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In what is highly likely a first, earlier in September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi organised a samvad via videoconference with key frontline functionaries– Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA), anganwadi and auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) workers– responsible for providing health and nutrition services. Handled its own, this samvad was certainly a pre-election, political method: direct, individually interactions targeted at developing a personnel connect, the trademark of the prime minister’s political style topped up with a much-needed however thoroughly timed “Diwali bonanza”: a guarantee of significant increases in wages and perks.

The obvious political overtones aside, this interaction needs to likewise be studied for the possible it holds as a technique to enhance India’s much maligned frontline bureaucracy. The language embraced by the PM throughout the samvad– encouraging workers by applauding them for their work, reminding them of the important role they play in satisfying nationwide objectives, strolling them through federal governments’ new nutrition plans, asking employees to share their experiences, obstacles and offer recommendations and responding to workers by name– was smart politics. But, it likewise marks perhaps the first time that any politician, definitely a PM, has actually sought to speak to frontline functionaries as experts, on their own terms, at this large scale. For those thinking about administrative reforms, there is an interesting method here, one that merits dispute.

India’s frontline administration is infamous for its lack of accountability. This is a labor force understood for absenteeism, corruption, and passiveness. The debate and basket of options have actually largely focused on disciplining bureaucrats through tighter monitoring such that guidelines are followed and discretionary behaviour suppressed. Instruments for disciplining range from tight tracking utilizing new technology tools such as biometric participation and management info systems intended at enhanced tracking (these are especially favoured by the Modi federal government) to welcoming people to directly demand accountability at the frontlines utilizing approaches like social audits.

These approaches show one vital gap in how responsibility is understood and sought. In his deal with public sector accountability, economist Lant Pritchett makes an essential difference in between two measurements of responsibility: “account” based and “accounting” based responsibility. An account is the narrative, the identity people build about their professional lives on the basis of which actions are justified to those from whom approval is looked for. This account is built and shaped by the accepted standards within a professional community. Accounting, on the other hand, has to do with guidelines, procedures and compliance. To put it simply, disciplining the labor force.

Accountability in public sector institutions in Pritchett’s framing is essentially about the account. Institutions work when the account of the individuals that individuals them line up with the objectives of the institution.

This is precisely the responsibility challenge that India needs to challenge head on. The account of our frontline administration is formed by 2 aspects. The popular destination of government jobs as a source of mobility and power rather than the accomplishment of expert objectives. This is the primary chauffeur of the account of frontline stars. This account is made complex by the lived experience of being a bureaucrat in a deeply rigid and hierarchical organisation. Instead of harness an expert identity, within the restrictions of the dynamic set by the status of government tasks, by constructing a sense of professional worth around the goal of mentor, improved health care for instance, the hierarchies of the bureaucracy benefit guideline following and paper compliance minimizing the idea of performance to responsiveness to rules and orders instead of service shipment objectives.

In this context responsibility sought through accounting will at best make sure on-paper compliance to rules– guaranteeing anganwadi workers fill their 18 registers, for example, but will never make it possible for the accomplishment of service shipment goals like enhancing nutrition.

It protests this background that the Prime Minister’s samvad gains significance. Thoroughly crafted interactions like this could serve to fundamentally alter the “account” by constructing a professional identity and instilling a sense of pride in the task officials perform together with the status they acquire as federal government officers. For this to take root, a collective effort will need to be made for constructing institutional areas that break down hierarchies and encourage participation throughout the political and governmental hierarchy. The PM definitely has the rhetorical skills to initiate this change. What’s missing out on is the will and vision.Yamini Aiyar is

president and president, Centre for Policy Research Study The views expressed are individual