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The notion of politics and policy have a powerful and very often a contentious meaning. Politics is essentially a power relation between people and political groups. It is that part of our governmental system where different political parties vie for the acceptance and votes of the constituents in their respective regions. Political parties are discrete organizational entities, contesting votes and seats, articulating and aggregating prevailing divisions in society.
Policy on the other hand, is an overarching framework, a combination of commitments and actions to extract resources from and/or provide services and programs to societies and these are enacted by those who hold or affect government positions. In a constitutional democracy, public policy commitments are made and carried out by people who have been authorized to act by popular consent and in accordance with the established norms and procedures.
Policy makers are the recipients of conflicting pressures from people who differ about what should be done and what shouldn’t be. Public policy making is done at the national level, the state level and at the local level. The most sweeping public policies are made at the national level where the actions of the policy affect almost everyone. For instance, the practice of sustainable agriculture is taken up by most countries in the recent times, but only Cuba and Switzerland has received national wherewithal. Cuba has a national policy for alternative agriculture; and Switzerland has three tiers of support for both types of sustainable agriculture and rural development. Whereas, in India, sustainable agriculture is still largely a state initiative. For instance, Rajasthan has state support for watershed and soil management and incentives for bio-fertilizers and Gujarat has a policy on participatory irrigation management, with complete turnover to water users' groups. Although the Indian agricultural ministry skywrite sustainable agriculture, they do not as yet have any comprehensive policy reforms for it at the national level.
Policy formation is never arbitrary, it is influenced by a particular ideology and a vantage. Ideology is an orientation that characterizes the thinking of a group or nation and vantage is the place or situation affording a comprehensive view. But in the case of India, fortunately, the constitution provides for an overarching framework, and it is this, which negates the negatives of ideology and vantage. Despite the fact that Indian constitution does not make the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) justiciable, it becomes difficult to defend a position that is radically different from that mentioned in the DPSP. Economic growth, technological developments, higher education and income levels, increasing globalization, and information and communication revolution are factors that are contributing to accelerating societal pressure to formulate new, innovative and implementable policies that could successfully meet the increasing expectations of an expanding Indian population.
Public policy making is a dynamic, fluid process. The political process of policy making is attentive to the expressions of individuals, organized interest groups, the media, or even competing centers of power within the government. The process of policy making inevitably includes politics.
There several sound explanations for policy failures in the past, including the complexities associated with forecasting and understanding the implications of future changes with any degree of certainty. But there are other factors such as lack of clear ownership, well- focused leadership and more importantly the lack of integrity in the policy making process itself that cause paralysis of policy. India has been experiencing a creeping paralysis in the policy making system for some time; the current division between Central government ruling party and states as well as coalition members adds one more important ingredient to the stew. The immobilism that the country now faces starkly has been building for a long time and it reflects the kind of divided, fragmented, more ideological society that we have become. There were divisions and stalemates before but now they are deeper and more intense, the polarizations and fragmentations more pronounced, the sheer number of actors and interests greater, and hence potential for paralysis, larger.
Elements of paralysis:
Competitive politics: Politics are the expediencies of winning elections and staying in power. Populism is usually the route taken to win elections and when populism is the route, there is a sacrifice of policy interest. In this tug-of-war between politics and policy, there is only some kind of lip service that is paid to policy. There is a fundamental clash in taking up policies which are based in enlightenment and welfare and the politics, which are based in expediencies of elections. An instance of this would be when Congress replaced the Telgu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh in 2004.The rural electrification scheme that existed during the regime of Chandrababu Naidu gave farmers an 89% subsidy on electricity. And this was possible because it was within the World Bank directive. But when Congress came into power they only reintroduced the same scheme with a new name and a new variable in the form of free electricity. Since 89% was already coming from the World Bank the fall in income for Rajashekhar Reddy was only a two digit crore amount. In governance and policy terms this would be known as an incremental measure, where only a few dimensions get added to certain existing policies. This may not be illustrative of a thoroughgoing populist policy connotative of political expediency but it is definitely suggestive of competitive politics. In a liberal democracy, like India, we have competitive politics, that is, competition for political power.
Domestic political considerations: Politicians need votes to stay in power. Doing things that are politically unpopular is a no-no closer to elections, leading to paralysis. An example of this would be the wasteful race among leaders to dole out more and more freebies to win votes. On the other hand sure things such as improved education or better health care gets politicized by those who have a bone to pick with groups in power. Purely for reasons of political posturing, domestic political considerations are being served and less and less of policy goals.
Pluralism and identity politics:In a plural society, where there are different levels of economic well-being, different identities and different expectations from the government, policy initiatives are supposed to transcend the problems of pluralism. Diversity produces many anguishes and incompatible identities, ideals and interests. Although, it unsettles the practice of politics and political parties/politicians often thrive on such rivalries and engage in identity politics that arrest effective policy functioning. For instance, the separate Telanagana agitation that primarily serves for upper caste interests.
Vested business interests: Another reason for arrested development of policies in India is role of business interests or private organizations in the political and policy game. There are several instances of public policy and governance at the behest of such elites. The elites here belong to the upper crusts and they work towards their agendas in conjunction with those in authority. For instance, Union petroleum ministry’s decision to allow Reliance Industries to retain the entire KG-D6 block. Politicians’ also works in cohorts with business interests group.  The government of India appointed Mukesh Ambani and Kumarmangalam Birla to suggest the desirable reforms in education in 2000. The Ambani-Birla Committee strongly suggested that government of India should leave higher education altogether to the private sector; lock, stock and barrel without giving any firm rationale for such recommendations. This stance can be seen as a pursuit of self-interest by the business tycoons.
Central government policy versus State government policy:  Even though the center has more resources, making pervasive policy decisions isn’t necessarily a good thing. Instead of adding more agencies at the central level which inherently add red tape it is better to have small efficient state government policies and agencies which are more in tune with the people of a certain region. Doing this at the state level could often be more beneficial. But this is a highly debatable issue and there should be careful considerations and review of past successes/failures of policies before expanding the ambit of state powers.
Apart from the various elements listed above, there are other reasons for policy paralysis in India. A chief of these is bureaucracy and red tape, which prevents policies from being rolled out efficiently. The media, is also, often to be blamed for distorting facts and figures and for not being neutral, rather tending to advocate in one way or another. Another reason why policies do not work is because they are not based in ground reality. And finally, as BJP leader Arun Jaitley says about the current UPA government, “there is a leadership crisis and there is crisis of credibility.”