Monday 26 December 2011

Team Anna or Team Jawahar? (Sunday Guardian)


Anna Hazare, along with Kiran Bedi, waves the Tricolour at a public meeting in Chennai last Sunday. PTI
ee Kuan Yew was grateful to Jawaharlal Nehru, for the Indian leader made the mistakes that Singapore's Minister Mentor ensured his city-state avoided. The most consequential was Nehru's decision to retain the immense web of powers and privileges enjoyed by Brits during their period in power. If in the past the divide was between the Brits (and others of like ethnicity) and the natives, since 1947 it has been between the few in the higher reaches of government and the multitude outside. Who has not witnessed a high official step gingerly from an aircraft, an attractive airline escort in front and a flunkey carrying his briefcase at the rear? So delicately is the Personage treated by airline staff that the suspicion is reasonable that the individual is in the final stages of pregnancy, except that the "baby" carried is an exaggerated sense of self-importance. After India secured her freedom — thanks substantially to the multiple revolts in the military, which finally convinced even Churchill that they could no longer rely on armed natives to keep the unarmed ones cowed — Jawaharlal Nehru led the march to occupy the palaces and mansions vacated by the former rulers, he himself choosing the most imposing bar, the Viceregal Palace, the Commander-in-Chief's residence. Of course, it is hardly a surprise in a land ruled for so many centuries by the Mughals that the city has become dotted with mausoleums and locations where VVIPs ascended to the afterlife, from Indira Gandhi's official residence to the modest surroundings in which the Mahatma resided in the final days of his life. Apart from such structures, there are of course an increasing number of post-1947 tombs, none of which attracts attention except when the Protocol Division of the MEA makes it mandatory for foreign dignitaries to visit them. Once or twice a year (and usually only then), their Indian counterparts come to toss flowers and to wear a sorrowful expression. Bollywood is not the only location where acting talent abounds.
Politicians, whose "fund collections" are energetically facilitated by the Civil Service, have ensured that in a presumed democracy of a billion and a quarter souls, any quango or post that involves state interface with the public remains the incestuous preserve of those who gave academics, commerce and other productive fields a miss and headed to the cram shops to get into the IAS, the IFS and the IPS, not to mention sundry other official fraternities that have collectively ensured that administration in India is easily the worst among the democracies. Their consistent failure to generate a satisfactory result (besides of course enriching themselves and their political patrons) has not prevented the Civil Service in India from continuing to block the entry of anyone other than themselves in the halls of public office. When the time came to choose the latest CVC, for example, the then Cabinet Secretary confined the choice to a single batch of the IAS, so convinced was he that this small subset of brother officers offered enough choice for selecting the government's anti-graft czar. Both our politicians as well as our civil servants love to visit a country we need to constantly revile to show off our nationalistic credentials, the US. In that country, the administration is deliberately seeded with individuals who have entered different levels from other fields of activity. Until at least half of each government department at levels of undersecretary and above comprise of people who have had successful careers in the area that a particular ministry is dealing with, the country will continue to suffer from policies that are designed to maximise bribes and not efficiency, a fact that Rahul Gandhi does not seem to have yet noticed.
t is a given that the new Lokpal will once again come from the ranks of those who have enjoyed a government salary for all their working (?) lives. Anna Hazare has been brilliant in the way in which he has given confidence to the people of this semi-democracy that it is indeed possible to rid the system of corruption. He has also been forthright in placing the blame for
the present state of affairs at the doors of those administering the state. Where he has gone horribly wrong is in equating low-level with high-level corruption, and in demanding a monster that would in law have oversight over several tens of millions of state employees. In their more fanciful moments, Team Anna even seeks to place private industry, including the media, within the purview of the Lokpal. Their belief is that people love to pay bribes and to get ripped off, and hence that the bribe-giver should be placed on the same footing as the bribe-taker. Such a view would ensure that few dare to step forward and expose the wrongdoing of officials, and is tantamount to jailing both the rapist as well as the victim (for the "crime" of having sex). Rather than go by the fundamentalist thinking of Team Anna, what a (future) government needs to do is to ensure that bribe-givers be given every incentive to expose those to whom consideration was paid.
There is an immense difference between the effects of a high-level bribe taker and someone at the lower levels. The Lokpal needs to focus on the top tier of governance, and ensure accountability at that level. Otherwise it will expend most of its energy going after clerks and patwaris. And as for the CBI, the problem with this agency is that it is manned by deputationists, who need to revert back to their parent cadre after a stint in the organisation. This being the case, officers would be chary of falling foul of the very politicians and officials who would be supervising their careers once they leave the CBI. The organisation needs a permanent staff rather than deputationists. Once an IPS officer joins the CBI, for instance, there can be no going back to the parent cadre. Unfortunately, this administrative wrinkle seems not of much concern to Team Anna. From flogging those who consume alcohol to seeking to set up an octopus that would further choke the machinery of government, Team Anna is a case study in how good intentions can lead to disastrous results. They are following in the path of Jawaharlal Nehru, who brought in Soviet-style innovations to India and killed the chances of the country to harness its talent to banish growth.

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