Prasanna Mishra

In the 2019 Election to the Odisha Assembly, 236.66 lakh voters had cast valid votes out of the total registered voters numbering 324.98 lakhs. Nearly 27% --- about 87.09 lakh voters—had abstained from voting. Biju Janata Dal (BJD) polled about 105.72 lakh votes and won 112 seats out of 146 seats contested.  

About 219.26 lakh voters did not vote for the BJD though BJD secured a landslide victory with a huge majority in the legislature. The result is we in Odisha have the Party that is in power and rules the state, had one voter cast his vote in its favour while two did not.

The beauty of Parliamentary Democracy is the privilege of those voters who did not vote for the government and yet retained their right to equal treatment by the government. Government officials and the political leaders of the Party in power need to appreciate this fundamental principle.

Raj Dharma is basically to adhere to this principle. 

After Independence, and, more so, after the state increased its role as a welfare state, interface between elected representatives of the people and officialdom has increased manifold. By and large, this growing interaction has been pleasant and has helped governance.

People’s representatives were perceived to be closer to people than officials who were considered to be reticent, behind closed doors and  not easily accessible to people. In such a situation, the elected representatives acted as a bridge that connected the people with the officials and many field level difficulties of citizens could get redressed.

This process, however, was not always a cakewalk experience. In some cases, the entry of people’s representatives into the citadel of Babus was not taken kindly; while some Babus remained stiff and tight lipped, some were cold. Government put in place a protocol that set the rules of the game.

Officials were now duty bound to extend courtesy, be respectful and be prompt in deciding on matters brought to their notice by the people’s representatives. This standard operating procedure improved matters. However, instances of occasional deviation kept coming in.  

Today direct reach of government to citizens has increased exponentially. In Odisha, for example, more than fifty lakh people of Odisha  today receive monthly allowances of various kinds under different social security schemes, most important being the old age pension scheme.

Around sixty lakh women as members of six lakh Self Help Groups (SHG) have access to concessional credit for undertaking various income-generating activities. Over 300 lakh people get one rupee Rice; lakhs of people have got the benefit of pucca houses.

There are about forty lakh people having job cards who are active. 96.5 lakh families have been covered under Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana. Almost every household in Odisha today is under one or more beneficiary oriented programme of the Government.

The sheer size of Beneficiaries today is gargantuan and the probability of unmerited favour to many beneficiaries is great. This being the position, the people who have got into the privileged club of Government munificence through backdoor or by dubious methods remain ever vulnerable to exploitation. Many rural development schemes provide discretion to local officials on where these would be implemented.

There is pressure to exclude areas or people the government of the day may not be comfortable with. There is compliance to such discipline where the concerned official is amenable to political pressure or of doubtful integrity. Unjust decisions generate anger in the affected party.

The widespread practice of awarding small construction works at the grassroots level to party loyalists has been fine tuned resulting in steady erosion of quality of the construction, unjust enrichment and widespread disillusionment of worthy entrepreneurs who are left out.

A Big Government and numerous Parastatals have plenty of low hanging fruits to offer to loyalists. The pernicious practice continues, year after year and discontentment keeps swelling. Unfortunately, the impression that is widespread today is field level officials at the cutting edge levels are being carefully selected to act to orders from above. It is also widely believed that a few officials at the state level yield tremendous influence. These developments have facilitated a rift between the political representatives and the officials. 

In these circumstances it is only natural that the simmering discontent erupts sometimes. There have been a few incidents recently where people’s representatives belonging to opposition have come in confrontation with officials. It is likely that with the next Election coming closer, such incidents would only increase in days to come. 

The remedy is having a politically neutral bureaucracy, keeping the bureaucrats totally out of political activities and taking recourse to transparent and merit based selection of people to execute public works instead of rewarding loyalists.  In the prevailing situation, however, such a situation is available only in text books.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at lonewalker.1942@gmail.com)

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