Do we have an agenda for the country? An agenda to pursue beyond immediate interests. Do not we have concerns (continuing) to fulfil commitments made in the Constitution and envisioned in the Republic? Or, is it that we don’t want to bind by any such priorities. Do not we want to have an agenda that people, by and large, want to associate and support? An Agenda goes beyond poll politics and party lines. This question continues to bother me for decades.
If we have to name top three or four agenda of the country as example, which one would we say? It should all the more be possible to name since the PM has been talking of a “New India”. Can we say Yoga is part of such an agenda? Or, zero defecation and Swatch Bharat are.
The 2021 report on Sustainable Development Agenda with 17 concerns, India has slipped further by two places from last year, standing below Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. This is mostly because of performance on hunger, food security and gender equity. This was part of UN Agenda adopted in 2015 for 2030 Agenda.But, do we know this Agenda?
A few years ago eradication of corruption was an agenda seriously talked about and pursued. At the outset of Independence after 1947 food, work, literacy, health were the agenda pursued on priority. Today corruption is not talked about as if we have controlled it. Has environment ever been viewed as an agenda of the country? I’m not sure even now.
Nearly forty years ago I edited a book, “India 2020”. It was based on our two-year long series of serious studies on futures at ORG. The book gave emerging scenario of the country with regard to population, migration, urbanisation, poverty levels, unemployment etc. This book was prominently featured in Sunday magazine. Basing on that study, the then leader of opposition in the Parliament, George Fernandez, moved a No-Confidence motion in Lok Sabha in 1986. In that he argued for an agenda for the country with continuing contentious issues including the one referred to in the directive principles. The trend in the country in public discourse and policy making since then appears to be based on agenda of individuals or of a party more than of the country.
The conclusion that I had come to is that we are now no longer agenda based, as we were 70 years ago, when we took off as an independent country and as a Republic of India. Perhaps because an agenda commits and even binds beyond immediate interests including of an incumbent in power. It is perhaps because governance is no longer of “We, the People” but of “We, the Parties” which dictate and determine and, in that process, “an agenda” becomes irrelevant or inconvenient to the ones in power. No–Agenda spells no–concerns. Concerns and agenda are two sides of a coin of governance. But, it cannot be that our parties or leaders had no concerns of the country beyond next election. That then sounds that we are riddled with “hidden agenda” more to sideline the real issues confronting the people and which should have become the agenda of the country and with which larger public would have associated or identified with.
Also read: No-campaign elections ..
Election time agenda of parties and even their manifestos are not viewed as an agenda of the country. Even the party which manages to power considers neither the manifesto nor the promises pitched in the poll campaign as the agenda of the country without pursuing it with explanations. They continue to be viewed as of the concerned party and even the leaders themselves would like them to be viewed as that of an agenda of the party rather than of the people of the country. But, if on the other, the incumbent gets those issues pursued as agenda by way of formal declaration, discourses and endorsement by the concerned agencies including the legislatures, then of course they become the Agenda of the country.
Every time a party comes to power it claims or initiates a new policy for so many ministries. And yet we could hardly claim them as an agenda of the country. “One nation, one election” is a good example. The Prime Minister has been talking of such an idea off and on for more than two years. Is it being considered as an Agenda? Has it become one? Because, it was neither deliberated with different political parties nor discussed in either of the Legislative bodies. The idea, of course, was endorsed by an election commissioner and the Law Commission as an option.
Which Agenda we can claim we have been pursuing and towards addressing what or which concerns of the country and what have been the accomplishments? We seem to be chasing symptoms more than the core issue.
Do we have any forums to deliberate agenda issues independent of politics and political parties? The only forum is news media, even though their independence is under question frequently. No one in the Cabinet of Ministers is viewed as independent or open to listen or talk to others who are not of the party in power. There are, of course, multiple state agencies.
Leaders are not able to rise above party divides and poll compulsions to pursue any agenda. This trend continues unabated and unrestrained giving scope for “hidden agenda”. No agenda perhaps is better than having hidden agenda. Is the recent proposal of two children norm in UP and Assam or is imposing English medium from primary onwords in AP was an Agenda or the idea of one nation, one election?
Health for all, educational opportunities, agrarian issues, drinking water for all, housing for poor, work for even the educated, continues to be on the agenda. One reason for these issues not making headway is that they are not taken up as agenda of the country. Can we expect this without three other phenomena becoming the concerns and agenda? These are, first, streamlining the electoral process, liberate from lures and doles practice, ensure better representative character out of polls. Second, regulate political parties with specific regulations and restrain their all-pervasive role. Third, rejuvenate “checks and balance” provisions, so that no one becomes dominating. Without these becoming part of an agenda of the country, we cannot expect to realise any of the sustainable development concerns – neither of UN SDG’s nor of our own constitutional obligations.
(Dr N Bhaskara Rao is a New Delhi based public policy analyst and researcher of over 50 years standing)