vol-LXXVII : October 4, 2010

Dear Colleagues

We are passing through interesting times; here is another reflection for your perusal and comments:

1. The festival season is upon us in India—Onam, Ganesh Chaturthi, Eid, Navratra, Dusshehra. What citizens do during festivals is rather straightforward—worship, dress up in new clothes, gather with family and friends, cook and eat special foods—celebration with near and dear ones. Now, the same festival occasions are ‘used’ differently by our politicians. Politicians want political mileage through visibility; so, they put up hoardings; finance public worshipping of various gods & goddesses; show-off their ‘religiosity’ and ‘popularity’ with masses. In Mumbai, during the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi, one could ‘see’ more faces of local politicians on various posters and hoardings than that of Lord Ganesh!

2. Ever since Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have come together to combine their huge personal wealth for philanthropy, there has been much speculation about the impact of this on various aspects of human development. In recent months, the two of these global icons have begun to influence the rich in other countries to also invest their wealth for public philanthropy. They were reported to be having a meeting with some of the newly rich Chinese in Hong Kong on this issue; however, the wealthy Chinese seem to not have been very impressed; for them, private wealth is for private use, specially the family and its future. Given that the new billionaires are in Asia, and India produces more than its fair share, it is important to confront them with this poser: how can your new wealth be used for public good?

3. The present coalition government in UK seems to be combining the right and the left of the public policy debates in many matters of governance. A big issue is the cuts in public spending; while all departments and programmes are being cut to varying degrees, there seems to be no such cuts on international development. And, enhancing budgets for local governments is being proposed by the government in London to ‘enable’ citizens to work towards their own local developments. Several British academics and NGOs seem to be suspicious of this approach by government in UK; however, many civil society groups are demanding devolution of resources and authority in many developing countries so that citizens can influence local development. Contradictions? Is this the new alliance between British government and southern civil society?

4. Turkey is emerging as a new center for ‘regional’ influence; it is a member of G20; it is active in facilitating dialogue for peace in middle-east; it has a growing economy; it is part of both Europe and Asia; and, International Finance Corporation (the private sector unit of the World Bank group) has just made its Istanbul office to look after north Africa, middle- east, central Asia and even South Asia. However, civil society in Turkey is yet to ‘rise’ to the level of significance that the government and private sector of Turkey are beginning to have. There may be lessons in this for such other places where civil society may well be weak in comparison to the growing power of the state and market in regional and global sense; how about China and Russia?

5. The recent weeks in Indian media have focused on continuing mismanagement of the preparations for Common Wealth Games (CWG) in Delhi; the intensity of conflicts and violence with the ‘maoists’ in the tribal districts of the country has escaped much media attention. It appears to me that the underlying causes for growing maoist violence and continuing mess in the management of CWG are the same; it may sound far-fetched, but look at the realities. The main underlying causes for these malaises are the complete ‘mal-governance’ of public institutions and government/political sector in the country; and, this mal-governance can be traced to three inter-locking factors—callousness (no public official is bothered), competence (complete lack of it in all public agencies and staff) and corruption (it will be a challenge to find more than a handful who have not used public resources for private gains). Once again, urgent, systemic and holistic reforms of institutions, procedures, regulations and employees of all public agencies—from primary schools to police—are the only way forward in this country; how long will that take?

All the best


Rajesh Tandon