THE sound I hear loudest in Delhi these days is the sound of courtiers scurrying away from the court of the white queen and scurrying hurriedly in the direction of anyone they think is a friend of the new prime minister. Among those scurrying fastest are those who have lived off the patronage of the Government of India. These courtiers have used their skills in sycophancy to gainful effect and made small fortunes out of supposedly worthy causes.
Cultivating favour with the powers that be enables retired judges and bureaucrats to hang on to their bungalows in Lutyens’ Delhi by wangling appointments to cultural, academic and social organisations. Relatives of powerful politicians squeeze vast funds out of the Government of India in the name of promoting Urdu, Sanskrit, ecology, liberal ideas, wildlife, and women’s rights. They are mostly leeches but disguise the largesse they receive in an astonishing smorgasbord of causes.
Having examined their activities carefully in the years I have spent wandering about the murky corridors of the Durbar I can report that these are worthless people who deserve to be sacked and de-housed. But, they have sympathisers in the media so of late there have been many articles advising the Prime Minister to ‘preserve institutions’. Really? But, if the Prime Minister wants to ‘preserve’ these institutions he must ensure that they stop being lucrative parking spots for loyalists of not just the last government but his own.
If he examines the last government’s record he will see that the sinecures handed out were so arbitrary that you could promote Urdu and environmental protection at the same time. It all depended on where vacancies fell open and how much money was available. Rotation from one cause to the next was easy. Sadly even think tanks and serious publications became just mouthpieces of the Congress Party. So throw them all out Prime Minister, you have nothing to lose but an army of leeches.
In the view of this columnist, the most useless of Indian institutions is the institution of the Governor. Why do we need this remnant of colonial times at all? Why should taxpayers’ money be wasted on Raj Bhawans of magnificent proportions when the officials who reside therein are just politicians who have passed their prime? Having been a reporter in Srinagar at a moment in history when Indira Gandhi’s chosen Governor played a very destructive role, I feel it my duty to report that when Governors play any role it is usually an insidiously political one. So the best thing that could happen is for the institution to be abolished altogether. If the Prime Minister does not feel able to take so radical a measure then he must change governors appointed by the last government because they have got their jobs only from undying loyalty to the Dynasty.
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The Planning Commission is another institution that deserves to be abolished unless it can be reinvented as a commission for administrative reform. There is not a ministry in the Government of India that would not end up half its size if there were to be a serious attempt at reform. And, the officials who inhabit the hallowed corridors of the Planning Commission know this better than anyone else. Some ministries need to be done away altogether because like the Planning Commission they belong to an era when the men who ruled India venerated the Soviet Union’s model of development.
The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting should be first on the chopping block because in these days of instant information a ministry of propaganda is useless. Doordarshan and a Films Division making unwatchable films is what it oversees along with that division for audio and visual publicity that wastes taxpayers’ money on extolling the so-called virtues and achievements of every government department.
If the Prime Minister wants to deliver on his promise of ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ he will have to implement drastic changes. He must be prepared to face an attack every time he makes a change because there are thousands who have serious vested interests in things not changing ever. He will soon discover that Lutyens’ Delhi has long been a private club with a long list of life members who protect their exalted positions by invoking words like ‘institution’ and ‘tradition’. But, if the rules of this club are not forced to change the Prime Minister will find himself sucked into a vortex that will paralyse him.
Already, his ministers are being wined and dined in drawing rooms that till just yesterday were filled with people who swore undying loyalty to the Dynasty. These same people in these same drawing rooms today sing the praises of the new prime minister and behave as if they always did. So the one thing that never changes in this ancient capital city are her courtiers.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh