We assume that knowledge, learning and professionalism is what makes the difference between an “extractive” policracy and a “developmental” one. This builds on the modern Indian tradition of education being the path to progress and the high ritual status given to learned Brahmins, poets, literatures and artists in ancient India. Dr Radhakrishnan (1962-67), Dr Zakir Hussain (1967-69), Dr Abdul Kalam (2002-07) and Pandit Nehru (1947-1964) did not disappoint in their actions as President/Prime Minister by remaining true to their intellectual integrity.
In 2004 when Dr Manmohan Singh was selected by Mrs Gandhi to became PM, there was relief that after a hiatus of two decades, India would again be led by an “intellectual” far above the hurly burly of election politics, with no personal stake and no motive, except to “wipe the tears from the eyes of the poorest Indian” (the Mahatma). We exulted when Dr. Singh showed his mettle in initiating change in our energy policy, continuing the BJP approach in external relations of abandoning the deadweight of polarizing ideology, unless it served national interest and seemingly putting Indian on the track of fast growth with social inclusion. In 1984 he was an accidental choice as PM, out of the several other “old” faces around, who were considered politically innocuous enough, to keep the seat warm for Rahul.
In 2009 we voted for Dr Singh, based on his record of the past five years but also based on our belief, that more and better was to come. He and the Congress with him, won and the deluge began. Like the collapse of the mountains above Kedarnath, the lofty edifice built up by reputation and public expectations cracked and collapsed under the weight of timidity, poor political instincts but most importantly self-betrayal.
Dr Singh betrayed himself time and again as he turned a Nelson’s eye to massive corruption, allowed decision making to be subverted by unconscionably partisan politics and sloth. He defined the integrity of the highest executive position in India as a narrowly construed “personal” integrity and in doing so reverted to his essentially “babu” roots of keeping “his desk clean”. Even this is questioned in the 2G scam and Coalgate, though most would put down the seeming links to him, to a secretariat, outside of his control. He betrayed his profession, since economics played, at best a marginal role, in the working of his cabinet. He betrayed his earlier characterization of himself as a Sher (Singh) and appeared to meekly toe the backward looking, ineffective and contradictory party line. In acting thus, he debased the high office he holds. Who holds the Nuclear “button” today is really the question? and does the World believe that Dr. Singh would be allowed to press it should the situation warrant?
Could he have acted differently? Was he constrained by the limitations imposed on “outsiders” joining the “policracy” laterally, as Russi Mody was in Air India or Sudhir Muljee in the State Trading Corporation? The analogy itself nails the absurdity of the comparison. When the going gets tough, the tough get going….one way or another.
Here is some gratuitous advice to Dr. Singh. It is not too late to resign. Rahul is ripe to take over and we would all welcome his coming out of the shadows. More importantly, when you became PM you became “our” PM, not the Congress Party’s representative. You are, hopefully, not just any other policrat. Please preserve our faith in the belief that professionals and intellectuals are actually “high minded” enough to work against their own self-interest. Are you scared that once the “immunity” of high office is lifted the opposition will go after you hammer and tongs and even your own party will “sacrifice” you, just as they failed to support you, when you fought your first and only election in South Delhi in 2004? Surely, as the PM, you have a “black book” in the “cloud” which will act as “insurance”? Please do it now, so that all of us, who believe that education and erudition results in intellectual integrity and purposefulness, can continue to dream.
T.N. Seshan (Chief Election Commissioner 1990-1996), another babu, turned upon the political machine which created him, once he was given a high constitutional position. But he served us Indians well by working against election malpractices. Most recently, Raghuram Rajan (RBI Governor) has done exactly the same by ignoring the noise of corporate and government “likes” and remaining true to his intellectual integrity and commitment to the poor, by targeting inflation, rather than pandering to the optics of growth orientation…just as his babu predecessor (Subba Rao) had done. This is a time honored tradition amongst babus. We sup with anyone who parties in the evening, but come the morning, we do the “right” thing, no matter what the consequences. There are thousands of babus who do this for 35 long years of their working lives and are none the worse for it. Please shed your intellectual robes and become the babu you have been.