So Rahul Gandhi wants to change the system. At the Ramlila Grounds in Delhi on Sunday, addressing the biggest Congress rally in the capital for some time, he said that the “system” was closed to the common man. The aam aadmi faces only disdain and delay at government offices, he is denied his rights at every interaction with the “system” which generally treats him like dirt. Gandhi gave what we in the media used to term “a clarion call” to change the system. Apparently, the more aam young men and women join the Congress, more the chances of the system being transformed.
Let’s forget some obvious facts first, before we come to our main argument.
Fact-to-forget No. 1: The Congress has been ruling the country for about 50 of the 62 years since India became a Republic. So one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know who created and nurtured the “system” in all its unholy glory.
F-2-f 2: It was Rahul’s father Rajiv who famously said, as Prime Minister in the mid-1980s, that of every rupee of government aid to the poor, only 15 paise reached the intended beneficiary. He gave a clarion call, too. That was more than a quarter of a century ago.
F-2-f 3: Rahul himself has been talking about changing the system for eight years now. If he has accomplished anything on that front, I must have missed it. And can we please stop harping on RTI? That happened in 2005, and sure, the Congress constantly brings it up whenever the topic of corruption is raised, but one wonders whether Sonia Gandhi is actually so happy today with that accomplishment.
F-2-f 4: Who is this average young man and woman Rahul is talking about? As the Congress preens about the recent cabinet reshuffle, about bringing in more young blood, the truth is that almost all the young ministers inducted or promoted are from established political dynasties. These are the common young men who will bring change? Besides, none of them have been given cabinet rank. One wonders why. Could it have anything to do with Rahul Gandhi not being part of the government?
What Rahul Gandhi is talking about is internal or administrative reforms, which make sure that when a promise made high up the pyramid, it transforms into a public good delivered at the bottom of the structure. That is, the vast bureaucracy that lies between good intentions and the common man works efficiently and recognizes the basic rights that every citizen has.
When Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister in 2004, he announced that his top priority was administrative reforms. The Administrative Reforms Commission was set up under M. Veerappa Moily with a mandate “to prepare a detailed blueprint for revamping the public administration system. The Commission (was) given wide terms of reference covering all aspects of public administration.” The Commission has completed its work and submitted 15—yes, 15—reports. The last one was submitted in April 2009. Cabinet committees have accepted almost all of its recommendations. Yet little has happened on the ground, as far as implementation of these recommendations go.
The recommendations are available on the Net to read and download. They are extremely good recommendations. The big ones include having a Code of Ethics for ministers at both central and state levels (in addition to the existing Code of Conduct), and a repeal of Article 311 of the Constitution which makes it nearly impossible to dismiss a civil servant, whatever his crimes. The small ones include a mandatory mechanism for all government departments and offices to consider suggestions made by citizens, and simple but effective techniques used by the New York Police Department and the London Metropolitan Police to check police corruption at the ground level.
Dear Rahul Gandhiji, if you want to bring about change, make administration citizen-centric, all the strategies and tactics are already there, thought through and listed out by a committee set up by your government. Read those reports and ask your government to do something about them. Of course, committees on administrative reforms are hardly new. The first one, the Santhanam Committee on corruption, was set up in 1962—a full half-century ago. Some parts of that committee’s reports reads like no time has passed since then. Consider this: “There is a widespread impression that some ministers who have held office during the last 16 years have enriched themselves illegitimately, obtained good jobs for their sons and relations through nepotism, and have reaped other advantages inconsistent with any notion of purity in public life.”
The rot was already visible. The Santhanam Committee recommended the setting up of a Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). The CVC was set up, but till date it does not have the powers that the committee thought (50 years ago) would be essential to achieve its objectives. The office of the Lokpal was suggested by the Administrative Reforms Commission set up in 1964. Read any Pay Commission report and you’ll find stuff like this: “For the common man, bureaucracy denotes routine and repetitive procedures, paperwork and delays…Rigidities of the system over centralization of powers, highly hierarchical and top down method of functioning with a large number of intermediary levels delaying finalization of any decision, divorce of authority from accountability and the tendency towards micromanagement, have led to a structure in which form is more important than substance and procedures are valued over end results and outcomes. Non-performance of the administrative structures, poor service quality and lack of responsiveness, and the subjective and negative abuse of authority have eroded trust in governance systems.” (Sixth Pay Commission 2006)
But forget all those old reports. Read the one from the committee your current petroleum minister chaired, and get Manmohan Singhji to implement some of those recommendations. Start with the small ones. It is then that all your talk of change will become credible. Maybe then, you’ll even get some young people to join the Congress, whose fathers weren’t political bigwigs.