Good Governance Day: Honoring Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Good Governance Day: Honoring Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Relevance: GS Paper II- Governance & GS IV -Dimensions of ethics, Government Policies & Interventions.

Context: Good Governance Day, observed on the 25th of December, commemorates the legacy of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, emphasising the significance of responsible and effective governance.

About Good Governance Day:

  • Commemoration: Celebrated on December 25, Good Governance Day honours the birth anniversary of the late Prime Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

  • In 2014, the Prime Minister of India declared December 25 as "Good Governance Day," a nationwide celebration.

Significance of Good Governance Day:

  • Spread Awareness on Governance: The day aims to raise awareness among citizens regarding government accountability and administration.

    • For instance, workshops and seminars on this day can enlighten individuals about their rights and the functioning of governmental bodies.

  • Fair Treatment of Citizens: It ensures equitable treatment of the country's residents by the government, facilitating prompt access to various government services.

  • For example, initiatives ensuring equal access to government services, such as healthcare and education, exemplify the pursuit of fairness.

  • Promote e-Governance: National Good Governance Day actively promotes "e-Governance" with the official event slogan being "Good Governance through e-Governance."

  • Notably, countries like Estonia have successfully implemented comprehensive e-Governance systems, streamlining public services and promoting efficiency.

  • Enhance Transparency: Good Governance Day emphasises the importance of transparency in governmental operations, ensuring that decision-making processes are open and accessible to the public.

  • The emphasis on transparency aligns with successful models like Sweden, where public access to government documents ensures open decision-making processes, fostering trust in the government.

  • Encourage Citizen Participation: The celebration encourages active involvement and participation of citizens in governance, fostering a sense of responsibility and ownership in shaping the nation's policies.

  • Models like participatory budgeting in Brazil showcase how involving citizens in financial decision-making contributes to better governance.

  • Strengthen Accountability Mechanisms: The day underscores the need for robust accountability mechanisms within the government to ensure responsible and ethical conduct, enhancing public trust in institutions.

  • Exemplary models, such as the ombudsman system in Finland, demonstrate how independent oversight ensures ethical conduct and accountability in government actions.

Good Governance:

  • Governance: Defined as the process of making and enforcing decisions within an organisation or society, governance is crucial not only for maintaining order but also for achieving objectives and addressing community or group needs.

  • Good Governance: According to the World Bank, good governance is "the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development."

Components of Good Governance

  • Transparency: Institutions should operate in a way that makes actions easily observable, preventing corrupt practices.

  • Accountability: The ruling class must be answerable to the people, ensuring the overall improvement of both individuals and society.

  • Responsiveness: Governing institutions should be sensitive to people's concerns and serve their needs promptly.

  • Equitable and Inclusive: All sections of society must have equal opportunities for improvement without discrimination.

  • Consensus Oriented: Decisions should be made with the consensus of a large section of society, avoiding detriment to anyone.

  • Effectiveness and Efficiency: Resources should be used efficiently to produce results meeting the community's needs.

  • Rule of Law: The legal framework must be impartially enforced to uphold the rights of every individual.

  • Participation: Society members should voice their opinions through legitimate organizations or representatives, including vulnerable and backward groups.

Importance of Good Governance:

  • Uphold Public Interests: Good governance practices play a pivotal role in safeguarding and upholding the interests of the public, ensuring that policies and decisions align with the welfare of the community.

  • For example, in countries where policies prioritise public welfare, such as comprehensive healthcare systems in Scandinavia, the role of good governance is evident.

  • Efficient Use of Resources: Through good governance, organisations can strategically and efficiently utilise existing resources, optimising their potential to deliver high-quality services that meet the diverse needs of the public.

  • Countries like Singapore exemplify efficient governance by strategically managing resources, leading to high-quality public services despite limited land and natural resources.

  • Checks and Balances: Good governance practices serve as a crucial mechanism for implementing checks and balances, preventing the undue exercise of power and misuse of positions. 

  • This fosters a fair and accountable environment within organisations.

  • The judicial system in countries like the United States serves as a model, preventing the misuse of power and ensuring fairness and accountability within the government.

  • Public Involvement: Achieving meaningful public participation in the governance process becomes possible through the implementation of good governance practices.

  •  This involvement enhances transparency, accountability, and responsiveness to the diverse voices within the community.

  • Initiatives like participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, showcase how involving citizens in decision-making processes enhances transparency and responsiveness.

  • Promoting Trust: Good governance cultivates trust among the public by demonstrating a commitment to fairness, ethical conduct, and responsiveness. 

  • This trust forms the foundation for a harmonious relationship between the governing bodies and the people they serve.

  • Scandinavian countries, known for their transparent and ethical governance practices.

  • Enhancing Civic Engagement: Effective governance encourages active civic engagement, empowering individuals to actively contribute to decision-making processes and take ownership of the development and progress of their communities.

  • The Swiss model of direct democracy, where citizens actively participate in decision-making through referendums, illustrates how governance empowers individuals to shape their communities.

  • Fostering Innovation: Good governance creates an environment conducive to innovation, allowing for the exploration of creative solutions to societal challenges and promoting adaptability in response to evolving needs.

  • Countries like South Korea, with policies supporting research and development, exemplify how a conducive governance environment can drive creative solutions to societal challenges.

  • Sustainable Development: By prioritising long-term goals and considering environmental, social, and economic sustainability, good governance becomes a catalyst for sustainable development that benefits current and future generations.

  • The Nordic countries' commitment to balancing economic growth with environmental and social considerations demonstrates how governance can lead to sustainable progress for present and future generations.

Barriers to Good Governance:

  • Political Interference: Political influence in administrative decisions can impede the impartial and effective execution of policies, hindering good governance.

  • For instance, when political considerations dominate decisions, merit-based appointments may be compromised, impacting good governance.

  • Corruption and Nepotism: Rampant corruption and favouritism undermine the principles of transparency, accountability, and fairness, creating significant barriers to good governance.

  • Examples such as cases of bribery and cronyism in various countries underscore how these practices obstruct the principles of accountability and fairness.

  • Inadequate Infrastructure and Resources: Insufficient resources and outdated infrastructure can limit the government's ability to deliver essential services efficiently, impacting the overall quality of governance.

  • Lack of Citizen Participation: A disengaged or apathetic citizenry hinders the democratic process and weakens the feedback mechanisms necessary for responsive and accountable governance.

  • Instances where low voter turnout affects the representativeness of elections illustrate how lack of citizen participation can hinder responsive and accountable governance.

  • Complex Bureaucratic Procedures: Cumbersome and convoluted bureaucratic procedures can lead to delays and inefficiencies, obstructing the smooth implementation of policies and service.

  • For Example, convoluted approval processes for public projects can result in inefficiencies, obstructing the smooth implementation of policies and services.

  • Limited Access to Information: Restricted access to information prevents citizens from being well-informed, inhibiting their ability to actively engage in the decision-making processes and hold authorities accountable.

  • In cases where government decisions lack transparency due to classified information, citizens may struggle to actively participate in decision-making processes, limiting accountability.

Way Forward: Strengthening Good Governance:

  • Right to Information: The Right to Information empowers citizens, fostering openness and accountability in government functions. It serves as a crucial tool in combating corruption and realizing the authentic ideals of democracy.

  • Good Governance Index: Utilising a scientific tool based on diverse parameters, the Good Governance Index assesses the quality of governance in any state at a specific point in time. 

  • This assessment aids in shaping future development strategies.

  • E-Governance: Leveraging information and communication technologies (ICTs), E-Governance facilitates the delivery of government services to the public, enhancing efficiency and accessibility.

  • Local Body Governance: The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments decentralised decision-making by introducing local bodies. This approach empowers communities and promotes more inclusive and responsive governance.

  • Citizen Charter: A written document outlining the commitment of service providers to meet the needs of citizens, the Citizen Charter enhances accountability and transparency in service delivery.

  • Social Audit: The process of evaluating social and economic policies through Social Audit focuses on positive outcomes and assesses their impact on the welfare of society. 

  • This practice ensures a holistic understanding of the effectiveness of governance initiatives.

About Atal Bihari Vajpayee:

  • Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the 10th Prime Minister of India, was not only a statesman but also a renowned poet and literary figure.

  • Association with RSS and BJP: Vajpayee was closely linked with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological precursor of the BJP, contributing significantly to the party's development.

  • Early Life: Born on December 25, 1924, in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, Vajpayee became an RSS member in 1939 and transitioned into a full-time worker in 1947.

  • Literary Pursuits:

    • Under Deen Dayal Upadhyaya's Guidance: Vajpayee's literary power provided him the opportunity to collaborate with Deen Dayal Upadhyaya on various publications.

  • Leadership Role: 

  • Jana Sangh Presidency: Following the demise of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, Vajpayee assumed the role of the national president of the Jana Sangh in 1968.

  • Political Onset:

  • 1957 Indian General Election: During the 1957 Indian general election, Vajpayee secured a seat in the Lok Sabha from Balrampur, leveraging his eloquence to champion the policies of the Jana Sangh.

  • Post-Emergency Coalition: Following the emergency period, a coalition, including the Jana Sangh, coalesced to form the Janata Party, triumphant in the 1977 general elections. Vajpayee assumed the role of External Affairs Minister.

  • Formation of BJP in 1980: In 1980, the Jana Sangh transformed into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Guided by Vajpayee's leadership, the BJP started achieving electoral success, particularly in heartland states.

  • Electoral Achievements: Throughout his political journey, Vajpayee was elected ten times to the Lok Sabha and twice to the Rajya Sabha. His victories spanned constituencies such as Balrampur, New Delhi, Gwalior, and Lucknow.

  • Prime Ministerial Tenures:

  • 1996 General Elections: During the 1996 General Elections, the BJP claimed the position of the single-largest party. Vajpayee, invited to form the government, faced challenges in garnering a majority and consequently resigned after a brief 16-day tenure.

  • 1998 General Elections: In the 1998 General Elections, the BJP once again emerged as the single-largest party. Vajpayee led a multi-party alliance known as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which assumed power. 

  • However, the government collapsed within 13 months.

  • 1999 General Elections: During the 1999 General Elections, the BJP-led NDA secured an impressive 303 seats, attaining a comfortable majority. 

  • Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister for the third time, serving until 2004.

  • Administrative Achievements:

  • Pokhran Nuclear Test (1998): In May 1998, India executed the second series of subterranean nuclear tests in Pokhran, Rajasthan, marking a significant event 24 years after the initial nuclear test, known as Smiling Buddha, conducted in 1974.

  • Kargil War (1999): In 1999, Operation Vijay was launched by the Indian military to reclaim positions in the Kargil sector seized by Pakistani soldiers and militants. 

  • India's successful efforts compelled Pakistan to withdraw, resulting in the restoration of the captured territory.

  • Golden Quadrilateral Project: This initiative involved the development of a highway network connecting India's four major metropolitan cities—Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata—enhancing national connectivity.

  • Pradhan Mantri Gramin Sadak Yojana: A central sector scheme, this project focused on constructing all-weather roads in rural India to improve connectivity and transportation infrastructure.

  • Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan: As a flagship program of the Government of India, the Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan aimed to achieve Universalization of Elementary Education (UEE) within a specified timeframe.

  • Diplomatic Outreach to Pakistan: Vajpayee, in a notable diplomatic move, endeavored to improve relations with Pakistan by undertaking a bus journey to Lahore for a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

  • Honours:

  • Bharat Ratna (2015): In 2015, Vajpayee was bestowed with Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour in India.

  • Bangladesh Liberation War Honour: Recognized as the second-highest honour in Bangladesh presented to foreign dignitaries, Vajpayee received this prestigious award.

  • Order of Ouissam Alaouite: Acknowledged as the second-highest civilian honour in Morocco, Vajpayee was honored with the Order of Ouissam Alaouite.

  • Good Governance Day: In 2014, the Government of India declared that Vajpayee's birth anniversary would be commemorated as Good Governance Day, underscoring his contributions to effective governance.

In summary, the discussion highlights the multifaceted aspects of good governance, emphasizing the importance of effective leadership, citizen engagement, and the removal of obstacles like corruption and bureaucratic complexities. Overcoming these challenges is pivotal to realizing governance that is transparent, accountable, and responsive to the needs of the people. It is a continuous process that demands collaborative efforts to build a foundation for a well-functioning and just society.

Advait IAS