Why Do We Have Low Levels of Human Development & Social Development?


Dr VBJ Rao Chelikani 

 Normally any emerging national economy in good management should grow in double—digits, almost mechanically, without having to acknowledge the genius of any particular finance minister. China, Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria, and all the South-East Asian countries, which have initially performed ‘economic miracles’ are good examples of this phenomenon. This has happened, already in the case of West European countries after the end of the 2nd world war. They enjoyed three decades of unprecedented growth and prosperity. Much before that, the same thing had happened with the United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand towards the end of the 19th century, due to its inexhaustible natural resources, despite much wastage. 

            Then, we observe an economic phenomenon. After a decade or two, when the economy reaches a level of growth, the growth rate will decline, while productivity, production and consumption as well as trade might continue to increase. Then the prices remain stable as speculation would be less; inflation and corruption, would be less. But, the growth rates would begin to be in the single digit. Even some countries not endowed with a reasonable amount of natural resources have achieved this due to their efficient management. Even in countries with single-party regimes with ideological fervour or religious fervour or simply in countries, where military dictators paraded, the initial growth rates are promising. But, in the case of a vast majority of African and Latin American countries, and some Asian countries, despite rich natural resources, the initial growth did not last longer than five years. Either it stopped brutally, or in some cases, economic growth slowed down to the extent of stagnation. This is what has happened in the case of Indonesia, Ghana, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Argentina, Venezuela, Congo, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Algeria, Iran, etc. What is the factor that makes this brutal difference? It is nothing but politico- bureaucratic Corruption that degrades the country! 

 I. Betrayal of Trust by the Operators of the State   

            In the case of India, the situation for the past 75 years has been more complicated and demands a closer analysis. The economic phenomenon is described as the Hindu rate of growth, because of its ‘work culture’, which has an umbilical link with inefficiency due to low levels of skills and corruption. In general, political corruption and administrative corruption are common and inevitable in the initial stages of any emerging democracy in developing countries. The operators of the state, the bureaucrats, the ministers and the peoples’ Representatives involve themselves without restraint in the selfish use of their powers and opportunities. Together, they have now evolved it into a silent nexus, so that they can make corruption sustainable. It results in inefficiency in performance, which the authorities try to hide by wasting more human and natural resources of the country. Low productivity and low level of skills, without mentioning low level of self-empowerment are an indication of low levels of Human Development (HD). Low human development is due to low Social Development (S.D.). Social development is slow in India, since in its history, there had never been any radical transformations and churning in different societies in India, unlike in European societies which were constantly mobilized, traumatized and transformed entirely, and particularly since the two world wars in which they were totally involved. Even if we take a comparable example of China, the Chinese society, which is more homogenous than Indian societies, has been subjected to several violent upheavals due to ideological shifts in social policies by its Communist Party. Further, the second most important reason for slow social development in India is due to too many politico-bureaucratic interventions in social affairs. Though this has initially the merit of avoiding bloody social conflicts, has nevertheless prevented the citizens from feeling enough of the much-needed social concern, social responsibility, social ethics and social consciousness.  

 1.       At the outset, we have to admit that we are being ruled by the political parties and their nominees, rather than by the people’s representatives. Political corruption in India is grand corruption since it affects national development, with its unstoppable logic of money power. The politicians and their parties, in order to grab power, spend money on voters; once in power, they make money to retain power. To win a majority of voters, they create divisions and civil conflicts or provoke border disputes in cooperation with either religious or military circles. Most of the tax money and other resources collected are spent upon the operators of the state and for its prestige and glory as a great power among other states. The rest of the tax money is often given away to the voters as ‘freebies’ in the name of some welfare scheme. Whatever may be the reasons, a majority of the people are voting only in favour of those who are offering specific freebies to them or distributing directly money, gifts and liqueur at the time of elections. Political parties and their candidates collect and accumulate huge amounts of cash from individuals, contractors and companies and force the officers to act against the financial interests of the state. Consequently, precious little is left to be spent on H.D. and S.D. For them, the ideal state is the Republic of North Korea, where the people are as happy as children, and where the Great and Dear Leader Kim Il Un takes care of everything.

                    A third proof or the reason for slow social development is the absence of a universal social security system, which answers all kinds of insecurities, such as the eventuality of unemployment, sickness and lack of income after retirement and other risks. Mutual assurance can be formed collectively by the people who produce wealth and cover all kinds of risks as a matter of right. A comprehensive system is adopted by all the liberal democracies, and if there are any financial deficits, they are filled from the tax money by governments. Instead of doing this, in India the Representatives of the people continue to promise some specific and selective welfare schemes before elections and implement them if they come to power. They also give grants in gratuity, out of generosity to those whom they consider most deserving in case of any unhappy incident. Thus, people remain permanently dependent upon the generosity of the political power and the political fortunes of their leaders.

 2.         The entire state machinery of officers enjoys so much power over the citizens that the officers are called bureaucrats, like the former aristocrats. Not only that they help rampant political corruption to happen, as they themselves have some self-interest, and, further, they themselves indulge in petty corruption, which hurts the common man the most. They are quite loyal to the hierarchy of the state and honest to the ‘files’, but are not trained to be democratic and to fulfill their social responsibility, first.

            If we look into the history of our bureaucracy, we find that it was devised and installed by our colonial masters, and that it had never shown any signs of sympathy towards the freedom fighters during the independence movement, as it was a part of the ruling class. During the freedom movement, the army shot at the pretesting Indians, and the Police lathi-charged the Satyagrahis, as a matter of duty. All of them were not the Britishers. After serving those who sat on the throne, the Administration, after independence, continued to serve loyally those who later sat in the red cushioned and gilded chairs. Jawaharlal Nehru's concept of a ‘welfare state’ has resulted in the bureaucratisation of entire political governance. Administrative reforms for ‘ease of doing business with the governments’ and simply for the ‘ease of living’ for the common man or the concern for ‘less government and more governance’ have never been sincerely attempted by any people’s representative. The ministers have never been neither competent nor morally strong enough to resist the bureaucracy and reform it. The expensive External Affairs department is a closely guarded domain of the career-diplomats. Complaints of the citizens against the bureaucracy do not go far. The mechanisms like Anti-Corruption bureaus, Vigilance Commissions, and Administrative Tribunals are filled by the same officers. It is again they who are to enquire, to correct, to try and to judge other officers. This is a matter of common knowledge and experience for anybody living in India. If India is still progressing in general and tax recoveries are increasing, it is because of the dynamism of other economic actors in the society and the entrepreneurs. Whereas, in countries where there has been more growth, there is less corruption internally. Yet, as a kind of business dharma, the foreign entrepreneurs are yielding to the temptation of corrupting Indians in commercial affairs, such as defence deals. A citizen is rendered helpless and is frustrated in dealing with governments. It is a matter of day-to-day experience for anybody that needs no further proof.  

            Thus public governance in India today is in the grip of entrenched corruption. In aggravated situations, in other developing countries, the state becomes a ‘failed’ or ‘bankrupt’ state, as we see in the case of Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan right now, in our neighbourhood. Adding Venezuela, there is a list of about 53 states in the world which are in such a situation of economic stagnation and inflation, making life miserable for the people, except for the politicians and religious and military circles. 

            Given the above observations, we can derive an economic law that when corruption is high, then the economic growth rate would be low. On the contrary, small and petty corruption declines when there is some level of economic development for all, as we see in liberal democracies in Western Europe. The theoretical explanation of this phenomenon of retarding the growth of the society by the state was well done a long time ago by a political philosopher, Karl R. Popper in his book: The Open Society and Its Enemies. 

 II. The Psychology of the Governed Citizens:

            Thus, the bureaucratisation of entire governance is further delaying the inevitable process of democratisation of modern society. But, as the above analysis reveals no politician or no officer can be expected to reduce the present level of corruption, except the citizen himself. The operators of the state are trying to make the citizens believe that a good citizen should be obedient, loyal and dependent. They are trying to inculcate out of date neo-nationalism, which never existed politically in India and that too in the present-day globalised world.  

            A citizen is hesitant to approach a Police station, a Revenue office, a municipal employee, or for that matter, any government office from the village Panchayat office to the Central Secretariat in New Delhi, if s/he has nothing to offer in return for the favour s/he is expecting. The favour might be simply not withholding the file on the officer’s desk any more. Can any active person in India raise his hand to say that he, so far has not paid any bribe to some public employee to get things done in time?    

            Yet, in all fairness, we should admit that in our country, more people offer bribes to get things done or to obtain favours, irrespective of the fact whether they deserve it or not, than those who demand a bribe. On the other hand, when the officer or the politician is flexible enough to accept to facilitate or accommodate even the undue demands of anybody who is a voter or a supporter, then, people would continue to persist in their traditional way of thinking and behaviour. 

            We seem to have a traditional age-old propensity to lure each other to serve our individual purposes, without any reference to any common values. The individual interest or logic or dharma seems to prevail over other things, and one considers himself individually answerable only to God, ultimately, and not to any other group in the society. Common people found it normal to give a gift in appreciation for a favour obtained, as it happened in the past. Gifts are presented to the elite adorning the ‘durbars’ of the Maharajahs, Sultanates and the Mughals, and later, to the ‘Dubashis’ and the officers of the East India Company. Whatever the Power gives is given as a matter of magnanimity, and not as an obligation. Many people go to persons in positions of power ready to offer some quid pro quo. In reverse, confirming this unethical ethos or anti-democratic traditional practice, the politicians corrupt the citizen during the elections.   

Citizens are not handicapped

           The present rule by the legitimate intermediate institutions composed of bureaucracy or the people’s representatives are not empowering the citizen; they are assisting the citizen, as if he is handicapped.  The governments are not permitting the individual to be democratic in his relations with other residents and learn to give equal opportunities to all; the opportunity to make mistakes and to learn, or corrected by others. Not only the operators of the state but most importantly, the people have not yet recognised the fundamental human rights for all. Neither do they affirm them in their own case nor do they respect them in the case of others. Individually, nobody has a concern for the ‘other’ in his day-to-day life; on the other hand, one fears the ‘other’. We are still living in a regime of the rule of ‘the Powerful’, and the rule of the ‘Rules’.  Are we still far away from the ‘rule of law’ for all?  

         But, social transformations from the individual to the global level, nevertheless slowly, are taking place, and the role of the bureaucrat and the politician is bound to diminish in India in the long run. We are all bound to get integrated into global governance in which each individual has to participate.      

Image courtesy Microsoft Stock Library                

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