Sir Syed Memorial Lecture-2020: ‘Governance—Responsibility of the Polity and the Public Services’

Full text of the lecture that was delivered by N.N. Vohra, formerly Governor, J&K (2008-18), on September 9, 2020, Sir Syed Academy, Aligarh Muslim University

Sir Syed Memorial Lecture-2020: ‘Governance—Responsibility of the Polity and the Public Services’

N.N. Vohra, former J&K Governor. File photo

N.N. Vohra

I

 

I feel privileged to have been invited to deliver this year’s lecture to remember  Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.  He  was a great scholar, an outstanding  leader of Indian Muslims,  a visionary social reformer and a protagonist of Hindu-Muslim unity who strongly believed that religious discord would destroy  the fabric of our society.

Sir Syed,  born in a well established family,  joined the East India Company and served in several parts of northern India.  He received honours and awards   for his innovative ideas and commendable achievements.  

Deeply perturbed by the atrocities inflicted by the British during the 1857 Mutiny and the enormous sufferings undergone by his people, particularly the Muslims in and around Delhi,  Sir Syed vowed to uplift  his community.  He spent  the rest  of his life in carrying out reforms  to  encourage freedom of thought   and  eliminate bigotry,  fanaticism and  sectarianism.  

 To counter the propaganda, which was being methodically spread, that the Mutiny took  place because   of the activities of Muslims,   Sir Syed wrote a wellargued   monograph   which held    that 1857 happened because   of the government’s own lapses, particularly     its failure to redress serious grievances of the people.   He pointed   out that another reason for  the mounting   public anger which had led  to the revolt was the failure  of the British  to provide for Indian representation  in the Imperial Legislative Council.  He continued to  fight for this cause  till  the British agreed, in 1861,  to  Indians being nominated  to the  Council and for some of them    to be given positions  in the judicial system.

Sir Syed strongly believed  that Muslims,  who were an intensely religious community steeped in conservative traditions, would not be able to progress and  achieve  advancement unless the upcoming generations were enabled to pursue modern education, particularly the sciences  and engineering.   In his long battle to end orthodoxy   he  vigorously campaigned for Muslim youth being encouraged to learn English, which would open   the door to their gaining admissions to institutions of higher learning.    To motivate and expose his community to  western   concepts and develop a scientific temper  he  set up the ‘Scientific Society’   and started bringing out the “Aligarh Institute   Gazette”.  

An Islamic modernist, Sir Syed stood for tolerance,  reason and a scientific outlook.  Being convinced    that orthodoxy and ignorance could not be reduced  unless the  Muslim society  was exposed to wide-ranging   reforms, he launched a  vibrant campaign   which soon became widely known as the “Aligarh Movement”.   To  acquaint himself with the latest advancements in the field of higher education  he visited England and came back with many new ideas  which he   spread  by  bringing out a journal, “Tahzeeb-ul-Akhlaq”, which became an important  agent   for triggering  social reform.  The writings in this publication, and those generated by the Aligarh Movement, were aimed   at reforming the Muslim society by attacking ignorance and, side-by-side, propagating a rational interpretation of the Quran.  Among other objectives,   he sought to establish that there was nothing in Islam which opposed or debarred Muslim youth from learning  English, pursuing western education  and becoming highly qualified teachers, scientists, engineers and doctors.  Undoubtedly the most notable Indian Muslim leader of his time,  Sir Syed worked assiduously towards the advancement of his community   to see that it excelled  in all fields and was not left behind  in any arena.   

 In furtherance of his conviction   that the Muslim society could not be reformed unless the youth were provided opportunities to gain higher education,    he established a school which soon became widely reputed  for  its high quality of  teaching.  His endeavours to establish a modern university  could not go through for lack of the required resources.     However,  In 1877,  he succeeded in setting up   the Muslim Anglo-Oriental College,  an institution  modelled on the pattern of Oxford and Cambridge universities.  Over the years,  many alumni of this college   rose to occupy positions  of great eminence in various walks of life, all over the country.  

Over four decades later,  in 1920,   the Muslim Anglo-Oriental  College   achieved the status of a university.  Today,  the Aligarh Mulsim University is  among the foremost in the country.   Over the past century,  since its inception,  the AMU has played a pivotal role in shaping the destinies   of all those  who were lucky  in gaining entry into its   portals.  Today,  this university   is providing   education  to over 34,000 students,  in almost every area   of learning.   

 In my view, perhaps  the best tribute which can be  paid  to Sir Syed’s  life long work  would be to  recall the following words of  Dr. Tara Chand,  the eminent historian:  

“The Aligarh Movement exercised a tremendous   influence on the minds of Muslims;  it created among them the ambition  to achieve for their   community  its proper place  among the communities of India and turned  their thoughts  from the fruitless contemplation  of their past glories and defeats    to the actual pursuit of progress and advancement  in the modern world” 

 

II

 

India is the world’s largest democracy.  Since attaining freedom our people have been  governed by their own chosen representatives,  elected every five years in freely conducted  polls.  

While seven decades is not a particularly long period in the life of a nation,  it would be beneficial to look back,  even though fleetingly,  to reckon  how far we have travelled towards  the attainment  of the nation building goals envisioned by the founding fathers of our Constitution.  

Among the mandated tasks of establishing a strong and caring  democracy,  built on the pillars of Secularism, Equality, Liberty,  Justice and Fraternity,  a  crucial goal which continues to await attainment relates to our failure   to provide food, shelter,  safe drinking water, healthcare, literacy and employment opportunities to  millions of   our  people  who subsist below the poverty line.   Unfortunately, the continuing pandemic, Covid-19, has added many more millions to the number of those already poverty stricken. Thus, by all accounts, we    still have to travel a long way to eradicate    poverty  and  inequality,  alleviate  the lot of the economically downtrodden and socially depressed segments of our population and empower them  to truly enjoy equal opportunities  with all others   in the country. 

*

In any discussion on the governance   of India it would do well to remember  that we are a vast country  of sub-continental dimensions and a land of awesome geographical dissimilarities.  We have large  desert areas, the highest mountain ranges in the world,    land and sea borders of nearly  23,000 kms, over 1200 island territories  and an Exclusive Economic Zone  of several million square kilometres. 

Even more daunting is the heterogeneity of our population.   Our people, nearly 1.38 billion  today,  comprise over 4600 communities which practice    all  the  world religions,  speak 122 languages   and nearly  2000 dialects.  Their  vastly diverse  traditions  and practices are imbedded in thousands of years  of history and the  life styles of our different communities    reflect the myriad social, cultural, linguistic and religious diversities which comprise India. 

*

At the time of Independence,  after the country was partitioned,  millions   were killed in the communal riots and  millions  more were uprooted and rendered homeless.   Large  parts of the country, from Bengal to Panjab,  were devastated  by widespread lawlessness, arson, loot and killings and a famine like situation   prevailed in the land.      India faced  a grave financial crisis and a horde of complex challenges. The British, who ruled India for nearly two centuries for  advancing  their own interests,  had left behind a backward and feudal agrarian economy, huge regional imbalances, a weak industrial base, large scale unemployment, poverty and abysmally low  income levels. 

 

*

 

It was the selfless commitment of the tall  leaders who had carried out the  long struggle for freedom, and the strong determination of other front ranking political personalities of that time, which inspired  the Interim Government — our first national government  in 1947 -  to deal  with the prevailing communal violence;  restore law and order; provide food,  clothing  and shelter to millions of refugees; set up thousands of ration shops  to distribute essential food supplies;  fight droughts and floods and, in the midst of  the endless troubles on various fronts,   to also counter Pakistan’s aggression in Kashmir.  Besides the benefit of an  enlightened leadership, the endless challenges were successfully met because of  the devotion and sustained  hard work put in by the limited cadres of the   Civil, Police, Defence and other services, all of which  had been badly splintered by the partition of the country.

While the Interim Government  was engaged,  day and night,  in battling  with the virtually insurmountable problems facing the country, the Constituent Assembly  remained involved in prolonged  debates to finalise  the Constitution of free India.  Adopted on 26th January 1950,  our Constitution provides  the broad  framework of cooperative federalism for the governance of the Sovereign, Democratic Republic of India and lays down a largely  socialistic pattern for India’s economic development.  It demarcates the respective jurisdictions and responsibilities of the Union and the States and the subjects  which can receive concurrent attention.

Under our Constitution, the people of India set out to attain for themselves:

JUSTICE – social, economic and political LIBERTY – of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship EQUALITY – of status and of opportunity FRATERNITY – for assuring the dignity of the individual and unity of the nation. 

The Constitution contains specific provisions for safeguarding the fundamental rights of citizens and the chapter on the Directive Principles of State Policy provides the direction of the tasks to be carried out for building a strong and vibrant nation, particular attention being given to secure the upliftment of  those segments of our society which had suffered neglect and oppression for centuries. The Constitution provides for  the establishment of  a uniform set  of inter-related institutions which lay the basis for a common framework of governance across the country  and a strong Centre for guiding and supporting the States in the collective tasks  of nation building.

It would be relevant to recall  that, during the debates in the Constituent Assembly, Sardar Patel had repeatedly cautioned that the effective governance of free India and the harmonious working of Centre-State relations would be crucially dependent on the collective pursuit of a national perspective.  He strongly believed that the unity and integrity of India could be safeguarded by a federal administrative system in which the all India services would be required to play a vital role.   Thus,  our  Constitution  provides for the establishment of  All   India  Services  of such kind and  in such number as may be required.   However,    we have only  three pan India Services viz   the Indian Administrative Service,  Indian Police Service and the Indian Forest Service, besides  the stand alone Indian Foreign Service. All  these four services together have a total of  about 12,500 officers.      

For securing balanced human development and  economic growth it was decided to implement five year plans, which would be finalized by the Planning Commission and the National Development Council after discussions with the States and  other stake holders.  It is fortunate that those  at the helm after Independence  recognised,  right in the beginning,  that any failure in  bringing about  orderly change to establish   a stable environment across the country  could lead to unrest and disorder   on a scale which would  not be easy to control.   Thus,  it was wisely  decided that tackling the problems of poverty and unemployment would  be among the government’s first and foremost priorities.     Because   of the extreme paucity of financial resources in that period,  another  sound  decision  taken was to mobilise the local   communities to render voluntary services for implementing  rural development  programmes in the villages. This approach engendered very good results, at least in the early years.   As a district officer in the early 1960s  I recall  our significant successes  in building village roads, wells, dispensaries and other assets  with the help of  voluntary labour we mobilised   from the beneficiary villages. 

 

*

 

Considering the  severe  financial constraints and many other  serious problems,  all of  which required to be dealt with at the same time,    it could well be concluded  that in the first two decades after Independence the successive governments at the Centre  worked satisfactorily   and   successfully laid  the foundations for the country’s future growth and development in almost every arena.  Briefly recalled, this period witnessed considerable  enlargement of the educational and health systems; establishment of rural dispensaries,  hospitals,  colleges, universities and institutions for teaching and research in medicine,  science and  technology;   expansion of civil aviation, sea ports, highways, railways and public transport systems;  implementation of land reforms, consolidation of holdings and   security of tenure to the actual tillers; construction of large dams and irrigation systems which later enabled the phenomenal success of the Green Revolution; enhancement of power generation and steel and cement production; establishment of Space and Atomic Energy Commissions and many other visionary initiatives which paved the way for the many creditable  advancements which our country has been able to achieve in the recent years.  During this period, besides Pakistani’s aggression  in Kashmir  immediately after Independence,     the country faced war  on three occasions. While we had to accept humiliation in the 1962 conflict with China our military  acquitted themselves  with great honour  in the 1965 and 1971   wars with Pakistan.  

*  

Around the end of the 1960s the Congress party, which had continuously ruled at the Centre and in most of the States since Independence, was faced with serious  internal feuds  and dissensions.    Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s determination not to yield office and  authority, at any cost, led to the enforcement of Emergency  during   1975-77.  This regrettable period witnessed the infringement  of  the rule of law and the  Constitution   and  severe damage being done to the functioning of the  cabinet system.  

While there may have been  no dearth of corruption  in the earlier years, the period of Emergency saw the growth of a most unwholesome link-up  between dishonest politicians and the brand new breed of  unprincipled officials,  the so called “committed” civil servants who pledged loyalty not to the Constitution but to the ideology of their  political  masters.  The wanton abrogation  of  laws, policies  and the  well laid down  systems led to the emergence  of extra constitutional elements who played  unlawful roles in governmental functioning,   both at the Centre and in the States.

The post Emergency period was marked by the growth of political instability and rapid changes in the ruling hierarchies at the Centre.  During 1991-2004 the country faced five elections to the Parliament   and six Prime Ministers were at   the helm in this short period.   The  1980s and 1990s  also witnessed the   exposure of a series of murky corruption scandals which involved allegations against the senior most echelons in the polity, including the Prime Minister of India.  In the States, at   about the same time,  there were  alarming cases of corruption and gross abuse of authority which  involved high ranking civil and police officers, ministers and chief ministers. 

 *  

A look back  at the evolution of  the polity    would show  that while the elections  in the past decades  have  not  been   related  to contests  between differing ideologies or to opposite positions  in  respect of important public issues, there has, nonetheless,   been an enormous growth in the number of political organisations all over the country.     In  1951, at the time of the first General Elections,  there were only 54 National and State  Parties and  today  we  have  8  National,   53   State     and  2538 Unrecognised   Political   Parties  registered  with  the   Election  Commission of India!  Besides this  highly wasteful  proliferation, another  alarming  phenomenon which has taken root relates to the extremely damaging   role which money and muscle power have been playing in elections at all levels in the country.  Among many other adverse consequences,  this has enabled  candidates with criminal backgrounds to gain entry  into the State Legislatures and the Central Parliament. 

 While the Legislature  and the Judiciary are vital organs of the Constitution,  the Executive is perhaps the most important  pillar as all our nearly 1.38 billion people, in their day to day existence, have to approach one or the other wing of the governmental machinery  for the resolution of their  grievances.  The Executive comprises the elected representatives, i.e.  the political Executive,  and the public servants who are  the appointed or the permanent Executive.     For the past many years  now the functioning of the Executive  has been on the decline.   Among the  varied  factors which  have led to its continuing failures  and  which,  in turn, have resulted in  delaying   the   achievement  of  crucial   nation building goals,  perhaps the most damaging have been those  generated by manipulative politics,  politicisation and interference in the working of the administrative apparatus,  unchecked growth of  corruption and unaccountability. 

 The unfettered inter-play of corrupt and unlawful practices   has resulted in severely eroding both the capacity and the credibility  of  the  governmental machinery.  Leave aside ensuring the efficient functioning of the key institutions of governance, it is  regrettable that  even the  management   of  the day to day  public dealing  offices and agencies has   been  invariably  entrusted  not to functionaries  of  proven merit and integrity but  to those who are generally  selected on considerations  of caste, community    or  proximity  to the  political masters.    Continuing deficiencies in the  delivery of important  public services has led to enormous  dissatisfaction among the people,  but to no avail.  

 *  

Unceasing political meddling in the orderly  working of the governmental  apparatus   has  generated  indiscipline, inefficiency, corruption  and   unaccountability among the employees.  Functionaries who carry out unlawful orders and collect funds on behalf of their political masters, as well as for themselves, are not accountable to anyone, least of all to their hierarchical superiors who dare not question such elements.    In such an  environment   the  common man is the worst sufferer;  his grievances remain unheard as he cannot pay bribes.   

  Political interference in the working of the  police organizations in the states has caused  irreparable damage to the discipline, morale and professionalism of these  forces.   Instead of being  allowed to work unfettered and being held fully accountable for enforcing  the law and maintaining  public order, for which they  were  by law established,  the constabularies have been  misused for carrying out unlawful behests and,  over the years,  they have got   mixed up with the very elements whose criminal activities they are duty bound to check and bring before the law.    A grave consequence of this situation has been the    progressive deterioration in the  maintenance of law and order and, consequently,  the virtually unchecked growth of criminality.   The police has acquired a  frighteningly negative image and the common man is mortally  afraid of visiting a police station even if for no better reason than to report the commission of a serious crime which he may have  witnessed.

With  known criminal elements  enjoying the protection and patronage of powerful elements in the ruling hierarchies,  a  “criminal nexus”   between  the polity, corrupt public servants  and the mafia  networks has been functioning for the past many years now.  In this context it may be recalled that,  consequent to the serial bombings in Mumbai in early 1993,  Prime Minister Narasimha Rao had directed  the Union Home Secretary to  take stock of the activities of Crime Syndicates and Mafia organisations which  were being protected by government  functionaries and political personalities    with whom they had developed links.      Essentially, the Prime Minister  was anxious  to know the circumstances in  which  the mafia    had been able to   transport   large quantities of  explosives into the city of Mumbai  and freely carry   out serial  bomb blasts in the financial capital of India.     The Home Secretary  submitted his report in early October  1993.  Nearly three decades have since elapsed.  The action taken on the findings in this  report,  which has generally been referred to as the “Vohra Committee Report”,  is not in the public domain.   However,   meanwhile, the criminal nexus  has    enormously extended its reach in several parts of the country and become many times  more powerful. 

 It is equally unfortunate that the Enforcement Directorate (ED), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), the apex central agencies which deal  with complaints of corruption against public servants, are no longer looked upon as credible professional agencies whose functioning is  beyond the pale of political pressures and extra-legal influences.   The sharp   decline   in the integrity   of these vital   institutions  has led to the general  belief  that    the rich and the wealthy, who provide funds to successive political regimes at the Centre and in the States, and persons who hold high public offices, are beyond the reach of the law,  no matter  how  serious the crime   which they  may have committed.   In this context   it may be recalled that  in 1997 the Chief Justice of India (CJI),  Justice J.S. Verma, while hearing a case involving a bunch  of corruption scandals,    had directed the Union of India to set up an Independent Review  Committee (IRC) to examine the manner in which  personnel  were appointed to run the ED and CBI and to also review  the functioning of these agencies.    The IRC Report, drafted by me, was accepted by the CJI and   all  its  important recommendations were reflected in the Judgement in  the  well known case of “Vineet Narain and ORs vs Union of India” (1997).    The concerned  echelons  in the Government  of India  may  benefit by revisiting the IRC Report.  

Successive governments at the Centre, irrespective of their political complexion, have failed to enforce  an effective pan India law to curb corruption at the highest levels,  including the Prime Minister of the country.  The proposal to appoint a Lok Pal was mooted   almost half a century ago.  Several draft bills were  examined and endlessly debated by successive Parliamentary Committees and expert groups till  the Lokpal Bill  was finally passed.   Consequently,  after   delay   and dithering  for several   decades, the incumbent government at the Centre  appointed the first Lok Pal in early 2019.     Sadly,    till today, there is no indication   whether and when   this important  institution  is  likely to become  functional.     

 *

 The successive governments in the States have  not been able to   satisfactorily discharge their mandated role of providing  clean and efficient governance.  There has been failure to maintain  public order and achieving  rapid growth  and development for  equitably promoting the welfare of all their people.     It is  shameful that, from year to year, even  the outlays earmarked for executing  schemes and programmes  which are specially conceived for poverty alleviation  have continued to  remain  unspent   or got    embezzled  and   eaten-up.  Needless to stress, the  Executive has not succeeded in discharging its  responsibilities   constitutionally, to the satisfaction  of the   people. 

The Legislature has  also failed to  effectively deliver  its   constitutional    role  of passing wholesome  laws which would  empower the people, specially the weaker sections  of the society;  strengthen  the framework of the rural and urban self-governing institutions; enhance the efficiency and accountability of the public services; and protect  the  common man  from  suffering  from hunger or want.    It has  also failed to act as the parliamentary watchdog of the   Executive’s  functioning.   Another alarming  development    has been that almost one third of the total strength   of the Legislatures  in the country  is  represented   by persons   of unseemly backgrounds  and   known involvement  in  criminal offences.   This despicable phenomenon,  generally referred to as the “criminalisation of the polity”, has degraded the Legislature  and adversely  affected its functioning.    

 The continuing  shortcomings  in the   functioning of the Executive and the Legislature  have  thwarted rapid growth and development and the  achievement of important nation building goals.    Among the many   shameful  consequences of this failure:  India ranks   129th among  189 countries in the  Human Development Index, published by the United National Development Programme in 2019   Equally  deplorable:  India continues   to retain  an elevated position in the global ranking of the “most corrupt countries.”  In the 2019 report of the Transparency   International our country was at the 80th position  among    180 countries  listed under the  Global Corruption  Perception Index.      

Besides corruption,   which has ruined  the very foundations  of our society,  growing inequality is another worrying challenge.  While the ten fold increase in the per capita incomes  achieved in the past years  is an encouraging development, it cannot be ignored  that, as per a   recent assessment, one per cent of the richest in our country  possess sixty per cent of the total national wealth   of which  only 2 % is owned by the entire bottom half of our population!   Needless to stress, meaningful steps require to be taken to timely reduce  the stark socioeconomic disparities which exist today.     

 Every year  the annual reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and of the Public Accounts Committees of the Parliament and the State Legislatures bring out substantive information   about the manner   in which scarce public funds,  allocated for achieving  important economic and human   development goals,  remain only partly spent or are  mis-spent and   even eaten up.   It is  indeed most regrettable  that   none of these reports  have so far  resulted in reducing corruption or  sending the offenders to jails. 

Social activist  groups,  NGOs and the media have been perennially exposing  scandals and cases  of corruption which involve  political persons and public servants  holding high positions.     In many cases the  higher courts have also been passing  strictures against  the concerned governmental agencies  for their failure to  investigate   and prosecute   those involved in serious cases of fraud, embezzlement and corruption.  It is unfortunate  that   these various interventions have not so far led to deterring the  corrupt  and criminal elements.  

Recurring failures  in the functioning of the governmental apparatus, corruption,  criminalisation of the polity and the unchecked  enlargement of the “criminal  nexus”   could perhaps have been controlled  and contained if the Judiciary   had remained intact and effective.  Unfortunately,  the functioning of the judicial system  has also got grievously impaired,   alongside the downward slide  of the Executive    and the Legislature.  Interference in the functioning of the judicial framework,   side by side  with the politicisation  of the state police organisations,  has adversely affected the functioning of the entire  system, particularly  the effective delivery of criminal justice.  

Governance cannot be effectively delivered unless the    laws of the land are  fearlessly  enforced,  public order is maintained and the safety and security of all the people is assured.   And such an  objective can be achieved only when  the entire criminal justice system,  including the police and the prosecution,     functions  with efficiency,   speed    and fairness.      However, presently, the   capability   and the very integrity of the system   are being questioned.  

Reportedly, nearly forty million   cases continue to await  trials   in courts all over the country,   including   the higher judiciary.   As per  the National Crime Research Bureau’s   Report of 2018 :  nearly  4.5 million cases  were pending    trials    in the various High Courts.    Justice delayed is not only justice denied but also breeds disregard of the law.   No wonder then, as reflected in the National Crime Research Bureau’s Report of 2018, on an average,  289  kidnappings,   91 rapes   and 80 murders are being committed    in our country every day.  

It is cause for even greater concern that besides the many serious organisational and logistical  deficiencies  which plague  the functioning of the justice system, there have also been growing complaints   about the   inadequacies in the  competence and integrity of the judicial cadres.   In the recent past,   the independence and integrity  of judges,  even up to the august level of the Chief Justice of India, have been the subject of serious allegations.     This has  generated a   widespread perception    that the gaps   in the judicial apparatus have already   resulted   in weakening   both the will  and capacity   of the superior judiciary to fearlessly enforce   the Constitution.   In the context  of the failures   of the Executive   and the Legislature,   a weakened Judiciary,   with cracks appearing in the highest echelons,   is cause    for great anxiety.    

*

 It is the Union’s crucial  responsibility to ensure that national security is  effectively  managed at all times, and on all fronts. For  the past many years  now,  the geo-political environment  in our immediate neighbourhood  has been generating unceasing  security challenges.  Pakistan’s proxy war in J&K has now continued for nearly three decades  and, side by side,   terrorist groups and adversary external agencies have been vigorously pursuing  their agenda  to  destabilize our country  by   spreading religious fundamentalism, inciting communal conflicts   and  perpetrating   violent  disturbances.  

 It is regrettable  that,  despite the continuance of serious security threats to our country, the States  have been questioning   the Union’s authority  in the arena of national security management.   Among other matters, the States have been perennially raising  issues   about the competence  and jurisdiction   of the   National Investigating Agency (NIA),  the only  central institution which has been investigating and prosecuting terrorist crimes since its  hurried  establishment in 2009.  

 It may be recalled that following Pakistan’s  terror  attacks in Mumbai,  on our Parliament  and on the Air Force Base  in Pathankot,    there  was heightened concern,  all over the country, to enlarge and  strengthen the national security management apparatus.    While there have since been several positive developments,  we are  still in  the process   of establishing    the required pan India  legal and logistical frameworks which would  enable the  Union and the States to set up and efficiently operate a  country wide network  of inter-connected  institutions    which shall be  responsible for effectively safeguarding both internal and external security which have got inextricably intertwined ever since Pakistan launched its proxy war in J&K.   

 The State governments  should know  that terrorist networks do not recognize  geographical or territorial boundaries;  even if operating from long distances they can strike at their  will,  with lightening speed. It  is necessary  that the Union  Government loses no more time in  securing   the  essential  understandings with the States to urgently establish the required security management framework and, particularly, to enact a comprehensive  anti-terror law which has pan-India jurisdiction.    Side by side, we must   have a competent federal agency,  manned   by highly trained personnel, which  can  take immediate cognizance  and forthwith  proceed to investigate any  terror offence,  no matter in which part of the country it takes place,  without having to lose  any time whatsoever in   seeking     clearances   from any quarter.    Further, no more time should be lost in establishing a powerful central  agency,  and a country wide network of competent  counter-organisations,  to combat cyber offences and  protect  all our vital establishments  and national assets against cyber attacks from any quarter.                              

 *  

 Experience  in the  post Independence   period  has amply demonstrated      that,  other things   being equal,   meaningful  growth and development   is  achieved  when there is political stability and  public order is maintained  in the country.   Needless to mention,  domestic entrepreneurs and foreign companies  shall make investments and be able to function profitably only if  peace and normalcy  prevails  in the land.   For securing  such an environment it is imperative that the governance  apparatus works  with speed and efficiency,    law and order is effectively maintained, corruption is controlled and the well being and  safety of all our  people is safeguarded.    Thus, briefly, if  progress  is to be achieved on all fronts and our country  is to  advance rapidly  towards the attainment of  its awowed goals, then  it is of the highest importance that clean and efficient governance is delivered  and an environment  of trust, safety and security  prevails across the land.    

For  calm and normalcy   to obtain  in the country  the Union Government shall need to  ensure that   the States effectively  maintain  law and order  and see   that  no incident is allowed to occur  which can   disturb  communal harmony,  trigger  internal disturbances   or  adversely impact   national security    in any manner.    However,   in  the arena of security management,  as the situation has evolved  over  the years,    the States  have  not been adequately mindful of   the advisories   which they  receive  from the central agencies.      In this context,   the Union  Government shall  need to take timely  initiatives for forging    sound understandings with all the States, irrespective of the complexion of the political parties  in power in various parts of the country.   Towards this objective,  it would be beneficial  if the Union,  making   full use of the constitutional  instrumentality  of the Inter State Council,   initiates  dialogues  with the States for timely resolving all obtaining and  arising problems. Side by side, the Union Government should also   proactively promote  the settlement of festering  inter-state disputes which have been sapping the national strength for decades.  For  achieving tangible outcomes   the Union Government  would need   to   pursue  fair,  objective and clearly non-partisan  approaches, particularly while  seeking  to resolve issues  relating    to the safety,  security and welfare of the minority communities.  

          *

  Almost every other day we see media reports about the outstanding successes achieved by engineers,  scientists, doctors, and others of Indian origin who are living and working  in various parts of the world.   It needs being noted that the glorious achievements of such persons are  not merely due   to their superior competence  and high commitment but also to the fact  that they operate  in an un-interfering work environment which recognizes  merit and rewards performance.    On the other hand, in our own country, the efficiency and productivity of our public servants and professionals is far below optimum, perhaps even outrightly unsatisfactory  in certain organisations,   because  the  establishments in which they function are eroded, in varying degrees,  by political interference,  indiscipline, nepotism, corruption and unaccountability.       

Notwithstanding  our various failures,    about which I have spoken briefly, it is creditable that, in the period since Independence, India has been able to achieve growth on many fronts.   To cite  a few  examples: our life expectancy has increased from 31 years in 1947  to 69 years in 2017; the literacy rate has risen from 12% (1947) to 73% (2011),  and the infant mortality rate (IMR), which was very adverse earlier,  now stands at 33 per every 1000 live births (2017).

 In the field of agricultural production: while in the earlier years  we faced famines and were almost wholly dependent on imported food-grains it is a matter for rejoicing   that today we are among the leading  exporters of food commodities  in the world.   It is equally praiseworthy that our  scientific and technical manpower pool is the second largest in the world and we are among the top in the arena of space and nuclear technologies.  While we do not stand very high   in  industrial growth, it is noteworthy    that we rank among the major world economies   which  have been  achieving   the fastest growth rates.    We also take pride   in  possessing the third largest military forces   in the world.     

        *  

 While I have  referred to  certain satisfying or even cheering aspects of India’s growth trajectory in the past decades  it needs being understood that the size  of our democracy   or  of our fast growing economy may not, by themselves,  be enough to enable our country to achieve  its  envisaged   goals.  If we aspire to emerge as a strong and prosperous nation, all of whose people are free from hunger or want,  then we shall need to take rapid steps to root out  poverty and inequality,    establish communal harmony and foster  a  societal environment in which all our people, particularly the minority communities,  live  without want or fear of any kind. 

 On account of the time constraint,   it would not be possible     to dilate   on all the challenges  which require the attention   of our polity.  However, I shall speak briefly  about  one or two matters, which deserve  urgent attention. 

  *   

  First and foremost,   if stability and public order are  to be maintained and rapid  advancement  achieved  on all fronts,  we just cannot afford to have recurring incidents of communal disturbances of the kind we recently  witnessed in the national capital, which resulted  in violence, killings and large scale property  losses. It is cause for grave concern that, as  widely reported in the media,  these disturbances    occurred because the beliefs and socio-cultural practices   of  one community were allowed to be questioned and derided   by political elements  of another community,  essentially with the  objective of creating religious divisiveness.  

 It must be remembered   that, besides   resulting in the immediate    loss of innocent lives and large economic losses, every  incident of communal violence also leads to many longer term consequences: it generates suspicion, fear and hatred    among people of different castes  and faiths and lays the seeds of discords which may not be bridged  for generations to come.   Also, as  was the case  in the Delhi incidents,   such occurrences  create an   irreparable divide  among people of  different religions  who had  been living happily together,  in the same  clusters  and colonies, for decades past.    Sadly, the communal virus,  once it gets into the societal blood stream, is extremely difficult  to eradicate. 

It is singularly unfortunate that efforts have also been made to inject the cancer of    discord and divisiveness in educational institutions.  In the recent past, two eminent universities in the national capital   witnessed ugly clashes  and    unprecedented  violence  in  the campuses,   besides irreparable disruption of their academic schedules.      It is regrettable  that instead of providing the best opportunities to the student community and fully exploiting India’s youthful demographic profile  to achieve  rapid economic gains,  efforts are being made to  misdirect   the  youth to  create   separateness  for  securing electoral  advantages.

*  

 Whenever questioned about the failure of governmental functioning, it has become customary for the Ministers, particularly in the States, to lay the entire blame on the misdeeds of the “bureaucracy” or “civil servants”,  by which they  actually intend  to refer to officers of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS).   

 We have a total of about  5200 IAS officers who are deployed  all over the country.  While accurate figures are not readily available it is assessed that   perhaps there are  about 40-50 million functionaries in the country who are employed by the Union Govt, State Govts, Union Territory Administrations, Central and State Public Sector Undertakings, Public Sector Banks, Defence Services, Municipalities and Urban Local Bodies, Panchayati Raj Institutions  and varied other institutions which are supported by State or Central funds.  For the purpose of discussion   I would call  the entire lot of   these employees   as   “public servants”  as all of them, from the village level Patwari to the Union Cabinet Secretary, get paid from public funds.  Of the total strength of  public servants in the country   perhaps  less than 1%  are generalists, like the IAS and the State Civil Services,   while the entire remainder lot represent  professional cadres which contain school, college and university level teachers, police forces, defence services, bankers, engineers, scientists, technologists, doctors, foresters,  judges and magistrates,  and all those  who work in  various other professional arenas.  

 All public servants,  belonging to different services in the States  and at the Centre, are deployed in various departments and organizations   which function under the control of the concerned Ministers who are members of the  Union or the State Cabinets.    Thus, briefly, it is the elected or the political Executive, headed by the Chief Minister in the State and by the Prime Minister at the Centre, which is constitutionally responsible for the governance of the country and,consequently, answerable for any failure in the functioning of the administrative  system within their respective jurisdictions.   The entire gamut of public servants, including the  senior most I.A.S. officers,  work under the control and direction of Ministers, who may hold charge of one or more departments.  Thus, if there is any fault or failure in the functioning of a given department, it would be the concerned Minister who shall be  answerable,  individually  and collectively  as a member of  the Cabinet.   In case the Secretary of the Department    or any other functionary  is found to be at fault,  then he  shall face due punishment, which could  even include removal from service. 

I have commented on  the Minister – Public  Servant relationship   to particularly  point out that the elected leaders who are in authority,  at the Centre  and    in the States,  cannot flippantly brush away  their constitutional responsibilities  merely by passing the blame to  the failings of public servants   who function directly under their control and supervision.   As per  the constitutional framework  it is the  responsibility  of the political    Executive to run the  governance apparatus. 

*   

Accountability is the foundation of the rule of law and  constitutional governance.  The working of the governmental  apparatus shall become efficient only when the functioning  of every Minister,   and of all the officials who work in the departments under his control,  becomes accountable.   However,    as it happens, barring a very small percentage, most of the elected persons  who become Ministers have no earlier experience in administration, much less of formulating and implementing policies.   Also,  sadly,  most of them do not have the urge, and perhaps not even the capacity,  to put  in the required  effort to adequately  understand the working   of the  departments placed  under  their charge, identify problems which require solution,   take sound decisions and ensure the  timely achievement   of the targeted goals.   Instead, from day one,  Ministers  get accustomed to excercising authority in an arbitrary  manner  and remain  perennially engaged   in ordering postings  and transfers  to favour functionaries  who will collect funds and carry out their unlawful   directions.   Even worse, they pressurise and influence the officers working under them   to see that contracts  for sales, purchases or other matters which involve financial dealings are illegally awarded to persons  whom the Minister  wants to favour.  It is this manner of unethical and irregular functioning   which has led to promoting corruption and failures  in the functioning of the administrative apparatus,  besides  seriously  eroding   the discipline and accountability of the public services. 

*   

 Due to the politization  of the administrative system  a certain percentage of officials,  of various services,  have climbed  the political band wagon and  unawkwardly   flaunt  their loyalties to powerful elected leaders.  The honest officials are  invariably side lined and the functioning  of many others   is  severely constrained by the  threats which   emanate from the ‘criminal nexus’  which conveys directions how certain important matters should be decided.     Corrupt public servants are not afraid    of the law as  they are protected by their political masters.  Past experience   has repeatedly   shown that the existing   punishment and appeal systems  relating to the  cadres of the various services   in the country do not deter  the dishonest functionaries.   A speedier  and  perhaps more punitive approach is required to deal with corruption   among government employees.   However, the public services shall start mending only when  the  political  Executive starts functioning constitutionally    and  every Minister starts enforcing accountability, answerability and timely achievement of the departmental goals and targets  in all the organisations   which work under his charge.    

For improving the functioning  of the administrative apparatus it is necessary to create an environment   in which every public servant   functions  fearlessly,   discharges   his duties  with efficiency and  is  enabled to  gain advancements  in service on the basis of his proven performance  and integrity.  Towards this objective it would be beneficial if   the  senior echelons  of all services  -- generalists, specialists, scientists, technologists, military leaders and all others who assist   and work with Cabinet  Ministers—are allowed to work with  total independence, without being constrained  by fear or pressure from any quarter.   For rendering sound and objective advice it is of vital importance that the functioning of the senior most public servants remains conspicuously apolitical.  

 Many of the serious problems which face us today, including  worrying  internal security  challenges,   arise   from  corruption,  mismanagement  and unaccountability.  It is, therefore,  of prime  importance that the Executive functions constitutionally  and ensures   that the various developmental and welfare programmes are efficiently implemented to alleviate the lot of each and every poverty stricken family,    special attention   being    given to ensure that the problems of the tribal and other communities who live in remote   and unconnected areas are handled with utmost care and sensitivity.   

In this context it may be  recalled   that  Naxalism, which at one time was  labelled   by the Union Home Ministry  as the most serious   threat to the Indian state, was born and  took  root in several  parts of the country where the tribal and other local communities  had faced neglect and severe economic deprivation for long years.   Having been   denied access  to resources,  even to the natural  produce  of the    forests   in which   they lived,     these people  took to extremism and rose against the established system.  Several decades have since elapsed and the Indian state is still combating with its own people,  whom we call   the Naxals.  

We have no more time to  lose  in putting our house in order.  The millions of  our   long neglected, oppressed  and poverty stricken people  may not wait endlessly for their sufferings to end.   Their anger and despair may lead them to the path of confrontation.   And if such an unfortunate consequence   emerges, it may not  be possible to control   the  arising disorder merely through the application of force – an approach   which has been unsuccessfully followed  for decades now.  

 As I had stated earlier,   the numerous and far spread communities which comprise  our vast population  represent   indescribable   religious,   linguistic and cultural differences  which make   India a land of unbounded  diversities.  These differences  and divergencies were  sensitively    recognised by the  founding fathers      of our Constitution  when they   set out the rights   and privileges  of citizens   and the Directive Principles  of State Policy.  

In their public speeches   and statements  political  leaders    invariably refer to the several thousand years  of our country’s civilizational   past and express rightful pride in pointing to the enormous   strength  we draw from   our “Unity in Diversity”.   However,  it appears that,  as a people,   our sensitivities   to   the manifold   diversities in  our society  have been getting progressively  dimmed.  This  erosion is due to certain political parties  creating  divisiveness among the castes and religions of our people to secure   electoral gains.   

As  mentioned earlier,  we need stability,  calm and normalcy   in the country  to achieve rapid growth,   eradicate poverty and inequality and advance towards becoming an economically and militarily  strong nation.  In this perspective   we cannot afford any disruption of communal harmony which,  as has been repeatedly  demonstrated, leads to devastating consequences.  Instead, we must maintain sustained  societal harmony and draw strength  by reviving our traditional   forbearance  of  the differences  in race, religion,  language and culture  which  embrace  our vast population.    

In  recent years,   in the search   of jobs,  young men and women  in  different parts of our country  have moved far away from  their homes .   Today, we have Mizo, Naga and Manipuri youth working in the mountains of J&K and in the deserts of Rajasthan and   Panjabis and Haryanavis  working in Kerala and the Andamans.    This is a most  welcome development   as it helps to promote cultural   integration.   It is our duty to educate  our children  about  the background and cultures of the people they have never seen before.  They  must learn  to respect not only  their religions, cultures and languages  but also the  eating habits,   clothing styles  and even the hair-cut patterns of the many new  faces we are getting to see and meet every day.  

 In the recent  years there have been ugly incidents arising from    caste and religion  clashes,  kangaroo trials and road side lynchings.  No government  must allow such  incidents   to  recur, ever again.     I would re-iterate that  hatred and intolerance provide  an assured route to disruption  and  chaos. 

 *     

Our polity must recognize  the dangers  which lie ahead if the faults in the functioning of the governance apparatus are   not  remedied  soon.    Taking stock of the   existing failures  and   the arising challenges   the Executive   and the Legislature  must   urgently commence discharging  their true   constitutional roles.  And the Judiciary should  not wait any more  to  fully regain  its supreme responsibility   to defend, protect   and fearlessly enforce   the Constitution.   The very long pending     electoral reforms,  which are required to remedy the many ills from which our democratic framework  is suffering,  must be implemented with  the highest  priority.  Side by side, the polity   must  accept the need for  self-purification,   a thorough cleaning up of the entire  administrative machinery and reforming   the functioning of the multitudinous  minions  of the state.

It shall require enormous political  will  and unflinching  determination    to carry though the required reforms,   without which we cannot deliver  satisfactory  governance    to the people of India.   One hopes  that our polity will  muster courage and  pick up the gauntlet. 

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