Tuesday, May 13, 2008

CORRUPT, COLONIAL INDIA FACES VOLCANO

“I am quite sure that no new order can be built up in India so long as the spirit of the ICS pervades our administration and our public services...Therefore it seems essential that the ICS and similar services must disappear completely as such before we can start real work on a new order.” These are the ominously prophetic words of India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, coming back to haunt the nation 60 years after the colonial rulers departed.

Despite the clarity of this vision, Nehru and later Indira Gandhi, unfortunately, tried to implement socialism in India with the help of the IAS, Indian avatar of this very 19th century colonial tool, and the nation is still paying a heavy price for that unmitigated disaster.

What was Nehru’s greatest failure as Prime Minister? Almost everyone will agree that it was his China policy which saw China annex Tibet and then humiliate India in the war of 1962. But, Nehru himself believed that his greatest failure was something more fundamental to the future of an independent India. Asked the question at a private gathering in 1964, he replied: ”I could not change the administration. It is still a colonial administration.”

44 years after Nehru’s death, little has changed for the better. On the contrary, the gap between the ever growing power of the IAS and the increasing powerlessness of a fragmented political leadership has only widened. Numerous efforts made over the years to bring about real administrative reforms have met with abject failure simply because the power to take a decision to implement any changes continues to rest finally with the top brass of the same IAS which is at the very root of a vast majority of the administrative, economic, moral and ethical ills that plague this nation.

Nehru had the personal integrity and power to change the colonial administration. Yet the IAS proved too strong for him. Today’s midget politicians have neither that spotless integrity nor the towering power required to even question it. So, even the pretence of attempting meaningful administrative reforms has been given up by them. The only tinkering that is ever done is that which enhances the role, power and pre-eminence of the IAS, no matter what the structural, functional or strategic damage it entails.

Management Guru CK Prahalad, speaking at CII on May 7, 2008 about his vision for India 15 years from now, was forthright when he said that corrupt nations cannot become rich because they do not develop their human resources, without which they cannot create wealth. He also said that India had got into a collective paralysis over corruption and warned that if things continued this way, “you will have to face a volcano.”(The Hindustan Times, May 8, 2008)

The World Bank publishes an annual ‘Doing Business Report’ in which it rates 178 countries on an ease of doing business index which rates the regulatory environment along 10 parameters. In the report of 2008, Singapore stands at the first spot. In South Asia, hold your breath, India is placed second from the bottom, just above Afghanistan! In the global listing, India is at a disgraceful 120.

Economic reforms may have been ushered in by Dr Manmohan Singh in 1991. Matching administrative reforms are clearly nowhere in sight, 17 years down the line. Why? Socialism was almost the perfect vehicle that the colonial bureaucracy manipulated to frame complex rules and regulations which took away the citizens’ liberty of engaging in almost all professions without getting ever increasing and tedious approvals from civil servants, which meant paying bribes. Then, these remnants of the Raj taxed almost everything and everyone literally to death. At one time, the maximum income tax rate was as high as 97 per cent, which meant that no one could pay his taxes honestly and still hope to literally survive, much less grow materially.

The deathly Licence Permit Raj almost overnight transformed this enthusiastic nation born with finest human values and character into a stagnant nation of the corrupt and deceitful. Remember the heady days of the fifties and early sixties when this young nation was high on spirit and hope, epitomised by that memorable Mukesh song that still brings out the goose pimples “ Chhodo kal ki baaten, kal ki baat purani, naye daur se likhenge milkar nayi kahani”?(Forget about what happened yesterday, that is old talk; together we will write a new story of the future.)

That was the naively innocent India that had yet not been beaten down by a colonial administration trying ruthlessly to become the real The New Empire. So, while inexperienced politicians were enjoying their new found power, this New Empire was busy usurping real power through mind numbing rules and regulations which ensured that nothing would effectively move without its nod. Simultaneously, it surgically cut and subordinated other wings of the government and moved into newer and newer areas and domains which promised even more power and money. All this while, India was falling rapidly behind a fast growing world and becoming almost the last place on this planet where anyone would want do business in if he had a choice. Anger and despondency quickly gripped the nation, giving birth in the 70s to the ‘angry young man’ immortalised by Amitabh Bachchan in a number of Bollywood blockbusters.

Despite the massive push, even kick, being given by economic reforms which have got the country out of the deep morass its administrators had thrown it into, the administration has not moved with the pace it would have in any large self respecting nation. In fact, if anything, the hold of the colonial administration is now almost complete. Every major decision is now routinely referred to a group of secretaries for a final view, before the political leadership puts its almost nominal seal of approval. Is that not a joke? The same set of administrators who are responsible for the mess which has damaged this country along many dimensions is being given the task of admitting its blunders and finding a way out of it!

With this mechanism in place what can you expect? Some forward movement will be there because the momentum of economic reforms is now too strong for even the administration which defeated Nehru to stall. But, and this is the crucial bit, any change proposed will first have to pass the ‘babu test’. The change should, at the very least, not lead to any erosion in the power or domain of authority of the administrators and should preferably lead to its enhancement. So, rather than becoming increasingly irrelevant as they should in a free economy, members of The New Empire will actually find newer and bigger avenues to increase their power and wealth.

Nothing exemplifies the stranglehold and power of the administrators more than what is happening to the farcical Sixth Pay Commission Report. The use of the word farcical is deliberate as will be clear presently. Nobody except the IAS is happy with the report, be it the police, the military or civil servants of other cadres. So what does the government do to address the complaints? It appoints a committee of IAS secretaries to listen to and take care of the grievances of others! One party affected by the Pay Commission Report being asked to sit in judgement over the grievances of others and even help them! It is almost like asking a committee of dacoits to assure those robbed by them virtually at gunpoint that they will be given at least some of their valuables back!

It was reported in The Hindustan Times of May 13, 2008 that Dr Trilochan Sastry, professor at IIM Bangalore, had come out with some startling figures about the increase in assets of some of our politicians. As per figures obtained by him, the 79 candidates contesting the second phase of the Karnataka polls on May 16, had declared assets worth a total of Rs 98.4 crore in 2004. Four years down the line, the figure has swelled by an astonishing 465 per cent to Rs 556.4 crore!

These figures give some idea of the rot that has corroded the system almost completely. Yet, while the politicians are the convenient fall guys who get exposed due to the fact that they have to declare their assets while filing nominations for elections, and can get away by attributing a major part of their explosive growth to donations from party workers, administrators, who are the masterminds and the real motive force behind this tearaway growth in corruption in public life, remain mostly unexposed.

Always in power, no matter which party wins elections, these guys make many times more money than any politician can even dream of making while in office; in any case, no politician can get a dime without the active support and involvement of the administrators who are the ones who make, and even break, all rules and regulations which give them this awesome power and the nation this shocking shame.

Is it, therefore, any wonder that these colonial administrators have now become bold enough to justify a monthly salary which is 1000 times more than that of the President of the country? To them, politicians are no more than a bunch of irritating jokers, to be grudgingly tolerated for the increasingly short periods of time that they occupy a chair, while the administrators run the nation in quite the same fashion that their colonial masters did: milking the county max for personal and cadre gain. There is absolutely no sense of shame about being so demeaningly corrupt or about the damage that they have caused and are causing to the nation.

So when CK Prahalad laments the collective paralysis that India has got into over corruption and warns it of having to “face a volcano” if things don’t improve, India really needs to sit up and listen. But who in this nation will? Clever colonial administrators, The New Empire, are the fountainhead of this debilitating disease; greedy politicians are in a hurry to recover their electoral expenses and add many times more that before they lose power, with the help of these very administrators. It is a closed loop.

Is there anyone left who can do what Nehru failed to do, before the volcano erupts, with totally unpredictable consequences? Can you spot someone?
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1. 1000 times President’s salary for India’s babus
2. Capital punishment not gain for the corrupt
3. Keeping India safe: cosmetic changes will not stem rot