The governance logjam, declining growth and public clamour is putting pressure on government. Properly channelised, these could lead to interesting legal and institutional reform. But alas, there is a danger that the urge to be seen to be doing something rather than actually carrying out sensible reforms will subvert the possibilities of this moment. Impatience will push the government less in the direction of intelligent reform and more in the direction of Humphrey Appleby's immortal line "Something must be done. This is something. Therefore this must be done."
This is evident in the way in which the discourse on breaking the governance logjam is ignoring the administrative demands of the time. A whole range of proposals, from the cabinet committee on investment to PPPs, are like short-term band aids that do nothing to address the infectious sore that administration has become. The government is ignoring basic lessons we ought to have learnt by now.
The first lesson we are ignoring is this: as K.P. Krishnan of the IAS once memorably put it, the long term has caught up with us. Almost all our problems, whether in law enforcement, the justice system, administrative capacity or planning for natural resources, have their origins in the fact that we kept ignoring them on the theory that these are "long-term" problems. So our reforms were like a Ponzi scheme, where you hope you can just postpone the day of reckoning on fundamental issues. In limited contexts, short cuts that bypass structural reform can work. But if experience is any guide, gains from short cuts will be shortlived. This is because nowhere in our system do we have strategic administrative planning. I have not seen one government document or plan that intelligently assesses the administrative requirements of a programme, plan, institution or legislative intervention. Neither the Planning Commission nor the ministry of personnel has an analytical assessment of state capacity. State capacity is temporarily created in response to pressure or a crisis, usually as a form of redirection rather than genuine augmentation of state strength. All we do, therefore, is make an intervention in one place while the bulge shows up elsewhere.