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WHY EXIST?

It is reassuring to learn that the Central information and broadcasting minister thinks “ideologically” as well as “philosophically” about his ministry — and that he knows the difference between the two. Prakash Javadekar was using these words during a recent television interview to reflect on an idea that is even more radical. He was asked whether the information and broadcasting ministry need exist at all in a modern and mature democracy. In answer, he said that ideologically and philosophically speaking, he could well imagine a situation in a few years’ time when he would have made his office and ministry quite redundant. This makes perfect sense — not just ideologically and philosophically, but also at a more practical level of good governance — and is an excellent and feasible goal to work towards. If the new prime minister genuinely believes that good governance demands minimal government, then the information and broadcasting ministry is one of those archaisms of socialist insecurity that must go, together with the approval-seeking mindset that such forms of control foster. It is also reassuring that the minister spoke with evident certitude that the prime minister agreed with his view of minimalism in government.

The minister also assured audiences that in the coming years Indian citizens would hear phrases like ‘government-run’ or ‘government intervention’ less and less, although leaving things to democratic and free-market forces does not exclude vigilance regarding social justice. That balance is difficult to strike, from any ideological, philosophical or practical position, without lapsing in the direction of regulatory or paternalistic thinking. With ministries like information and broadcasting or human resource development, the government often has to walk the razor’s edge between assisting and supporting on the one hand, and sincerely granting assisted and supported institutions autonomy in terms of internal decisions, on the other. The mark of a truly mature democracy is the enlightened ease with which the State can let go of, say, television channels or cherished institutions of higher education without withdrawing its support of them, even when they take up positions that are critical of the government or educational and cultural Establishment. The minister’s remarks on TV are cause for hope for all free-thinking citizens.