politics is about promotion of people's happiness. It is
about assigning priorities and bridging the gap between
our unlimited wants and limited resources. In real life,
resources are always scarce and we have to make painful
choices. Only in a boring place called heaven do resources
outstrip wants. True politics is also about reconciling
the seemingly conflicting interests of fiercely contending
groups. Those of us watching from the sidelines have the
privilege of running with the hares and hunting with the
hounds simultaneously. But for politicians in public office,
the buck stops with them. Every election is a mandate for
change. If peaceful change is no longer possible in a democracy,
then the only alternative is anarchy or brute dictatorship.
yet, we heap mindless abuse on politics and politicians.
The politician is portrayed as foolish, corrupt, vile, barbaric,
uncivilized and villainous. The contribution of the politicians
in maintaining social cohesion and harmony in a fractious
nation, and in furthering public good against great odds
is ignored. The fact that the politician is often a victim
of a vicious cycle, and not villain is forgotten.
in general, we portray the bureaucrat as the decent, honest,
public-spirited citizen heroically struggling against the
evil politicians. We forget that most of the misdeeds of
politicians are a result of a political and electoral system
which does not permit honesty to coexist with survival in
office for long. Bureaucrats have no such compulsions. And
yet, most citizens experience harassment, humiliation, indignity
and extortion at their hands.
peculiar form of political correctness has taken hold of
our society. The fact that only a small group of educated
elites entered bureaucracy with a secure wage gave them
enormous clout. Once this employment is in government, with
its colonial hangover, it gave the bureaucrat great prestige.
The license-permit raj and doles culture peculiar to our
polity made the bureaucrat a dispenser of patronage and
the citizen a mendicant.
have only 28 million organized workers earning a regular,
secure monthly wage in India. Of them, nearly 20 million
are in government - 13 million directly employed by the
state, and 7 million in public sector undertakings. This
power of numbers gave the bureaucracy a disproportionate
visibility and muscle. Most politicians and parties have
been cowardly in dealing with bureaucracy. Even mighty governments
which received unprecedented mandates were cowed down by
bureaucracy. Success of a government is measured by its
capacity to pay salaries to bureaucrats, even if all tax
receipts and more are deployed only for that purpose. Failure
to pay employees is seen as the ultimate political failure.
This is in sharp contrast with mature democracies. Witness
the shut down (barring essential services) of American government
once in 1981 when Reagan vetoed congressional spending proposals,
and twice in 1995 when Clinton vetoed the budget. There
was no sense of alarm in the US, and in both instances the
defiant president emerged stronger, not weaker.
in India, political correctness demanded a huge wage increase
by Gujral Cabinet in the wake of Fifth Pay Commission recommendations,
without looking for gains in productivity. Some of the ministers
were reputed to have left the cabinet meeting in the middle,
only to urge the employees to stand firm and assure them
that their demands will be met! Such excessive political
correctness made a mockery of cabinet rule and collective
responsibility, and reduced the cabinet to a collection
of warring tribes. The power of numbers, collective lungpower
and the fact that employees man the polling stations on
the day of election make politicians pliable. The wage bill
keeps increasing (pensions will soon exceed wages) even
as services deteriorate and fiscal crisis deepens. The net
cost to the exchequer across the nation on account of the
Fifth Pay Commission decision was about Rs 80,000 crores
per annum. This single decision deepened our fiscal crisis
as nothing else has.
311, which was meant to ensure independence of bureaucracy,
has become the millstone round the neck of the Indian nation.
But things are changing. People are increasingly vexed with
a recalcitrant bureaucracy. AK Antony in 2002 in Kerala,
and Jayalalitha in 2003 in Tamil Nadu showed that the bureaucratic
leviathan can be confronted without political costs. Judicial
decisions over a period of time too have shown welcome recognition
of putting public interest before bureaucracy. Gone are
the days when judges boasted of their decisions favouring
bureaucracy as a class. The faceless people eking out livelihood
are asserting themselves against their paid public servants.
Those who view this issue through the prism of union rights
are plainly wrong. This is about public services, tax monies
is time we restructured our bureaucracy, and made it into
a powerful instrument for public good. First, we need to
redeploy the public servants, and make health, education
and key services the centrepiece of governance. Half of
all our employees now are clerks, peons and drivers! Second,
accountability must be enforced at all costs, and corruption
and sloth curbed ruthlessly. Third, the all-India services
and senior services must set an example by removing fat,
accepting a lean and hungry higher bureaucracy, and eschewing
promotions and creation of supernumerary posts. Finally,
politicians must wrest the initiative and restore the primacy
of political process, bureaucratic accountability and quality
public services. We have had enough of political correctness;
it is time to confront the many holy cows and restore sanity
to our public life.