Friday, 2 May 2014

To be or not to be a Bureaucrat in Kashmir

Reading Political theory on Ethics and Bureaucracy
Bertrand Russell has a collection of essays called Unpopular Essays. Today I am not commenting on it but attempting to write an unpopular essay. Though often reminded of Mark Twain who when asked to comment on heaven and hell said, “No comments. I have friends on either side”, I wish to express suspicions/questions that have haunted me and compelled me not to pray for success to anyone who requests when administrative exams are on. I try to pray instead with Iqbal: Meri dua hae ki teri aarzu badal jayae (I pray that your wish changes). These questions include:
•Generally speaking, masses have felt alienated from bureaucrats and great social thinkers from Marx to Max Weber to Foucault have explained why this alienation is a product of the very system. Modern democracies are controlled by the interests of the Capital or are instruments in the hands of an elite class that has ascended in social hierarchy by a system that ultimately requires disempowering people. Bureaucrats are required to execute the system?
• In a conflict situation like Kashmir where one knows that the interests of truth and power may often significantly diverge, bureaucrats unlike professionals don’t have much freedom to disagree. Curfews, taxes, special arrangements for VIPs, special concessions to particular class, drafting and implementing of schemes that are often skewed in favour of certain class and against long term interests of masses are all managed through bureaucracy.
•An economy in transition or wedded to aids and subsidies and to quotas and reservations due to vote bank interests is an issue of contradictions where neither justice nor efficiency nor welfare is truly achievable. Given the contradictions of a “graft culture” I think it is no wonder that our noblest bureaucrats repent after joining this service.
• Arguably India’s noblest politician, Gandhi, rejected bureaucracy. And he offered to clean the latrines rather than spend the day in a king’s palace. Amongst the most disturbing trends currently witnessed is temptation to join administrative jobs in our talented youth. Through this trend, our best minds are weaned away from sciences, from professional courses, from humanities and from other disciplines where creativity counts and pays and thus the basis for strong future of the State gets slackened. Let administrative jobs be progressively done by robots or computers or a system so transparent and efficient that very few overseers/overlords/supervisors/under or special or not so special secretaries are needed. Let the halo around administrative jobs be removed and see who is indeed ready to be a civil servant in the true sense. I am afraid people want to be bosses, enjoy playing a boss or afsari and perks and that is the real motivation for applying for administrative posts for many. For some noble souls, it is simply pressure to make living that forces them to apply. For some it promises a path to deliver something great. However, all will have to agree, at the end of the day, that no great revolution in history has been made by bureaucrats, that their hands or lips were tied, that they could bring few worthwhile changes (I know some of such success stories but many stories of failure or frustration).
•Bureaucratic jobs are mostly parasitic on other more productive sectors. Bureaucrats take lion’s share of expenses on fuel for vehicles but at ground level it may be the case that grassroots workers need vehicles for better delivery of work.
•The man in the bureaucrat is sacrificed at the altar of cold alienating absurd structure called governance. Governance is, most fundamentally processing of inputs and for this information processing computers and other mechanisms are best appropriated. To give just one example. Transfers and distribution of public funds for public works or ration or gas could be best made by a software to which are fed inputs left to those who can’t contribute to creative pursuits. Computers would govern us better in this respect. But much of the energy of bureaucrats goes in this uncreative endeavour.
• From home to office to rituals of bossing, note writing, discussing files and creating hurdles a bureaucrats’ life is a classic example of the absurd that Albert Camus wanted to foreground in The Myth of Sisyphus. Kafka’s disenchantment with his job is a classic example of sensitive person’s response to an alienating bureaucratic world.
• Most bureaucrats are unwanted. From under to special secretary we have many posts that are done away by Corporates but nevertheless achieve the goals – and quite speedily – set by the organization.
• I don’t deny that we need professional administrators. But I don’t think our best minds should be administrators when administration doesn’t involve, generally speaking, great innovative or creative or productive work. I doubt if, given the choice, the best mind would opt for it or find it challenging enough and I am aghast at a system that tempts or compels the best minds to try this option for the sake of dignified livelihood.
• In the din of files, meetings, letters and explanations creative faculty can’t optimally or even sub-optimally function. That is why there are very few creative works from bureaucrats and why they are not much receptive to innovative thought and projects. That is why no revolutions have been brought by bureaucrats. For them a system, received wisdom, a hierarchy, a set pattern or beaten tracts are more important. Law should be followed in letter even at the cost of its spirit.
• Chances to develop finer things and pursue refined pursuits are meagre while serving a system that is wedded to running machines and almost makes a machine out of man.
• If today our economy is under tremendous strain, debt ridden, our social system almost collapsed, our NGO culture notorious in the world, our cooperatives failing and have a poor academic culture/decadent literary or artistic scenario bureaucrats have a significant part of the guilt to shoulder. But for responsible bureaucracy there would be no beggars, no pseudomystic or cheating faith healers, no lavish wazwaans, no big houses on agricultural land.
• So I humbly request any aspirant for administrative jobs to read history of modern bureaucracy and its complicity with Capital/State Capitalism/Totalitarianism ( I think the ancient and medieval Chinese bureaucracy was somewhat different), look at long catalogue of regrets of honest bureaucrats, take note of analysis of the system by top ranking social and political theorists, count costs – moral and psycho-spiritual – one may require to pay and then opt for it.

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