Posted by: John Elliott | November 20, 2007

Poor governance in Indian states

It’s often easy to despair of Indian politics and politicians, and the behavior of top figures in two important Indian states – West Bengal and Karnataka – make this is one of those times.

In both places, political leaders have in the past week shown scant regard for the good of their states and the people who live there, in one case choosing to support the brutal muscle of political cadres above forces of law and order, and in the other putting opportunities for potential graft above stable government.

Meanwhile the central government, led by prime minister Manmohan Singh and Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi, is saying little because it wants to avoid upsetting sensitive political alliances and vote banks ahead of coming state elections and, possibly, a general election.

The story starts in Nandigram where plans for a 10,000-acre special economic zone led to violent protests and at least 14 deaths last March and April. Trouble has broken out again in recent weeks. This time it has been caused not by the poor trying to protect their land but by armed cadres of the CPI-M, India’s biggest Communist party which leads West Bengal’s Left Front government, re-establishing its traditional control over the area by ousting rival political groups that had moved in during the earlier troubles.

Houses and shops were burned and ransacked and fear was spread by patrolling motorbike convoys carrying red flags. Reports said at least eleven people were killed and more than 100 beaten up and injured. Last week the government kept para-military forces, which were supposed to have stepped in, out of the area till the armed CPI-M cadres – or goons to use a more apt word – were back in control.

That is bad enough, but what has shocked people of all shades of opinion is the behavior of CPI-M chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, a mild looking man who has been feted internationally as a forward looking economic reformer.

Instead of trying to rein in his party’s activists, he endorsed what they had done, saying they were “justified”. Referring to earlier violence by the opposing groups, he said that ”the opposition has been paid back in the same coin”. Commentators have been noting that this puts him almost in the same camp as Narendra Modi, the much-criticized Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief minister of Gujarat, who allowed rampant anti-Muslim violence in his state in 2002 without ordering police action.

It is being suggested that this was not a Bhattacharjee aberration but the CPI-M being seen in its true colors. Vir Sanghvi, a widely read columnist, wrote in the Hindustan Times last Sunday that people who have lived in West Bengal “recognize the party for what it truly is: a rigidly disciplined totalitarian outfit which depends on murderous cadres and which has no real patience with democracy and dissent”.

Such reports of the Left Front’s toughness with opponents, and its firm grip on West Bengal’s politics, have often been heard during the 30 years that the CPI-M and its allies have run the government, but no-one expected such an open endorsement of lawlessness.

(Ironically, the Nandigram events appear to have eased the path of India’s proposed nuclear deal with the US. The CPI-M has been leading opposition to the deal and has threatened to withdraw its parliamentary support for the Congress-led coalition government if the deal went ahead. That could have provoked a general election, which the Left is now in no condition to face because it would almost certainly do badly in West Bengal and elsewhere. So it has toned down its opposition and agreed at the end of last week that the Indian government should take the next step towards a deal and hold talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Geneva. It is however insisting that the government reports back after the talks, which might lead to another impasse and more delays.)

Meanwhile in Karnataka, a BJP-led state government that took power just a week ago was brought down yesterday by its coalition partners because of a disagreement over allocation of ministerial portfolios.

“Fight over rich ministries fells Karnataka Government” said a neat Hindustan Times headline this morning (Nov 20). The Janata Dal (S) party, led by former prime minister Deve Gowda, pulled out of the coalition because the BJP would not agree to let it have lucrative ministerial posts covering housing and development, and mining – posts that are always coveted in governments across India because of the largesse they bring from would-be licensees and contractors.

Karnataka has now had three governments in as many years and is sinking rapidly into the sort of administrative torpor more usual in the blighted northern state of Bihar. That is bad news for a state which has as its capital the showcase city of Bangalore, where big IT names such as Infosys and Wipro are located. No wonder IT companies are expanding elsewhere.


  1. You make a VERY legit point here. You indeed stated the truth. Politics is exactly what has hampered India’s growth and it will continue to be a hindrance for quite some time. A “change” will come only when the current generation of policticians (highly uneducated, corrupt, backward-thinking and sometimes criminals) retire. But the fear is, they will be simply replaced by the their children, who will be equally worse. A career in politics is the last thing on an Indian’s mind. This causes unqualified and severly incapable individuals filling up the posts of ministers, in turn hampering progress. Sometimes, I think that we(India) would’ve been better off under communism. Just a thought!

  2. India is still at a nascent stage of development and such events are closely correlated to a lack of economic opportunity and quality education. Shortsighted politicians and goons exist everywhere; it’s the vote bank that needs to evolve and this evolution takes time. However, underneath all this chaos India has remarkable potential and irrespective of all the ups and downs, she will arrive…

  3. I have been saying for long that our democracy is actually a “mockocracy”, a mockery of democracy. The two developments quoted by Elliott are the latest in an almost unbroken series which began more than three decades ago. Morality is not even in the frame as far as our political class is concerned.

    Part of the blame goes to adoption of the multi-party model of democracy almost blindly from a tiny country, England, where it evolved over centuries to meet the specific requirements of that very small and almost homogeneous nation.

    Many of our states are larger than England and our diversities are enormous. No wonder our democracy has not settled into the stable two-party ‘duopoly’ that our founding fathers had thought it would.

    At some point of time, this anarchy has to be squarely addressed.

    I have written in some detail in a number of posts under the label ‘Indian Democracy’. These can be found here

  4. James, London…i understand , where you are comming from…i have spent almost 2 years thinking it would be broken..

    exchange rate/ high salaries/ shortage of upper management/ politicians…you can keep adding to this list..but it can not be broken , NOT YET.

    India’s boom, was NOT i repeat NOT created by any internal events or person…

    This is a result of FLAT world…(Thanks to Ronald Regan and Capitalism)

    1: Fall of Berlin (Russia) : No iron curtain, stopping east to participate with west.
    2: Adopting free markect principles by world (forced by Chinese/Russian switch to capitalism) manmohan sign was a trigger not architect for this change in India.

    3: Y2K crisis : Indian techies are exposed to American corporations, which made them see first hand comparable indian talent at much lower cost.
    4: internet/ mobile technology: empowred indians to participate in world markect.
    5: India gained confidence and spinoff befinits by providing services to America : entire consumer/real estate/automobile boom is a direct result of IT Services boom.

    This story is getting repeated every where in India…not just banglore,hyderabad,chennai…kolkatta..

    There is ONLY one fundamental principle in Capitalism : PROFIT > RISK (investment)

    Capitalist’s work in columbia or venzuvela if PROFIT > RISK (investment) ,
    heck they even work/invest in Iraq..i read some where , there are more private security guards in Iraq then american soldires !!!

    Services offered by india is of very low quality compared with America, but that wont stop out sourcing till costs in India raise to ~ 30% of america,that will not happen any time soon.

    rupee is raising sure…but there is still LOT of head room for outsourcing to keep costs lower then 30%.

    Only thing, that can break this….is again external factors…terrorism..war’s…which might again make countries build walls !!!

  5. Lets get the story straight. Indians are not Hindus and Hindus are not Indians, nor will they ever be, as Hindus are conncected to the universe and not merely an ape of planet earth. Dewe Gowda, a perfect smart ape proved this. Whereas the British colonized India, now Indian goons, rascals, hooligans and thugs colonize India. A shift from Foreign to Domestic colonization are things one c an only expect from the deadly enemy No. one for India, Indians. This translates to Congress party, its alliance with Leftists and Religious organizations. Dewe Gowda just complied with orders from the Congress party, and its policy to divide. Now the big question, who (or what) is the honcho behind the congress party??

  6. america’s politics are mild in comparison. the political parties and presidential candidates criticize each other and manipulate their supporters.
    people attack immigrants on blogs, using rabid language.
    but there is no violence.

    arnold schwazzenger is trying to push for higher fuel efficiency in vehicles.

    mr Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, and Mr Chidambaram,the Finance Minister, with their Oxford and Harvard backgrounds are setting a different tone. Sadly, there are these other hoodlums.
    Somehow India manages to deal with these problems and yet make progress(even if it is slower than it could be and not China’s juggernaut, led by a disciplined leadership)

  7. Very interesting piece John.

    I am however confounded by Indianinamerica’s comment.

    Am I right in understanding, that you (Indianinamerica) are saying India will always have unrest (“like this ONLY”) when areas are disrupted for economic development? And you see a future of more unrest (“…resurgent Sikh violence”)?

    How then can India/Bangalore “thrive” in this environment. Foreign investment (existing or planned) can only stand so much unrest, before it has implications financially for them. Wouldn’t this force investors to go elsewhere?

    Can’t it be “broken”?

  8. Well, I certainly hope the Muslims love John Elliott and his race. I seriously doubt that he will earn any sympathy from the Vedic people after his referring to the Bharata Government Authorities as “goons” and their attempts to control militants as “poor governance”. Perhaps Mr Elliot would like to tell the readers about the history of his race and its record of governance. I’m sure all would like to understand where his self-righteous notions of good governance are coming from. I wonder if a Muslim or a Slave would more accurately tell the story? Or perhaps that story was already told by President Thomas Jefferson in The Declaration Of Independence.

    Yours truly,
    Last reader of Mr. Elliott’s articles.

  9. From my personal knowledge , John has known India for long and he is only writing his observations that are perfectly legitimate.

  10. “IndianInAmerica, Boston, MA”

    Says it all. Anyone who can will leave India by any means possible.

  11. John Elliott, seems surprised !!!

    Well John, if only you knew India…things like this ALWAYS happen in India, we even have a saying…”we are like this ONLY, mind it !!!” !!!

    You, would also be surprised…that most Indians now will express their anger but not shock …and there will be more new stories soon.. in future to make people forget about these two stories..what happened to setu samudram..or jats take over of jaipur…or resurgent sikh violence?

    what is shocking and amazing how ever is economic story…it is so true and powerful that politicans can not derail it …” they did not create it AND can not break it!!”

    Thanks to America and capitalism…banglore will not just survive but thrive…the companies you talk about moving out…are a result of economics (take benefit of banglore model in new places).

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