Thursday, October 29, 2009

FOR BHARAT'S SAKE, AND INDIA'S, DUMP COLONIAL INSTITUTIONS

In the middle of all the noise in the media about the Naxal problem, brought to the fore again by the 'train-jacking' of the Delhi-Bhubaneswar Rajdhani by nearly 500 citizens, an extremely important aspect is being overlooked, yet again. But that is not surprising.

As far as media is concerned, everything has to be summarily reduced to politics after a perfunctory analysis because that is all that most media stars are drenched with, given their backgrounds and almost zero experience of, and exposure to, Bharat, a part of which is up in arms against India today. I still remember the shocking Nithari killing and cannibalisation case. A celebrated anchor, after a brief visit to the bowels of Noida, immediately turned the debate to the 'political dimension'. Why was that done? Because that is all what most Delhi journalists understand; the then CM of UP, Mulayam Yadav, and the Centre were daggers drawn - it made a great story. Also, most media stars we see have virtually no idea of how things work at the ground level on a day-to-day basis, or how the police, or any other instrument of state, is organised and the manner in which it functions.

That is mainly why serious systemic and institutional failures at the point of interface between the state and the citizen keep getting pushed under the carpet in every debate. That is what is happening now too.

In so far as politicians are concerned, the picture is no less dismal. At the state level, the whole thing has turned into a political blame-game between the Communists, who are in power in West Bengal, and Mamata Bannerjee who wants to evict them. At the level of the Centre, it has been turned into a black-and-white fight between the state and those who are questioning its failures through armed rebellion. As far as most human rights activists are concerned, it is almost exactly the opposite: the state is the terrorist; it is to blame for driving its own people to picking up arms to redress their long unheard grievances; therefore, it should abjure force and hold talks unconditionally.

The few senior cops who have been taking part in discussions across channels have, quite expectedly, been taking the official line that it is the duty of the state to act with force against those who have picked up the gun. Bureaucrats, particularly those who have served in Naxal affected areas - 150 districts - and have a first-hand experience of the sordid mess that their administration has been making over decades, are not to be seen or heard anywhere.

There is virtually no voice on the airwaves saying that there is something fundamentally flawed with our system of policing and administration that needs to be fixed. I have been saying for a long time that the antiquated, colonial system that India seamlessly continued to follow after the the British left needs to be overhauled completely. It is an elitist system that is primarily responsible for not letting British India become the Bharat that it should have after Independence. On the contrary, it has only increased that divide and created a whole new class of Indians who are completely disconnected from almost 80% of their country men who, for them, live in another country called Bharat.

The British created two institutions, represented today by the IAS and the IPS, with the sole purpose of using them as instruments of colonial power to ensure that the natives did not create any law and order problem against their imperial masters, and quietly paid taxes etc that the Empire wanted them to, to generate revenue for its own sustenance and growth. They were British institutions manned by English-speaking brown men for and on behalf of the Empire alone. Their organisational structure and functions were designed to prevent them from identifying themselves with natives or empowering them mentally or materially in a manner that would make them feel that they were equal to them, the Indian elite, much less the white man himself.

63 years after Independence, the structures and attitudes remain virtually the same, the exceptions being stray individuals. The DC and SP of a district continue to remain remote, imperial sahibs who reside in huge, barricaded bungalows looked after by a retinue of native servants. They continue to believe that they are the lords and masters of the many deprived souls with whom they share no affinity, and natural claimants to a 'cut' in the glamour and wealth of the few - criminals included - who need their protection and patronage to flourish without being troubled by the poor whom they sometimes exploit. So, most of them spend the little time they get in these appointments, where they are in direct contact with their own people, doing what India's colonial masters and rippers did to a conquered, alien people over a hundred years ago.

The connect that the most important powerful instruments of the state must have with its people as the equals that they are supposed to be in a democracy, thus, does not even begin. It is institutionally precluded. The same attitude and approach has filtered down to all other institutions and officials. That is why democracy and freedom have not yet touched millions of Indians, save during the occasional trudge to the voting booth. We are reminded of their existence only when they either pick up the gun to show their anger at their colonial administrators, or when they are misled by those like the Maoists who promise them that only the ones with guns share their heart beats and feel their pain, as equals, and will wrest their rights for them.

It is these very imperial administrators and police officers who, after a few years, go on to head various government departments and police forces. Since only they know exactly what is wrong within, but have been the direct beneficiaries and perpetrators of the increasing rot, they also know best how to con the rest into believing that since they are the best brains that India has thrown up after one exam, only they know what is for best for India, and are doing it, despite dirty politicians. They also know how to convince/pressure others that the only way to improve anything is by giving them even more power and control!

How completely these guys have corrupted the system can be gauged from just one example. When the Pay Commission recommendations were being finalised, former Cabinet Secretary TSR Balasubramanian actually said in a live television debate that bureaucrats like the Commerce Secretary, Finance Secretary etc deserved a Rs 10 crore salary, 1000 times the President's, for the kind of work they do. Can you see what he was trying to say? He was openly claiming a 'cut' for the the initials and recommendations that babus put on files, only because someone stands to benefit from those decisions financially!

This is the attitude at the very top of the heap, not at some lowly octroi post. It is this approach that has destroyed nearly every institution of the state. No official is ready to do something unless he is paid for it; and if he is well paid, he is willing to even to do what in his position he must not, no matter what happens to the people adversely affected by it, particularly if they are poor, second class natives who live in another world. When you add to this the impossibly complex rules that make it virtually impossible to hold government employees, from secretary to sweeper, accountable for almost anything, and assured promotions for doing little more than staying alive while in service, you get the sordid spectacle of sloth, absenteeism and near total absence of motivation to even think of excelling.

Subramanian has also said on a number of occasions, almost with pride, that corruption is no longer an issue and that nobody ever gets convicted for it; the rot is so deep and completely accepted. I may also mention here that, in a moment of weakness, a very senior official once told me that he was not in service for the salary; that was not sufficient to meet even the pocket money needs of his two teenage kids, he said. That says everything about what babudom has done to some of our best brains and what they have in turn done to destroy it.

Sitting in our urban bubbles, relatively untouched by the state, some of us may not find it easy to understand how colonial institutions of the state have alienated its citizens in the remote areas that we will perhaps never step into. Some celebrity activists do go there, but more often than not, they do so in pursuit of greater visibility and space in the national media, and in the West, rather than out of any genuine empathy or sense of belonging with these people. That is why they invariably come out with half-baked, uni-dimensional, even childish, responses that are often dishonest, because they primarily want to sensationalise and provoke rather than bring about the real change that is needed to help those whose cause they claim to champion.

India's top civil servants are not going to let the failed and almost completely dysfunctional colonial structure that benefits their small but very powerful tribe be disturbed at all. Unless they are forced to. Given our equally corrupt political system that has aggravated the problem by promoting rule by division rather than inclusion, one can be reasonably certain that meaningful change is not going to be ushered in willingly.

Yes, the armed rebellion of the Maoists needs to be crushed and the writ of the state established. But what we must realise is that unless the existing institutions of administration, policing etc are discarded and replaced by ones that firmly re-connect the state with its people as equals, rebellion in some form or the other will have to be faced time and again. Today it is in the hinterland; tomorrow it will be in your city. The form and method may be different but the rage and pain will be the same. And the intensity will keep on rising till India and Bharat become one.
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Readers may also read:
1. Democracy - mockocracy - revolution
2. Capital punishment, not gain for the corrupt
3. 1000 times President's salary for India's babus!
4. Corrupt, colonial India faces volcano
5. Covering up the mother of all corruption scandals
6. Conspicuous consumption and conspicuous poverty
7. Bharat and India: armed rebellion and mental secession