Popular Protests A Manifestation of Institutional Failure

Popular protests over diverse local issues frequently figure in the media today. These protests are often spontaneous and attract many local people who are directly affected by the issues concerned. When one or more television stations show live pictures of people protesting, public officials and politicians often cannot ignore them. While the police officers intervene to prevent the disruption of public order, local political leaders often come forward to offer some solution to the problem in order to defuse the situation. However, when an issue does not lead to public protest and agitation, affected people presumably continue to suffer in silence.

If we look at a sample of public protests reported from around the country in recent years, it becomes quite clear that the institutions charged with the responsibility of addressing various issues have failed due to various reasons. Some of the reasons might be inadequate resources, mismanagement, political interference and demoralisation of employees due to poor leadership. Parents protesting outside schools, farmers shouting slogans about irrigation water, prices etc, villagers demanding protection from wild elephants, pedestrians demanding strict law enforcement against errant drivers, and rural people asking for proper maintenance of local roads are all pointing to the failure of a range of institutions not only to serve their original purpose but also to live up to popular expectations.

When we look at the nature of the issues mentioned above, it appears that they do not usually affect the privileged sections of the population. It is often underprivileged people living in marginalised areas, who are disproportionately affected by these and similar issues. Given the fact that access to facilities and services is highly unequally- distributed both socially and spatially, people who suffer due to various issues are acutely aware of the persisting inequality. Given the high rate of spatial mobility of people including overseas travel, the high density of the electronic media, and the increasing political consciousness of the masses, the sense of relative deprivation is acutely felt by the ordinary people. So, when a particular institution does not satisfy the people’s aspirations, many people perceive it as social injustice.
Modern societies are dependent on increasingly-complex physical and social systems to meet human needs. Basic services that people use on a daily basis have to be managed by institutions that in turn rely on experts to deal with complex issues. In other words, the institutions need to be managed on the basis of continually improving knowledge. The application of new knowledge helps improve the services, be it transportation, communication, water, electricity, health or education. The result is that in the developed world people usually take such services for granted. Yet, in much of the developing world, the quality of even basic services leaves much to be desired. The situation in this country is not very different.

" Increasing politicisation of institutions is a major factor that has undermined them in recent years. Appointment of political stooges to important leadership positions in institutions often with scant regard for their suitability has had an adverse impact on their performance. "
A wide range of modern institutions dealing with diverse subjects have been established in this country over time. There are specialised research institutes, service organisations, regulatory bodies and many others. Yet as mentioned above, many of these institutions have failed to solve various issues that come under their purview satisfactorily. So, the challenge before us is how to prevent institutions from becoming dysfunctional and improve the performance of institutions that do not perform well. In order to face this challenge, it is necessary to determine the factors that have adversely affected institutions. The most important of these factors can be listed as follows;
  •     The lack of knowledge management and
  •     Inadequate human and material resources
  •     Politicisation of institutions
  •    The lack of innovation
Many public institutions are faced with the problem of inadequate resources. While people working under such conditions are not highly motivated, their performance falls far short of public expectations. Inadequate material resources make the situation worse as the institutions often do not have the new facilities and equipment. Such conditions also encourage competent people, i.e. experts, to leave the institutions, often leaving behind the dead wood.  As is well known, many specialised public institutions have lost much of their experts over time due to brain drain. Even those who are left behind cannot perform effectively due to the lack of equipment and other resources.

Increasing politicisation of institutions is a major factor that has undermined them in recent years. Appointment of political stooges to important leadership positions in institutions often with scant regard for their suitability has had an adverse impact on their performance. While such appointments demoralise almost the entire workforce of the institution, many employees do no longer think about the institution but worry only about their personal well-being. They try to get what they can from the institution but do not give anything to the institution. Politicisation certainly serves a sectarian political purpose but undermines the purpose of the initial establishment of the institutions concerned. It is perhaps to prevent such a calamity that independent or bipartisan constitutional mechanisms to determine the suitability of candidates to high posts have been established in mature democracies. On the other hand, we have witnessed how many specialised institutions that functioned effectively in the past have degenerated over time under the weight of crude political appointments. For instance, the Agrarian Research and Training Institute established in the early 70s conducted many research studies that addressed issues in the agricultural sector and helped address many issues affecting the farmers. Most of the competent researchers left the institute in the recent past. It is doubtful whether it continues to serve the purpose for which it was established in the early 1990s.

Political interference is undoubtedly a key factor that has contributed to its decline. There are dozens of similar or worse cases, all of which cannot be enumerated here for want of space. And finally, a few words about the role of innovation. As is well-known, global capitalism has become so competitive today that leading industrial countries rely so much on innovation of their scientists, and others to compete with each other. Their respective market shares depend on the quality and the range of new products they come up with. A clear case in point is ICT, though the trend is pervasive across a whole range of fields such as medical technology, new materials, bio-technology and renewable energy. It is modern institutions that are behind all these innovations. The underlying theme of this article has been that efficient management of institutions is the key to solving diverse problems in society, including those of socio-economic development. When institutions fail, due to whatever reason, the problems remain unresolved, adversely affecting the well-being of the general population, particularly, the disadvantaged groups. So, the preservation of the integrity of institutions and improving their performance become an integral part of governance in any country. Given the fact that credibility of the institutions depends a great deal on whether they have adequate resources to carry out their tasks effectively and are managed by people with the requisite expertise, it is the shape of our institutions that would determine to a great extent whether we will see a contended population or more and

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