On leadership & reforms
by V. Eshwar Anand
Soul and Structure of Governance
in India
by Jagmohan, Allied, New Delhi
Pages 516, Rs 475

INDIA'S polity is of its own making. However, the British designed its structure of governance, i.e. the public administration, which is the avowed instrument of implementation of the government’s goals and objectives. The colonial rulers designed it to suit their immediate requirements of law and order administration and the attendant tasks.

Independence transformed the goals necessitating the reconstruction of public administration to suit the new goals of republicanism, development and nation building. In the past 57 years since Independence, the country may have made significant strides in social, economic, scientific and technological fields, but it is yet to achieve its ultimate goal of becoming a country free from poverty, hunger and disease.

The bureaucracy remains the key instrument of governance and reforms. But the crux of the problem that strikes at the root of governance is the unequal equation between the politicians and the bureaucrats. While the ruling elite is busy making hay while the sun shines, the latter, with some honourable exceptions, are too eager to kow-tow to their whims and caprices, compromising their original raison d’etre and the doctrine of neutrality.

Undoubtedly, the political class is mainly responsible for the steady deterioration of governance. As it is not averse to making the bureaucrats a scapegoat for its follies, the latter need to summon the requisite will to act as a corrective to the former and its excesses.

While the civil servants can arrest the dangerous erosion that is eating into the republic’s vitals, the bureaucracy has as much of a mandate as the politicians to safeguard the republic from encroachers of all varieties. If the bureaucracy has to perform its dutiful role, it must show itself to be qualitatively different from the politicians when it comes to public interest and collective good.

Over the years, the politicians have extracted acquiescence from the bureaucrats because of their distaste for the common man and reluctance to submit themselves to accountability. This distaste bred unwholesome impulses and practices and led to a crisis of legitimacy that has blunted the efficacy of the state and its instruments of governance. Ultimately, when confronted with a challenge from those who profess not to recognise the constitutional order, the bureaucracy is simply as lost for effective responses as are the political masters.

Soul and Structure of Governance in India thoroughly examines this problem. In fact, the subject of governance and administrative reforms is very dear to the writer’s heart. As an able administrator, minister, Governor, and Member of Parliament, Jagmohan had availed himself of the opportunity of watching the working of the government from close quarters for decades. Thus, the book is not the outcome of some random jottings of an academic but the result of painstaking research of a dedicated and committed administrator.

The 14 chapters represent careful diagnostic work and strike a personal note. The writer feels that there has been a "grave national omission" in attending to our fundamentals. He makes a forceful plea for "root and branch" reforms to stem the rot in governance. Chapter IV on "Blow to Governance machinery during three periods" — periods shortly before, during and after the Emergency — brings home some basic issues of governance and portray the writer’s agony over the systemic and institutional disorder.

In Chapter VI and VII, he examines events and developments, mostly from personal experience, which show how the "mighty past" was not recaptured and how the "mightier future" was allowed to elude us, both during the Pre-reform period (1947-1991) and Post-reform period (1991 to date). He attributes this failure to the poor quality of leadership at different levels, an unskilled democracy and its impact on the administrative machinery. Chapter XIII is timely in the context of the Centre’s current emphasis on administrative reforms. The writer presents here a design of the institutional set-up for the reformed machinery of governance. It indeed encompasses a wide array of reforms — civil services, police, judicial, electoral and parliamentary, municipal and local governance, corporate sector (public and private) and so on.

The writer is hopeful that if his blueprint of reforms is followed in letter and spirit, India could emerge as "one of the most humane, enlightened and elevating systems of governance in the world". Given the present mess in governance, his idea for an ethical state and ethical machinery of governance seems Utopian. Nonetheless, what is commendable is the writer’s optimistic observation that we shall overcome the "truly historic challenge" with "courage, commitment, insight, creative and constructive powers of the highest order".

The book will be of immense use not only for the students of political science and public administration but also politicians and administrators. It would serve as a valuable reference book for educational institutions, Parliament and state legislatures. Encouragingly, the price of the book is not prohibitive.