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December 2020 -- The States of India– the case of a very successful bypass surgery!

December 2020

The states of India – the case of a very successful bypass surgery!

Abstract: In our federal system, it is primarily the responsibility of the states to deliver the goods and services essential for the lives of ordinary people such as food, healthcare, education, housing, transport, electricity,water and sanitation, security etc. Most states have not performed well in this regard, and the ordinary people constituting around 90% of our population are caught between a largely disfunctional state system and an unaffordable private system. The states have not been held accountable for this failure partly because most of the elites and the well to do have found ways of completly bypassing the state system and taking care of themselves very well within the Central and Private systems. The English and Hindi speaking national elite with their strangle hold over the press and the media consistently paint the state systems as being corrupt, inefficient, incompetent and poor quality, encouraging the Centre to encroach further into the states' domains, which further drags the states downwards in performance and delivery. This situation has been brought about systematically through legislative measures adopted by the Central system over time, backed fully by the Private sector and our elite classes. If development has to reach the bulk of our people, it is essential that the Centre should stop this process, as well as reverse many of the steps already taken that has contributed significantly to today's extreme inequalities and poor living conditions of most of our people.


In the federal system that we have in our country, delivery of goods and services essential for the lives of the citizens are mostly under the control of the States, and the Centre has not much role in it, excepting in some areas like the banking sector, the courts, railways, air traffic, petrolium products etc. Even where the providers of these essential goods and services are private parties, they are mostly regulated by the state governments. The reality of our lives however is that the states have not played this role well, and the ordinary people have to endure extreme hardships in order to manage their lives even under normal conditions.That such a state of affairs has been allowed to continue indefinitely, and often times worsening, is rather puzzling given that we do have participatory institutions and processes at work at various levels, along with a vibrant press and media that bring to public notice all aspects of the functioning of the system, especially those of the elected bodies. One would have expected that something would have been done to set things right at the state level, especially given that we have substantial sections (in absolute numbers) of our popultaion who are the elite and the well to do, and who would have done something to arrest the decline in the functioning of the state system at least for their own sake.

It is pointed out here that such a process of rectifying the flawed functioning of the state system has not happened as the elite and the resourceful have managed to find (in fact have been provided) a complete bypass of the state system by the central and the private sectors; they (the elite) do not depend on the state system for almost anything, but instead access all their needs through the central system and private providers. And most of them are in our metros, and a significant number of them have always headed further beyond our shores onto greener pastures abroad.


We look in some detail at how this successful bypassing of the state system has happened in various sectors and areas:


  1. State schools are completely avoided by the elite by going through the Central or Private school system. The introduction of Plus 2 system in the schools ensured that one can go on from the Central/Private schools to the Central/Private universities and colleges without having to step into a state level institution.

  2. The Central institutions of higher learning were still being 'contaminated' by the graduates and postgraduates from the state system for their PG and Doctoral programs, and to avoid this, 5-year integrated PG programs were introduced, as well as new institutions like ISERs etc were opened to meet this need.

  3. Institutions for Law, Medicine and Agriculture Education were still with the state system till recently, and those interested in these fileds had to go there. But NLS s and AIIMS/PGI s were introduced to avoid having to do this in the fileds of Law and Medicine, just as IIM s were built for the same purpose for Management education. Agricultural (including Veterinary Medicine, Fisheries etc) Education seems to be the only field where there are no Central institutional networks – confirming the fact that our elite has absolutely no interest in this field!

The key to this total bypass of the state system in the higher education field lies in the idea of All-India Entrance Exams – JEE, NEET, CLAT, etc. Given the economic, social, family an locational conditions needed to compete and do well in these examinations, just this one measure alone enables the elite to totally bypass the state system ; it represents the most powerful tool for the consolidation of the elite class ; a perfect filter for the exclusion of over 90% of our people from the corridors of power, wealth, influence and domination.


Like the educational system, the healthcare delivery system under the control of the states is not something the elite would want to go anywhere near, unless of course they need some certificates from a government doctor! It is primarily the private sector that meets their needs, and where ever avilable, the PGI s and AIIMS s too chip in.


Neither the state nor the central governments have any significant role in the housing sector, and it is almost entirely in private hands. The elite in any case do not depend on the government sector for their housing needs.


The governments, both at centre and the statea, have no great role in providing jobs, and the private sector is expected to fullfil this need. There are however a limited number of high profile public sector jobs that the elite is interested in, and they are all in the central government and associated institutions and organisations. The state system has little of interest to them in this sector.

Other services:

In the transport segment, the railways, air traffic and shipping are with the Centre or Private sectors, and the rest such as road and river transport is under the regulatory control of the states. Here too, what they own and operate is the public bus transport system, for which the elite has absolutely no use. They use their cars, and the rail and air traffic systems. In matters like Electricity and Water supply that the states are expected to provide, the elite make their own private backup arrangements so that the dysfunctionality of the state system here does not bother them. In the area of food supply, things like PDS etc have no relevance for our elite, and the private players cater to all their needs. The area of public sanitation and hygeine that the states are expected to take care of is a matter of concern for the elite, but they try to avoid some of the problems by moving to exclusive enclaves and townships of their own.

Even where the states are continuing to deliver certain services, they are increasingly being made to play the role of mere delivery arms for various the Central government schemes, similar to what many NGO s have been reduced to.

Banking, Investments, Infrastructure, Industry:

Generally speaking, governments are increasingly looking to the private and foreign sectors to meet the needs for large capital for these areas, though the central system still commands huge resources and control over it. The states once again are hardly any players in this core area, excepting in the matter of electricity, land, water and forests which are key resources for development – and these now are the battlegrounds between the States and Centre/Private sectors.


This All-India elite class consisting of about 4-5 % of our people have no stake in, or commitment to, anything much at the state level, including its language and culture. Their brotherhood is welded through English and Hindi; the addition of Hindi as a 'legitimate' language of the Indian elite is a significant phenomenon of the last 20 years or so, allowing for the widening of the base, cultural integartion and diversity of the elite classes which would have been impossible with English alone uniting them. Inclusion of Hindi as a language of the ruling elites of India has enabled doing away with any need to bother with other Indian languages and cultures – the Indian nation and the Indian culture can now march on without the cumbersome paraphernalia of 30 odd languages and cultures and all the other inconvnient baggage they bring along! All the pleasures and privileges that the Englsh language alone opened to them earlier are now available through Hindi, including being fiercely patriotic, proud of Indian culture etc!

This consolidation of the national elite by totally bypassing the state system, this orphaning of the state system, has been systematically achieved through policy measures adopted by the Centre over the last 2-3 decades, often on the face of some (largely ineffective) opposition from the stake holders of the state system, which almost always turned out to be no match for the combined power of the Centre and the national elite with its influence and wealth. Much of this has been done in the name of the need to maintain quality, performance, efficiency etc. The state system is roundly accused of failing with regard to all these metrices, and is seen only as a cesspool of corruption, inefficiency, substandard quality etc. -- a veritable roadblock in the path of development and progress that the Centre and the Private players want to take our nation to. Our English and Hindi speaking national elite with their enormous resources and propaganda machinery has played a significant role in bringing about this situation where the constitutional entity entrusted with the welfare of the ordinary people has been dumped into the pits! A large proportion of our people are having to make do with a dysfunctional state system and an unaffordable private sector for most of their essential needs like food, healthcare, education, transport etc.


This is not an argument as such against the formation and strengthening of an elite class at the national level, it is against the short cut and unfair ways through which it has been achieved which brings to question its genuineness and legitimacy to speak on behalf of the nation. However it maybe becoming increasingly possible now to correct this situation to some extent since significant changes have also been taking place at the state levels themselves during this period. The economies of many of our states have grown significantly over time, their state GDP s in PPP terms today often being comparable to those of many western nations even – GDP of Tamil Nadu today is same as that of S.Africa, as well as what was India's GDP about 40 years ago! Most states have also acquired considerable expertise and competence in matters of administration and governance in most of the spheres. Similar is the case with state level political parties and processes which have also become more mature and stable. The political and administrative systems at the state levels are especially capable of rolling out and servicing large scale welfare measures aimed at the weakest sections of people. And along with this has also emerged a state level intelligentsia and elite that largely works with their mother tongue and is well connected with the idioms and cultures of the state, and at the same time capable of handling English as well. This is especially so in states where the mother tongue is not Hindi. There is a thriving local language press, media, theatre, cinema, literature and arts , though much of it maybe imitative of their English (or now Hindi) versions. And most of the states also have a highly educated diaspora living in the advanced countries, who provides the state level players with an understanding of all major developments taking place globally. These state level elites and intelligentsia however have rather limited reach and influence, largely due to the far greater wealth, clout and reach of their English and Hindi speaking national level counterparts.

All state level players must have a more level playing field by stoping the Centre and Private players from opening up more and more bypass routes for the well to do to practice a virtual untouchability towards the state system.

C N Krishnan


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