The inheritance of maladies

Corruption goes hand in hand with sycophancy. These maladies are eating into the vitals of our democracy like a galloping cancer.

Liberty, equality and fraternity are the hallmarks of democracy, while feudalism is its antithesis. The founding fathers of our Constitution chose a democratic polity. Lately, we have been shedding democratic values both in letter and spirit. Our MPs have demanded red lights atop their cars and the protocol status of Chief Justices of high courts.
During the British rule, red lights atop cars or car flags were restricted to the head of state, the viceroy at the Centre and governors in provinces. Generals and their equivalents in the other two services flew car flags and had red beacons on cars.

No police officer or civil official was authorised these. In the UK, only the sovereign has a red beacon atop his car and flies a flag known as the royal standard. Even the Prime Minister in the UK does not fly a car flag or have a red light on his car. Ambulance and police patrol vehicles, of course, have red and blue lights respectively. Today innumerable dignitaries in our country use red lights and car flags. Numerous police officers use blue lights and car flags. With 900 MPs and a host of others having red lights atop their cars, terrorists have scope to take advantage of this. The craze for car beacons and flags is a mockery of the spirit of democracy. The Congress opposed titles that the British doled out as they considered them badges of slavery. On Independence, we decided to abolish titles but to continue with gallantry awards, as is the practice in the US. Nearly a decade after Independence we introduced the Padma series of titles. Being an old Congressman, Morarji Desai, during his prime ministership, abolished titles, but they were revived after his regime. All this may appear trivial but it has a bearing on the spirit of democracy.
A matter of great concern is the introduction of dynastic rule, an anathema in a democracy. All the great stalwarts who made great sacrifices during the freedom struggle and came to power after 1947, with one exception, refrained from dynastic practices. After three generations-plus of rule over the country, the Congress appears set to induct the fourth generation as the head of government. The progenies of old loyalists have also been inducted into the power structure, reminiscent of a feudal court.
Political parties, except the BJP and the Communists, have merrily adopted the dynastic code. There have been two states in which the father has been chief minister and the son deputy chief minister, besides other family members holding political office. Along with this, the culture of sycophancy has become rampant in public life. In his address to the Constituent Assembly on March 23, 1949, Dr B.R. Ambedkar had stated, “Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul, but in politics bhakti, or hero worship, is a sure road to degeneration and eventual dictatorship.” The late Giri Lal Jain, a senior and respected journalist, had warned that sycophants in the past have devoured empires and emperors. Corruption goes hand in hand with sycophancy. These maladies are eating into the vitals of our democracy like a galloping cancer and destroying the structure of governance.
In the early years, the British administration was highly corrupt. Heads of government were deeply involved in corruption and so was the bureaucracy. Civil servants, who were nominees of the directors of the East India Company, were allowed to do private business. To put an end to corruption, the British had no hesitation in proceeding against their heads of government in India. Robert Clive was impeached and so was Warren Hastings. Civil servants were forbidden to indulge in private trade. University graduates, on the basis of merit through competitive examinations, started being recruited as civil servants.
The administration at the higher levels was corruption-free but the malady persisted at the lower level. Today we have widespread corruption from top to bottom with very few exceptions. Corrupt politicians have infected bureaucrats. The latter, wanting undue favours, readily become willing accomplices. The civil servants, known to have been the steel frame of the administration, have become malleable alloy. Sycophancy is now widespread. Civil servants render advice in keeping with the views of their superiors. Sardar Patel was not only the great integrator of the nation but also a great administrator. He wanted civil servants serving under him to give him independent advice without hesitation, even if they knew it to be contrary to his views. But once he took a decision he demanded its implementation with implicit loyalty. Both in the British days and during the early years of Indian independence, the bureaucracy functioned in this manner. But this started changing when Indira Gandhi called for a committed bureaucracy. I belong to a generation which has personal experience of administrative functioning both during British rule and in independent India. Indian officers showed greater independence during British rule than they do now. I quote an incident to underscore this point. In 1977, as the head of military intelligence, I was a member of the Joint Intelligence Committee along with my counterparts in the Intelligence Bureau and RAW. The IB presented its assessment of election results — a Congress sweep — if an election were to be held during the Emergency. Indira Gandhi may have been influenced by this assessment. We all know what followed and how the Congress was completely routed.
Today all eyes are set on the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections next month. Its outcome will have a tremendous impact on the political scenario. The contest appears to be between a dictator-like leader obsessed with putting up statues of herself and two heirs apparent. Irrespective of which party wins, feudalism might remain triumphant. In spite of the dark political scenario, I am an optimist. All political leaders are not corrupt and devoid of values. We still have honest politicians with integrity. Our human resource material is good. I have faith in our nation’s destiny. A suitable political leadership will eventually emerge to take the nation out of the present quagmire and banish the feudal streak in our democracy to usher in a new dawn.

The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir

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