• Thursday, September 18, 2014

BETWEEN THE LINES

Old habits die hard

Kuldip Nayar

A spate of personal accounts by the insiders has made the Indian political scene interesting and chirpy. However subjective, they do put in the public domain some information which was not available earlier. There is nothing earth shaking in the revelations made. But they do confirm some of the perceptions about our governance.

For example, it was rumoured that Sonia Gandhi wielded authority without responsibility and ran the government from her residence. This is now confirmed. Official files were carried to her residence for direction. Till today, she has not said a word by way of explanation to defend herself. It appears that she believes that she doesn't have to explain as if it is the dynasty's prerogative. Those who have followed its ways will not be surprised about it.

Jawaharlal Nehru allowed his daughter, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, to run the government when he was in bed due to illness. On her part, she constituted a coterie to rule, which was an extra-constitutional authority.

I was then press officer of Lal Bahadur Shastri, minister without portfolio. Nehru had brought him back after sending him out of government under the K. Kamaraj plan, a ruse to oust Nehru's critics, particularly Morarji Desai and Jagjiwan Ram, from the government.

The prime minister's residence was a two-storey building, Nehru staying upstairs. Who from among the visitors would be allowed to go upstairs was dependent on Mrs. Indira Gandhi's decision. She did not like Shastri and would keep him waiting. Once, still working as press officer, I pointed out to Nehru's aide, T.N. Sheshan that Shastri, then out of office, was kept waiting. He told me not to get involved in such things as Mrs. Indira Gandhi did it intentionally. “This is politics,” he said.

The ruling party may have changed at the Centre but the political culture has not. We are feudal in our outlook. This trait transcends other considerations. It does not go well with the democratic temperament. But it is there and has not undergone any perceptible change in the past. Those who come to power become dictators in action. Even when they profess that power is with the people they are using it figuratively and not realistically because they, a very few, rule the country.

The rule by Prime Minister Narender Modi is no different. In fact, the Prime Minister's Office under him is more powerful than the ones before. The PMO is strong and sees to it that every bit of decision is ratified even before the files are sent to the home minister, who only signs on the dotted lines. Thus power has got concentrated in Modi's office. Therefore, one gets the impression that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Home Minister Rajnath Singh, however powerful, appear to have Modi's eyes and ears for their statements which look out of line with the party's thinking.

In all fairness, the Modi government should have changed the administrative apparatus which has the Nehruvian stamp. After independence, Nehru, who had gone through long national struggle, set up paraphernalia which rejected liberalism that bound the different elements together. The BJP is different. None of its leaders went to jail during freedom struggle. The party should have reorganised the polity to suit their way of thinking and their way of doing things.

Alas, the BJP has adopted the same old administrative methods which give all the leeway to bureaucrats. The BJP should have moved the machinery to the direction which will work the way it wants. Perhaps the Modi government should have appointed an administrative reforms commission to suggest steps to implement the saffronised agenda. The administration is still stuck in the old ways, partly secular and partly democratic but mostly the withered ideas of the RSS leaders.

True, there are so many administrative reform commission reports accumulating dust. But the Modi government's commission would be a departure from the past, the liberal era of Nehru. Modi's authoritarian way of governance requires new rules and guidelines. A BJP appointed commission could have provided the Modi government with the instruments to Hinduise the administrative set-up.

I wish I could say that the lessons have been learnt. Persons who used authority without responsibility still wield power. And bureaucrats vie with one another in obedience to the ministers and bend rules to get out of turn promotion or a cushy posting.

The old type of civil servants is going to be hard to get. Yet there is no alternative to the bureaucracy which has entrenched itself in the system from top to bottom. The BJP must have realised this when in power more than 10 years ago. The regret is that it became a part and parcel of the system while its election plank was to cleanse it.

It can be argued that the electorate faces a big problem. People cast vote in favour of the BJP in the recent Lok Sabha elections. This was not because they liked the party. But it was because they were sick and tired of the Congress rule. Party President Sonia Gandhi herself admitted that the voters did not like the Congress. But she said she had no idea that their anger would convert itself into vengeance.

They had voted the BJP to power. So much so they have given the party a majority by itself. But what would they do when they get disappointed with the BJP? They do not want to go back to the Congress. But what option do they have? That is the reason why the Congress is sitting pretty. People are waiting for the Modi government to perform and prove itself. Instead of that, the saffronisation programme is taking shape.

The alternative could have been the Aam Admi Party (AAP). In fact, it evoked hope when Gandhian Anna Hazare held meetings in different parts of the country to warn the people against corruption. Their response was solid and AAP's Arvind Kejriwal was voted to power in Delhi. But then Hazare distance from Kejriwal and his dictatorial tendency, besides the ambition of a few put cold water on finding a clean alternative. Unfortunately, the old cultures do not disappear quickly.  

The writer is an eminent Indian columnist.

Published: 12:00 am Monday, August 18, 2014

TAGS: India Indian politics

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