By Narendra Nayak
Mangalore, August 15, 2013: These were the famous words used as the title of a handbook for consumer activists by Dr.K.P.S.Kamath, who had started the Consumers’ Forum, Udupi one of the first consumer rights organizations in this area and had organized the people in our district to take up issues concerning consumer rights, human rights and most importantly fighting corruption in public life. On the occasion of the 67th independence day, as I am writing this, I am forced to think about this relationship- the master- servant one!
Before independence, the country was ruled by the rajas, the maharajas and their local minions- the feudal lords including the zamindars and such. The British took over this system and utilized it to further their agenda-ruling the country with an iron hand and using it to further their own colonial ambitions. To the existing system they added their own loyalists as administrators for the kings and then the ICS for the areas under their direct control. This supposed to be the iron frame which kept the empire together was a privileged class of sahibs who were supposed to administer with an iron hand following the ‘rules’- of course the rules would have been laid for the Indians and not for the whites who were a class by themselves. This basic structure was also used to suppress any ‘revolt’ of the natives against the British rule!
When the country got ‘freedom’ from the British rule, this so called ‘iron frame’ persisted and later on the name got changed to the Indian Administrative Service or the IAS who were supposed to be the bureaucrats implementing the laws made by the legislature without fear or favor upholding what can be called as the rule of law. But, whether it happened that way is the point and this is what we should examine critically at this juncture where the country is facing problems in the public sphere where in each and every organ of the state is coming under criticism for its role in the decline of standards in public life. On the attitude of the Press during the infamous ‘emergency’ enforced by Indira Gandhi- it was said that they crawled when they were only expected to bend. It is not that the administration is bending but is also groveling before the masters and pray who are these? In a democracy it is the citizen who is supposed to be the master and the rest the servants! The judiciary is supposed to sit over judgment in this relationship and interpret the law when called to.
But, is it so is the question which is being brought up by the citizen of the republic of India who is supposed to be the master and all the pillars of democracy being ultimately answerable to him/her! Whenever we see the scams being perpetrated by the political class, we also see the unseen hand of bureaucrat in it! The way to get around the existing laws, the loopholes in them are all pointed out to them by these unseen hands, who also benefit from these transactions. Sometimes, these unseen hands do get exposed are also left holding the baby in some cases! All this brazen behavior comes from the arrogance that the judicial process is a long drawn one and though the wheels of justice grind fine they take a long time for the process and the accused may die of old age before the judgments are delivered.
Well what happens if the administrative service stands by the rule of law and goes by the letter and spirit of it? Then the whole system rises as one and shuts the voice of dissent! We can see this happening when the very basis of the exploitative system is threatened- we have the two important very recent issues being the sterling examples of the political class rising as one and speaking out loudly without single voice of dissent. The first one, being the Supreme Court judgment about those convicted for criminal offences being disqualified from membership of elected bodies and the second being that of bringing the political parties under the Right to Information act. In both these cases the politicians have risen as one regardless of their shades of ideology and have raised a chorus of voices decrying both of these. It is a shame that the very people who claim probity in public life and preach to the world at large, protest when their own credentials come under question. If they are what they claim to be they should have welcomed these things and in fact those who were kept out of the purview should have begged to be included in order to show that they have nothing to hide! But, the reaction has been quite the opposite everyone has proved that they have quite a lot to conceal!
Well, let us see what happened to a few who wanted to really uphold the rule of law. We have two sterling examples of administrators who wanted to go by the rule of law- that of one who dared to take on the irregularities of the son- in -law of the first family of the nation! He has been transferred and an inquiry has been ordered into the actions which he took to follow the laws of the land. The lackeys of the first family have not take kindly to this and have targeted this officer for putting the public interest above that of the first family whose son in law is even exempt from security checks at airports! Another interesting example is that of a newly joined IAS officer who has been suspended for creating tensions between religious groups for ordering the demolition of the wall of a mosque built on public land though the world at large knows that it has been done to punish her for taking on the sand lobby in which politicians of all hues are deeply involved- In fact the same has been happening even in our district.
So, on the occasion of the 67th Independence Day we have to keep wondering as to who are the masters-the citizens? Or the lobbies of the politician- bureaucrat –feudal elements? The answer is obvious. We have to also ask ourselves when is the situation going to change? This reminds of an apocryphal story in which citizens of a number of nations queue up before the almighty ‘god’ and they ask him (of course he is a patriarchal god with a deep bass voice and a long flowing beard) as to how many years would it take for the situation to change in their respective countries- he gives them a few years to several decades. But, when the Indian asks him the question he starts weeping loudly and says not in my life time my son!