By Wajahat Qazi
Budgets can , among other things, be held to be indicative of the intent and thrust of public policy and therefore governance. Budgets are then policy statements, a careful scrutiny of which can reveal the intent, and intended directional thrust of Governments. Given this, what does the 2017 Budget formulated by Haseeb Drabu, the finance minister of Jammu and Kashmir indicate? First, I may offer a note on the nature of Drabu’s budget: it is copy book. That is, its main(or what may be even called reformist) thrust or brunt is derived from theoretical and practical developments and accoutrements in the developed world. Drabu appears to be copy pasting , so to speak developments, refinements, evolution and reforms in public administration in the developing countries and grafting these onto the conditions that obtain in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
What gives grist to the mill to this analysis or assessment is Drabu’s introductory text or speech of the budget. Drabu, gives a nomenclature to what he calls , “ micro-budgetary reform” and the attendant “ operational efficiency of spending”- all under the generic rubric of a , “move from the traditional Public Administrative Budgeting to a modern Public Management Approach. Drabu, by adopting a new or different budget format appears to be attempting to influence the paradigms of public policy in Jammu and Kashmir in a profound manner. The premise appears to be to change the parameters and nature of governance in the state through public policy. Drabu , in essence, appears to be manipulating radically the policy conception and process in Jammu and Kashmir. The locus of this approach lies in borrowing concepts from what has been termed as the “ New Public Management”(NPM) – a market based approach to public administration-where, among other things, the focus and emphasis , to use Drabu’s terminology, shifts from inputs to outputs.
What I have delineated is the basic crux and thrust of Drabu’s “reformist” approach to the budget and hence public policy and governance. The finance minister would like to think that “fundamental implications” implications flow from this. While Drabu is indeed correct to believe in the nature of his reforms but this assessment holds water only from a theoretical and contextual perspective. In theory, what Drabu articulates is precisely what the state needs- focus on outputs( or even outcomes) which, if certain conditions hold and remain, would alter the basis how the various sectors of the state relate to each other- conceptually and functionally- and therefore improve the overall efficiency of the state and its constituent units. All this has been finessed and refined in the domain of theory and abstract theoretical models. To some extent, the formula’s flowing from the NPM have also been empirically tested in the developed world. But it is here that context comes into the picture. While Drabu’s prescriptions and reformist thrust might be theoretically neat but it flounders on the rocks of reality. That is, the context. The context is the state of Jammu and Kashmir where the state itself is the problem and an issue. The defining feature of the state here is inertia. The structures of the state are ossified and do not easily lend themselves to reform or even basic working. Overlaying these features of the state in Jammu and Kashmir is that it’s thrust revolves around patronage. It is a vast, pork barrel, patronage disbursal machine where standard parameters and rationales posited by Weber do not hold. These features obstruct and throw a spanner into the causal mechanisms of the state rendering execution of public policy a mug’s game here, affecting , in the process the linkages between spending and policy outcomes produced by the outlays. Given that casual mechanisms stand warped and distorted in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and complemented by the Principal Agent problem wherein the objectives of the Principal(the political class or top echelons of the Government) might not be implemented by the Agent( bureaucrats, the rest of the administration), any reform along the lines delineated by Drabu is likely to fail.
I may digress here and offer a disclaimer: I am not an economist by training. My main area of interest is political economy than “pure economics”. My interpretive prism would be prejudiced by my political economy “bias”. Donning my “political economy hat”, another feature or dynamic that emerges from a discursive analysis of the terminology that Drabu has employed is that the Finance minister appears to be rejigging and reframing the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In his hurry and enthusiasm, the finance minister does not appear to realize that because the state is archaic and laced with inertia in Jammu and Kashmir, superimposing a layer of a market based approach to public policy and governance can only be synthetic.
While the subtlety of what Drabu is attempting might be lost on the political class of Jammu and Kashmir, but all in all, the sheer scale and ambition of the project appears to elude the finance minister too. The state of Jammu and Kashmir , its public policy and governance grid cannot be subsumed and put into a straitjacket of “reforms” that are theoretically valid but contextually irrelevant. Jammu and Kashmir needs a context specific policy and governance paradigm tailored to the nature of its circumstances, history and evolution thereof. This, by its very nature, implies a certain gradualism and step by step approach which employs a methodology that is relevant to the state. But then gradualism entails a long term view of the policy cycle whose fruits or benefits could pan out in the distant future. Axiomatically, it would militate and go against the electoral cycle of Jammu and Kashmir. There would then be no electoral dividends to reap. But then Drabu and his party are in a haste. They need to reconnect to the people of Kashmir in the post 2016 uprising context. There then is an exigent need to do something dramatic especially in the domain of governance for Drabu and his party. Hence the intense and dramatic attempt to reframe the state and put it into a different trajectory by the finance minister. Will, the question is, the attempt succeed? Unlikely but let me close with a neutral concluding remark: time will tell.
—Wajahat Qazi is on Twitter @Wajahatqazi, and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org