The politics-policy disconnect in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Disconnect between policy and politics in India

Context

Decision-making on virtually all governance issues is disconnected from politics and the mobilisation of public opinion.

Disconnect between politics and policy

  • The repeal of the farm laws is thus a notable instance of politics and policy coming together, although in conflict.
  • The Opposition speaking in one voice in the Parliament helped, but the heavy lifting of organising in the villages and sustaining the protests was done by the farmers’ groups.
  • This disconnect between politics and policy is not a recent development, though it manifests differently across political divides.
  • Policy-first lens and its implications: The liberal side has a policy-first lens but is unable to articulate its ideas in a manner which makes for good politics, repeatedly couching its ideas in a bureaucratic framework disconnected from political organisation.
  • Bureaucracy is downstream from politics and this approach rather than curbing the state may have instead contributed to undermining the democratic process of political accountability since the political class is, by design, not central to the policy in the first place.
  • A politics-first approach: The right, on its side, has a politics-first lens but it derives its politics largely from its social agenda instead of issues of governance.
  • The policy imperatives, if any, are ad hoc and appear to be driven by the demands of running the political apparatus instead of a clear governance agenda.
  • Despite these differences, what is common across parties is the apolitical harnessing of the state as a disburser of different kinds of economic largesse, especially just before elections, as political parties cast about for simple ideas for easy mass communication.

Reasons for the breakdown of the process

  • Weakly institutionalised nature of state and politics: Indian politics and the state are weakly institutionalised to begin with, which leads to an all-around fuzziness in the relationship between politics and policy.
  • However, this is as much an effect as it is cause, with the direction of change towards greater deinstitutionalisation instead of the opposite.
  • Lack of consensus-building: Another contributing factor is that traditional sites of consensus-building such as media, civil society, and political parties have developed pathologies which have rendered sustained consensus-building almost impossible. 
  • Centralisation of power: The excessive centralisation of power in party platforms and the head of the government (state and national).
  • This renders the individual elected representative extraneous to governance even in their own constituency, where their function is to provide representation and oversight.

Way forward

  • There’s too much at stake to allow such a state of affairs to continue.
  •  It is important to rescue public interest from partisanship and cut through at least some of the bad-faith crosstalk across partisan divides.
  • Cross-cutting collaboration: There are many issues which lend themselves to cross-cutting collaboration outside of ideological affiliations.
  • Need for reforms: Institutional reforms are required to create such a space but public-spirited individuals across political divides can lay the foundation for such collaboration through issue-based discipline, moderation and intellectual independence.

Consider the question “There has been a growing disconnect in India between policy and politics. Examine the factors responsible for this. Suggest the way forward.”

Conclusion

We need to address the disconnect between policy and politics to make the functioning of democracy more meaningful for us.

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