New govt, new challenges
From all appearances, the new BJP led coalition government in the state is taking the best advantage of the incumbency fatigue the people are in of the just ousted Congress government. Just a little over a month in power, the new chief minsiter, N. Biren Singh continues to throw in pleasant surprises one after the other, sketching the promise of a fresh new era of administrative reforms. The first of these was the new anti-corruption cell he has set up located at the CM secretariat and under his direct supervision. As a follow up on this, his government announced that the public would be permitted to carry mobile phones into government offices, in particular the civil secretariat so that they would be able to record or film acts of corruption by government officials and forward them to the corruption cell for further action. Yesterday he sprung another surprise, again a pleasant and innovative one, that his government has declared the 15th of every month as the People's Day, and on this day, the public would have open access to any government official, including ministers, to sort out any administrative issues any of them may have.
Perhaps as a consequence of this new surge of hope, there have also been some immediate and indeed surprising developments which ended some of the most vexing and enduring entangles the state was locked in while the Congress was in power. In particular, the nearly four months long blockade of the state spearheaded by the United Naga Council, UNC, ended within a few days of the new government assuming power, to the delight of many but also raising eyebrows in other quarters. The vehemence with which the creation of seven administrative districts was opposed by the UNC also suddenly seems to have sobered, even though there have been no major concessions made so far. The new districts are still very much a reality and there are no indication they would be retracted anytime soon. It does seem just the euphoria over the defeat of the Congress and the public optimism that the new government will be the ushering in changes for the better have been all that was required to end the problem. Or, is there more than meets the eye again? Similarly the trouble in Churachandpur over the three bills to control immigrant inflow, which the population here see as anti-tribal, also seems to be nearing a resolution. Here too, all that was necessary seems the optimism of change promised by the new government, although according to reports, the JAC spearheading the agitation submitted a charter of demands to chief minister, Biren, and the content of this document has not been made public yet. We do hope something works here too and the eight bodies of those killed in the agitation, and still kept in the district hospital mortuary get to have a decent burial.
It remains to be seen if these governmental gestures of goodwill can sustain and prove to be an inhibitor of official corruption as well as lethargy. It also remains to be seen if these new gestures will remain as popular as they are now, once the anti-incumbency weight on the previous government begins to wear off with the passage of time. For the moment, there can be no doubt, the new government continues to delight the public. But let the government not be deceived that there are still miles to go before it can even say it is on a stable path. It has rightly identified official corruption as one of the major problems stunting growth of the state. But let it remember that governments in the past discovered that fighting corruption is easier said than done. Most of the time, they had also ended up co-opted by the corrupt system, and in the end were left normalising it as something to be got used to. We hope the new government will also heed the dangers of its enthusiasm burning out prematurely when seemingly insurmountable problems begin to show up. These are real dangers, for there are certain structural issues which will not be easy to resolve. These include most importantly the question of the state’s financial status. From the report released by the finance department a few days ago, it is clear it is not just corruption which is leaving the state’s exchequer with little to invest in the future. Whatever the compulsions, it is now clear the state has heaped upon itself recurring overhead commitments in the form of revenue expenditure, especially government employees’ salaries that exceed the state’s revenue receipt. Unless there is a radical shift in the structure of the state administration, it is unlike even the most honest government will be able to cure the state of this malady. The cure can come either as a massive increase in the state’s revenue receipt, which obviously cannot happen overnight, or else toning down its non-plan spending, which again will be next to impossible.