The Sceptre of Good Governance / Ram Rajya

We swear by it, but it scares us no end. Though we have thrown the keys of those locked cupboards after hiding paper skeletons in them, and hoped to begin afresh on a new slate; yet a nagging fear lurks in case those long shelf-life skeletons become bony and start knocking from within?

A courtesy call by a vigilance sub-inspector, who he is grinning all the while, is enough to make us hate the thought of re-opening a past that we had studiously forgotten so well.

But the veterans of unarmed bureaucratic warfare know well that even if the time tested weapons of buying out the grinning tormentors fail, there are more reliable juridical pathways that assure unending purgatory.

But times are a changing and who knows, with all those flailing youth in the streets, the trusted old ways may actually run into reforms?

A simple reform like general withdrawl of chauffeur driven sarkari cars (which will save the Exchequer several millions a day), can trigger a country wide paralytic stroke of such stupendous bureaucratic import that no government, elected on false election promises and genuine black money, would ever dream of entertaining such suicidal certainties.

It is easier to raise diesel and LPG prices despite Mamta Banerjee, yet not touch ridiculously low railway fares because of Mamta didi.

The vice of punctuality is a devil-send. How it can upset so many god fearing souls out on extended morning walks or on their regular trips to the hospital. Having to reach on time somewhere like for an interview or an appointment with the dentist is about the limit of being punctual.

But coming to work on time, unless you are with sweat shops or multinationals or a housemaid, is an invitation to premature hypertension, debilitating stress and psychological disorientation, that is bound to lead to severe disruption of the long practiced and assiduously cultivated leisure rhythms that are the special perks of senior babudom; and, surreptitiously behind the recurring demand for increase in retirement age.

In moments of temporary insanity, the usual disposition, when important policy decisions are made, some of the more zealous of the lot brought in bio-metric machines to enforce punctuality among the hard pressed, subaltern orders.

For political correctness the masters were not expected to dirty their index fingers. Of course the horror story of punctuality has a flip side too; leaving work whenever and for whatever reason remains the sole inalienable privilege of the babu.

The Education Industry: Another way of looking at high literacy levels is to view them as high un-employability levels.

There is no dearth of work in this country. But before we can do anything with these schools / colleges that churn out armies of unemployables every year; what can we possibly do with teachers’ trade unions that can strike work more often than Air India pilots and as every pradhan knows, are key political agents in any rural vote bank arithmetic?

What was understood as “good” education has always been in private hands, but with prohibitive land prices and soaring infrastructural costs private players in education are forced to exploit the market with quick money making ventures like coaching centres, academies for the hopeless and the like.

The state school education boards on the other hand ensure that no school can function smoothly without regularly paying incremental honoraria in cash to renew annual certification. But is it so impossible to hold school examinations where cheating is not allowed to happen?

Ironically, a simple, ethical reform of this nature could transform into a hellish nightmare for teachers, pupils and parents alike. For most it would make the Idea of Education irrelevant.

Discretion is subtle and pervades nearly all human transactions and interaction. In the right hands discretion can be an enabling tool; in other hands it can wreck havoc on human sensibilities and the idea of fair play and equitability.

We have learnt the hard way that it is better to have less and less discretion in governance. Yet discretionary quotas of all sorts and import persist: whether in allotment of flats and plots to relatives or the connected, or in allowing domestic LPG connections for commercial purposes or discretionary use of MPLAD funds.

The trouble with discretion is that it cannot be transparent, which condition underlines good governance.

So where will reforms begin; with unemployable youth, the perplexed and much harried middle aged proletariat or those atoning (post retirement) for having unashamedly prospered in government / elected jobs to the fullest?

Reforms forced on us by the World Bank- IMF combine or their multinational alter egos have gotten us this far only.

We remain one of the world’s oldest, poorest, most under nourished and badly governed country with the biggest black moneyed democracy that ensures non-contestation by the impecunious upright. And the gaps are set to widen, with or without FDI in retail.

Does all this have something to do with our collective, cultural fixation with inequality? We are all born unequal. Surely the order of things must maintain this historical, congenital inequality? So what if the Constitution and the Laws say otherwise?

How else do we interpret the continued suppression of women, the lower castes, the genuine tribal and all others born less equal or conversely, the near guaranteed good life to those of high birth and the rich? Alternatively, does resistance to reform have something to do with the fear of the Known?

As Khalil Gibran said, “One can forgive children who are afraid of the Dark; the tragedy is when men are afraid of the Light.”

Nodnat - is a pen name that the writer with deep knowledge of Himalayan flora and fauna and a keen environmentalist has adopted. He hails from Kotgarh, in Shimla Hills and retired as Principal Chief Conservator of Forests from Himachal Pradesh forest department.

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