Wanted: a systems overhaul

‘Engineers, not drivers’, is the title of a column by Ajay Shah, reflecting on the kind of leadership we need today. 

When the leadership tries to act like a driver, operating the steering wheel while leaving the machine intact, it will be ineffective (as the car does not work). Five years would go by and nothing would get better

This boils down to implementation, beyond policy pronouncements – a willingness to work with the nuts and bolts of the system, empowering grassroots’ implementers. If this means revisiting the basic structures of our bureaucracy, so be it. Rethinking terms of service should be one of the first steps.

We also need to change the conditions that has led to an all-pervasive arrogance amongst the political elite. Can this be done by creating and empowering a new set of political actors? In part, that is what decentralised governance can help achieve. At each level though, clear accountability measures need to be identified and implemented – why not start by reimagining and regulating how political parties function?

As Shah concludes:

In India, we now need a new wave of intricate engineering in order to achieve cars that work. For every arm of government, we have to clarify objectives — getting government away from random meddling to narrowly addressing market failures. We need to precisely define the powers of government, to get away from the abuses of sweeping powers. We need to envelop government in an array of accountability mechanisms, so that functionaries serve the people of India instead of wallowing in laziness, corruption and ignorance. We need to figure out organisation diagrams, write new process manuals and do recruitment and reskilling.


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