Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has begun well and everybody seems to be extremely happy about it. Even veteran leader and the CPM’s star-campaigner VS Achuthanandan, who many thought would stick out like a sore thumb, is not sulking. The capital city and most parts of the state were celebrating on Wednesday.
The jubilation and euphoria certainly denote people’s earnest desire for change. The outgoing Oommen Chandy government was drowning in allegations of corruption, misuse of office and even sexual offences. Reportedly, some of the ministers tried to cash out even at the last minute and every poll survey, notwithstanding the science behind them and credibility, showed that people indeed thought that the government was very corrupt.
Pinarayi’s team is the cleanest one could hope for.
Therefore, it was easy for the CPM-led LDF (Left Democratic Front). All they had to do was to promise a corruption free government. Early this week, Pinarayi reiterated the promise again and on Wednesday, when his government took over, what was on display was a line-up of ministers who could remain clean.
Corruption-prone ministries which handle a lot of public works and money have been given to people with proven integrity, and there was no division to appease caste and communal constituencies. Regular prime time TV commentators were unanimous in their opinion that Pinarayi’s team is the cleanest one could hope for.
That’s a greatly reassuring first step which will keep the LDF government in good stead; but of equal importance is the question if the same team will be able to deliver?
For the LDF, keeping its promises on the manifesto will be a daunting challenge that will require substantial growth and welfare in equal measure. Being corruption-free is rather easy, but ensuring growth and efficiency will require governance-skills and imagination.
People would expect both. In this context, the Left-ruled Bengal and the Chandy-ruled Kerala offer interesting insights.
Chandy had done a good job on socio-economic development.
During the 34 years of Left rule in West Bengal, there were hardly any allegations of corruption, but there was’t any worthwhile socio-economic progress either. By the time Mamta Banerjee ousted the Left in 2011, the state was in an absolute mess. Even today, it’s unable to free itself from the burden of its corruption-free, inefficient past. People wanted jobs and better healthcare, education, roads, water and sanitation, law and order and so on which the Left failed to deliver. Probity alone was not a virtue that people aspired for. More over, the rule by party cells for three decades frustrated them. Finally, the take-aways for people in West Bengal were inefficiency and misrule and not corruption-free governance.
On the other hand, people were apparently very happy with the Oommen Chandy government’s development record, but were thoroughly disappointed by its corrupt ways. The Lokniti-CSDS post-poll analysis bears this out. According to Lokniti-CSDS data, close to two-thirds of their respondents said that Chandy had done a good job on socio-economic development. He scored extremely well on roads, education, health, drinking water, law and order, and public transport; but 80 per cent of the same happy respondents also said that his government was corrupt. One-third of them preferred to term it “very corrupt”. Obviously, as the data shows, a large number of people who were really happy with his work voted against him.
Left ruled Bengal that was clean, but terrible on governance.
In comparison, his predecessor, VS Achuthanandan, whose government (2006-2011) had no major growth story to boast of, had a far better rating than Chandy because his government was perceived to be clean. But that was not good enough to return him to power because being corruption-free alone doesn’t make sense.
So, the Pinarayi government has three models to learn from: Left ruled Bengal that was clean, but terrible on governance; Chandy government that was high on “growth” and governance, but terrible on graft; and its own government during 2006-11, which was clean, but not as good a performer as the Chandy government.
Ensuring development and good governance in a system that’s besieged with corruption will not be easy. Just as economic growth breeds inequality, development efforts by governments breed corruption. Chandy government may have achieved quite a bit, but corruption also would have eaten up a lot of public wealth. The African Union recently had estimated that about 25 per cent of the GDP of African countries was skimmed off by corruption.
This is where Pinarayi’s iron-fist and the integrity and governance-capabilities of his ministers will be put to test. Since most of them are new-comers with absolutely no knowledge of how the government functions at the state level, it will be an uphill task. In its manifesto, the LDF has promised the moon on every front and to deliver on it, the ministers have to find ways not to shut down development while weeding out graft. They should be nimble-footed, but should not trip on the invisible obstacles.
The government also should ensure that the CPM doesn’t indulge in party-cell rule. The era of Local Committee rule is over. The street thugs should be asked to go home. The promise is growth and welfare, good governance and order. And that will be what people will judge the government for.
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