity. If the exercise is
carried out in an even-handed and fair manner, the
people will understand and appreciate that what is
being done is for their long term good. Vested
interest groups will of course protest, and political
adversaries will try to take advantage of the
situation. Governments routinely take unpopular
measures like increasing taxes and the prices of
administered commodities like petroleum products.
Sounds of protest are heard, but governments do go on
increasing taxes and prices nevertheless. The
irrational fear that a social revolution will result
because of job cuts in government is a bogey that
politicians have used to buy votes. If the government
takes the people - including its own employees and the
opposition parties -- into confidence, there is a very
good chance that bad blood could be avoided. The
problem is that governments do everything in a
secretive, ham handed and an officious manner and hurt
everyone's feelings in the process. This is when
political wisdom is needed  -- to separate the chaff
from the grain -- to tell the people that the
government is living beyond its means, and that the
time has come to put and end to such luxurious living
to ensure our future survival.

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