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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 49, November 27, 2010

Politicians and Bureaucracy | Reinforcing Democracy

Wednesday 1 December 2010, by P N Haksar

Two Articles of P.N. Haksar

November 27 this year marks the twelfth death anniversary of P.N. Haksar, the eminent administrator and distinguished diplomat as well as one of the country’s foremost thinkers. On this occasion we offer our sincere homage to his abiding memory by reproducing the following articles. The first one was written in November 1977 and published in Mainstream (February 21, 1987) and the second one appeared in Mainstream Annual 1989. Both are relevant in the present context.

Politicians and Bureaucracy

The question of the relationship between politicians and civil servants does not exist in a vacuum. On the contrary, it is hopelessly entangled with the game of politics and of power as it is played inour country.

Let me first of all deal with a few basic concepts. Given the necessity for a state, the bureaucracy is an inescapable concomitant irrespective of the nature of the state. Even states emerging out of vast revolutionary upheavals spawn bureau-cracy. Mao thought that he could alter the sorry scheme of things through cultural revolutions. But his successors are settling down, looking for cats, black and white, who will efficiently perform their function of catching mice. So bureaucracy—that is, government officials in their collectivety—constitutes an integral part of any state. The second essential point to note is that the bureau-cracy in any state embodies the urges for the maintenance and continuity of that state and society. That is why conservatism has its natural ally in bureaucracy.

But in India conservatism has no meaning. What are we to conserve? The vast poverty? The social structure hag-ridden with caste? Illiteracy? Our incapacity to feed, educate and clothe people? In some other age, we might have frozen all these urges by erecting a rigid law-and-order state. But in these last decades of the twentieth century, the awareness of our people is so heightened that every political party appears with a flaming manifesto promising change. But the art of taking money from the rich and votes from the poor is becoming increasingly difficult to practise. For it is one thing to write a manifesto, it is quite another to put it into effect.

Thus verbal radicalism unsupported by a sustained political will and unsustained by political instrumentalities is doomed to failure. Faced with such a situation, the collective unconscious of our politicians mutters: “What can we do? Didn’t we mean well? Didn’t we pas resolutions? Didn’t we lay it down in our manifesto? Didn’t we adopt decisions in the Cabinet? The failure is due to our bureaucracy!”

Virginal academics, whose knowledge of the facts of life is minimal, write papers proving that our bureaucracy is dysfunctional vis-a-vis our democratic social order; politicians make speeches urging abolition of the bureaucracy. Periodically, we witness the recrudescence of such ill humour, which brings to my mind the story current in the Nazi era; every Nazi, so the story goes, had a favourite Jew and, when two Nazis quarrelled, they beat each other’s Jew.

Of course, it must be said that the structure of our bureaucracy is not partially suited for transmitting the impulses for change. It has remained virgo intacta since the days of Macaulay. It was designed for the maintenance and continuity of the Empire and since no one thought of changing the design, the laws of inertia prevailed. But then one might legitimately enquire: On whom does the responsibility rest for bringing about the change? And why have all the changes made in response to the needs of development and planning been so ineffective?

Someone said that the whole difference between efficient and inefficient administration lies in the creative use of officials by the elected representatives. Our attempt to mould the bureaucratic framework to suit the political processes at the local level took the form of democratic decentralisation and the setting up of Panchayati Raj. But rural society with its segmented structures and primitive institutions exposed to modern democratic experience could not generate a responsive and creative leadership. The traditional order and the new political and administrative structure only created tensions. Empirical evidence shows that the conflicts and tensions between the officials and non-officials owe their origin to the prerogatives of power, personality clashes and self-aggrandising tendencies.

Two things clearly stand out today in the countryside: (a) emergence of traditional propertied and social elites as an ambitious, avaricious and power-oriented leadership; and (b) the officials’ general lack of faith in the capabilites of the elected members to sustain and carry forward the key and central goals of society. The politicians are not satisfied with the formulation of policies for which they have little time, but reach out for a hand in their implementation to suit their particular end. On the other hand, officials without any change in their attitude, outlook or methods see in all this a challenge to their own position of power and status.

Is then all lost? Not necessarily and inevitably, provided we understand the logic of bureaucracy, even the existing bureaucracy in India, as a system. First of all, politicians as Ministers have a right and duty to enunciate clearly the policies. This right does not belong to MPs and MLAs. Along with policies the bureaucracy, especially that part of it which is directly concerned with developmental processes, should be set concrete tasks and judged by an objective appraisal system. Once this is done, there should be no interference. Appointment, writing of confidential reports, promotions, postings and transfers should be sternly and rigidly objective; only then will the system work, provided Ministers have the skill, the will and sense of direction for riding the bureaucratic horse. This will require not merely ability but character and integrity. So the problem of the relationship between politicians and civil servants is rather complex.

Reinforcing Democracy

Any citizen of the Republic of India, reflecting sensitively on the wide range of problems facing our country, cannot but come to the conclusion that there is an urgent need for all of us to under-stand these emerging problems and to seek their solution. The most critical and central problem is the health and vitality of our democracy.

As one contemplates the human condition of this Earth today, one cannot but feel a sense of pride that the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and other great sons and daughters of Mother Earth left us the most precious legacy of political democracy in our country. Everywhere human spirit is in great turmoil and the articulation of that turmoil through the democratic process is essential if we are to avoid destructive upheavals. It may be an old cliche that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance but it is a cliche which is eternally true. And the society which does not heed to this, pay a heavy price in terms of human suffering. Viewed in this light, one cannot but express grave concern about several matters affecting the functioning of our democrtic process as well as electoral process through which democracy assumes form and substance. From time to time, voices of concern have been raised about the role of money as the lubricant of our electoral process. And this money is invariably unaccounted. However, the nexus between money and power is becoming increasingly interconnected with mafia-like formations and consequent criminalisation of our electoral and political processes. It has become urgently necessary to focus attention on this problem.

Some have argued in favour of proportional representation as a means of ensuring better distribution of power in our society. With the growth of mobilising people on the basis of caste, creed, language, etc., the proportional representation at this juncture of our country will only lead to consolidation and not transcendence of particularism. Also, the narrower the group, the more influential will be the wielders of mafia power. The only corrective to mafia power is to challenge their coercive power. And this can only be done by enlarging effectively the criteria for ascendancy to power.

Our people should have the right to reject and say ‘no’ to all the candidates presenting them-selves at election and such a negative vote should be regarded as a valid vote. At the same time, the criterion for getting elected as a Member of Parliament or a Member of a Legislative Assembly on the basis of a majority of even one vote will have to be jettisoned. Therefore, it is not unrea-sonable to demand that no candidate can be deemed to be elected unless he or she gets a clear majority, that is, 50 per cent of the votes. In the context of our village communities, where from ancient times the proverb, namely, jiski lathi uski bhains has to be challenged, the task of lathi wielding must be made more difficult by challenging him to command the support of more than 60 per cent of the registered voters in the village.

I devoutly hope that the sheer anxiety and concern would make us search for a consensus on two immediate issues:

1. that mafia-like formation and the consequent criminalisation is an urgent problem which needs to be tackled;

2. that the way to tackle it is by changing our electoral laws so that a negative vote acquires meaning and that a higher percentage of votes is necessary than the present rule of victory by being the first at the polling booth.

I am not unconscious of the extremely corrosive influence of bigotry and fanaticism paraded as ’religion’. In the long march of humanity for thousands of years, I am not aware of humanity ever having a monument to ’hate’. All monuments are to love and compassion. Only war-graves are monuments to hatred of one set of humanity against another. Surely, we Indians, holding sacred the creative elements of our civilisation, cannot leave the legacy of hate and feel proud of our cultural and spiritual heritage. However, the battle against hatred, bigotry and fanaticism is to be fought in every heart and mind. And I have no doubt that the mass of our people, if faced with the choice of alternatives, will choose tolerance, love and compassion. In asserting this faith, I do not wish to minimise in any way the urgency of combating the virus of casteism or communalism. The urgent necessity for carrying out this fight should not prevent
us from seeing that the fight against criminalisation of politics does require another kind of approach.

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