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From bureaucracy to ‘kleptocracy’

A new word, ‘‘Robberocracy’’, is floating around to describe corruption in our bloating bureaucracy. But there is much m...

Written by M G Devasahayam |
July 18, 2003

A new word, ‘‘Robberocracy’’, is floating around to describe corruption in our bloating bureaucracy. But there is much more to the rottenness of governance than just corruption by some ‘‘babus’’. The fact is that India’s democracy is slowly drifting towards ‘‘Kleptocracy’’ — a system of non-governance characterised by injustice and rampant greed. While politicians are at the centre of this galaxy, civil servants, police officials and even the judiciary orbit around them.

Politicians and bureaucrats have lorded over this country for over five decades, preserving and, in fact, adding to the oppressive and draconian laws that were imposed upon us by our colonial masters. The legal and administrative systems in the country have become unjust and oppressive, primarily because each department, agency or bureau was created at the behest of interest groups bent on deriving an advantage from the existing political system.

While leaders may come and go with each election, the basic function of the democratic system, as being practiced today, has not been to protect the common man and his property, but to allocate privileges and benefits to those who are in power. Many regulations are rationalised on the pretext of serving the public good, but the end result has been a system of mercantilism that makes economic rights subservient to political interests and power games.

This corruption and ravaging of the democratic system — ‘‘State Kleptocracy’’ — is a process which has severely distorted our democratic system, especially since 1975 when it received a severe jolt during Emergency. That happened because a kleptocracy availing of the resources of the State had to develop the mentality of the conqueror and function as a petty autocrat. State kleptocracy has eaten into the moral fibre of the nation as a whole. The reason: at the core of our political system is theft. The holders of political power, for the benefit of themselves and their cohorts, commandeered the resources of the State to a shocking extent. And they still continue to do so.

Though politicians are the largest beneficiaries of state kleptocracy, bureaucrats are its main perpetrators, either by complicity or through compliance. Ironically, despite enjoying unique constitutional safeguards unheard of elsewhere in the world, many are also the prime victims of the rot. In a kleptocracy, merit is the first casualty. Competent and conscientious civil servants have been at the receiving end for quite some time. Instruments like frequent and arbitrary transfers, humiliating assignments are freely used to subdue upright and uncompromising civil servants. Even the highest offices at the Secretary level are not spared from arbitrary and whimsical shuffling. The cumulative effect of all these is to reduce a covenanted and once proud civil service into a ‘‘lackey outfit’’ and a service for the mute.

This is the tragedy of governance in India. Our founding fathers had pinned great faith on the ‘‘elite civil services’’ to steer the nation ‘‘on an even keel’’ in the midst of political and social convulsions. For that purpose, they had conferred unprecedented constitutional protection on this ‘‘privileged’’ lot. This faith has been betrayed. ‘‘Super-bureaucrats’’ who willingly formed part of the ‘‘loot-and-share system’’ have spearheaded this betrayal. Till recently, these civil servants were respected. But not any longer. The status and prestige these ‘‘super-bureaucrats’’ enjoy is no longer because of ‘‘distinction of service’’ but due to ‘‘borrowed power and reflected glory’’. The high dowry tag young ‘‘super-bureaucrats’’ enjoy is the outcome of this ‘‘power to loot’’.

Despite public revulsion against corruption, political parties are ganging up to see that ‘‘corruption is not an issue’’ in public life and the pillars of governance — the Legislature, Judiciary and Executive — seem to be endorsing it. How else does one explain the continuous farce on the Lok Pal Bill and fear, even among the highest judiciary, to pronounce judgment against corrupt power wielders?

With bureaucrats in good humour — thanks to massive hikes in salaries and other perks without any corresponding demands for efficiency and integrity — and policemen wielding unbridled power with draconian statutes like POTA, the path is clear for kleptocracy, a ‘‘government of the thieves, by the thieves, for the thieves’’. Unless this degeneration is arrested and good, honest governance restored, the inevitable drift towards ‘‘kleptocracy-autocracy’’ that would drag one-sixth of the human race towards political and economic ruin cannot be halted. In the event, people must seriously consider dumping the present system of governance and opting for an alternative.

(The writer is a former IAS officer)

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