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Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

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Culture, Religion and Governance
A look at the culture of Public Service

- I.K. GUJRAL
December 9, 1999

The Republic of India has been a democracy since its inception. This single feature distinguishes it from all the other one hundred and twenty nations who together make up the developing world, and account for the greater majority of the worlds six billion people.

India’s experience with democracy has not been totally faultless. The mid Seventies witnessed the agonizing interregnum of the Emergency, when Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi suspended constitutional and civil liberties to propagate a personality cult. But even in those days, the strong public protest made Mrs. Gandhi realise that India would not surrender before the whiplash of authoritarianism that easily. Poor, our country certainly was, but never pliable. Over the years, the free, democratic and pluralistic essence of Indian society has often been tested, yet in the end, rarely found wanting. The Chief Justice of South Africa, Ismail Mohamed, asked to judge the temper of India pronounced it thus, Passionate argument and intense debate, incessant intellectual effervescence and vigorous dissent, fluctuating discourse and continually unfolding horizons, endless consultation and mutating states of consensus, thesis, antithesis and synthesis are central to the Indian character.

What makes for this fortunate exception? Why did India’s faith in the grand ‘anarchy’ of democracy, not crumble and break, as most others in

Asia, Africa, even in her own South Asian backyard did, before the tanks and serried ranks of military might? Why has the collective Indian psyche so utterly rejected totalitarianism of every type and form, and whether it posed in religious, cultural, artistic, or any other guise? Political pundits in the developing world are still want to say that the unlettered masses will accept tyranny, as long as this serves to keep their bellies full. The Indian experience unequivocally reveals this self-serving hypothesis to be both barren and false.

National characteristics do exist, indeed I would say that nations are much like human-beings, in that while they are all similar in certain basic ways, yet each also has an unique individuality and a personality all of their own, coming from a certain historical background and experience. I think it can also be said that culture and religion are the factors which most profoundly impact on the character of a nation, and on the manner in which politics and governance evolves therein.

As one looks at the map of the world, it is possible to demarcate a Christian world, or what in the parlance of multilateral diplomacy is referred to as the developed world. A product of Christianity, tempered by the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment, this stretches from Western Europe, its birthplace, to North America. This is the West, the birthplace of modern day democracy, the industrial economy and all the scientific and technological achievements of the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries, in a nutshell, the centre of world civilisation as is presently projected.

Then there is Asia, the ancient continent, with its own great history and civilisation, and a sprawling landmass home too roughly one half the world’s population. For all its sprawl and variety, the people of Asia still share commonalties enough to warrant the coinage of the term, Asian values, a feature which is also supposed to distinguish Asian society from the West, in particular from the latter’s stress on individual rights and liberties. This term reflects an unease with democracy, and is used mainly by those wishing to justify the benign despotism --- or what President Soekarno of Indonesia once called the, guided democracy,--- that is accepted by many countries of this continent - India excepted.

Then there is the Islamic World, with its glorious history, but conscious also that its future is under a cloud, unless it can find a way around its present situation, the internal weakness which sometimes gets reflected in authoritarianism that impede indigenous democratic impulse. In most of the remaining parts of the world, viz., in Latin America, East Europe and Africa, there are still dialectical struggles between the forces of democracy and those ranged against it.

Such evident linkages notwithstanding, many difficulties remain in analyzing the interplay between culture and governance in any sort of scientific manner. We are after all dealing with intangibles. Neither laboratory experiments nor mathematical proofs are possible. We can only attempt a case study approach, using parables, anecdotes and historical examples to try and identify, illustrate and hopefully establish the general principles. India’s unique political experience, while interesting in itself, is of particular relevance to this paper, since it provides an abundant repository of case histories and experiences that will enlighten and illuminate the subject at hand. I approach the subject from the Indian experience, firstly in view of its relevance. The added advantage is that this allows me to apply the full weight of my experience, of a lifetime spent in Indian public life and in a wide variety of political capacities, including that of Prime Minister, the highest elective position in the nation, to the subject at hand. This approach may provide a foundation, something, which is particularly useful in dealing with a slippery subject.

One Western concept that is not easily transferred to the Indian context is the distinction between religion and politics. The concept of a secular society in which religious belief and practice is a matter of free individual choice, one in which the instruments of the State do not intrude or interfere in any manner has come to be taken for granted in the West, certainly in the United States and probably also in most of Europe. India too professes to be a secular society and justifiably so, given the commitment of successive Governments ever since Independence, to follow the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Yet despite this tradition, despite free India’s unswerving commitment to secularism, and despite the genuine secularization of India’s elite, even so we find from time to time, that sectarianism, or what in India goes by the name of communalism, is seen rearing its ugly head from time to time.

The 1980s were a truly trying time for Indian secularism. The Punjab crisis began as a Centre- State row over the devolution of political power and the apportionment of resources. It stemmed from resentment, not uncommon in other parts of the country disaffected by a distorted and over- centralised federal polity and their own humiliatingly subordinate status Vis- -a-Vis an apathetic, unresponsive and overbearing state apparatus in New Delhi. Events took an ominous turn as political parties stirred sectarian passions in order to extract quick political gains. Soon, what had begun as a political argument between Punjab and the Federal Government in New Delhi, was to assume the colour of a religious conflict between the Sikhs and the Indian State.

At the time of the Punjab crisis one question that was frequently asked of the politicians of Punjab was why they did not keep issues of religion separate from those of politics. The journalists who asked these questions were typically youngsters from Delhi, freshly graduated from University, and the products of a public school culture that had ingrained in them all the essential tenets of western intellectual thought. To them it was entirely natural to assume that all sensible people kept matters of religion separate from those of politics and governance. The grey eminencies who were asked these questions were hardened veterans of Punjab’s public life, who had survived and grown in politics be learning to keep their finger close to the pulse of the people. "We cannot keep religion separate from politics", they would reply, "because for us religion and politics are one and the same thing".

A huge gulf had been created. Here were these young representatives of modern, western educated, urban India on one side and the grizzled veterans of tradition and conservatism on the other, with a vast intellectual chasm separating the two. And although the Punjab crisis has since blown over, this particular intellectual divide remains un-bridged, the contradiction between the religious and the secular having been absorbed, as such contradictions often tend to be, in the vast contradiction of India itself. And yet as I reflect on it I observe that the conservatives had a point. For if one were to look at India’s own philosophy traditions, as distinct from derived Western ones, it becomes more difficult to hold that religion and politics in India hold nothing in common.

The two great epics central to Hindu religion and mythology, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata deal as much with issues of State craft as they do with religion. The story of the Ramayana, for example, culminates in the establishment of the perfect society, Ram Rajya, wherein humanity flourishes under the rule of God incarnate, Lord Rama himself. The Mahabharata, the longer and more involved of the two epics goes further, delving into the various dilemmas and riddles of statecraft in minute detail. It investigates the duties of monarchs and their obligations to their subjects, the role and responsibilities of warrior and princes, of priests and advisers, indeed, one could well say that in this great religious epic, governance is a central issue, for as the Mahabharata observes. The people are rooted in Governance and Governance is rooted in Truth.

The essential contribution of the Indian philosophical tradition was in introducing and emphasising the concept of SERVICE in statecraft. In the West, which is to say in the Christian tradition, the imprint of religion on governance is most readily apparent in the concept of human rights. Christianity endowed the West with the belief in the essential, equal and inviolate dignity of the individual. This philosophical concept translated into political discourse, reads as Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, which of course is the foundation of all modern day democracy.

By contrast, in the Indian tradition such an egalitarian concept of human rights never really existed. There were no bonds of Christian brotherhood to bridge the divide between the all-powerful monarch and his powerless subjects . How then does one prevent the lion from turning on the lamb? In a fragmented society how does one ameliorate the hierarchies of unequal wealth and power, to create an unity of interests, the common bonds that make a civil society possible?

The answer, in the Indian tradition, is found in the concept of service. 'Service before Self'; is a notion common to many a religion, but Indian philosophy was perhaps the first to elaborate on this at length. Its importance was stressed to the extent that the fulfillment of the obligations arising out of ones situation and status in society, without reference to any personal gain or loss, became religion complete and self contained unto itself. The word Dharma, which serves to convey this concept, has no exact English counterpart. The literal translation of this Sanskrit word would be foundation, or basis, its sense is in moral obligation or duty, and it is also used to convey Righteousness or Virtue.

The Dharma of the monarch lay in dispensing Justice and ensuring that the person, property and the general welfare of the citizens were protected. The King had a moral obligation, a religious duty to ensure that these ends were served. And it was only in fulfilling these duties and obligations, in serving Dharma, that the monarch gained legitimacy and moral authority himself. As long as Dharma was observed, social order would be maintained and the welfare of both monarch and people preserved. By contrast, egotistical rulers who disavowed any notion of service to their people would inevitably bring great suffering upon themselves, as well as others around them. There was a mutuality of interest, which had to be respected, even if it could not be readily perceived, for ultimately it was in only serving his people that the King really served himself. "Yatha Dharma tatha jaya", where Dharma is, there is victory. It is this philosophical discovery that the Mahabharata retells time and time again.

I use the word discovery advisedly. The rulers and processes of Dharma were not an invention of the philosophers, like grandmothers tales meant to keep errant children in line, but an existential reality. If Dharma was complied with, people progressed, peace and prosperity followed, where Dharma was violated, suffering was inescapable. There was this moral logic underlying the Universe that had to be respected, for even if its workings and varied manifestations were unfathomable, its reach was infinite and inescapable. This, in a nutshell, was the message conveyed in the grand politico/ religious epics of Indian mythology.

By contrast, it is taken for granted today that individuals as well as nations live in pursuit of their particular self-interest, indeed that it is entirely natural and justified for them to do so. Modern day economic theory serves to reinforce and validate such self-centred behaviour in its assertions that individual decisions, however selfishly motivated they appear to be, will nevertheless take us to a collective optimum and the engine of human selfishness however narrowly focussed or greedily obsessive it may appear to be will be guided by an invisible, but fortuitously benevolent hand, to join the bountiful mainstream of the common good.

Yet, as we have argued the opposite more often than not proves to be true. For while selfishness has always existed as a human motive, it is only those societies that were able to temper and condition this selfishness, that were able instead to instil the creed of obligation, who were able really to achieve any sort of progress. This is something we arrive at not only in reading the philosophy of the Mahabharta but in surveying the history of contemporary Europe as well. Max Weber in describing the uneven progress of the industrial revolution across Europe observed that its progress had much to do with social conditioning and motivation. Indeed one of Weber main observations was that communities in which individual greed was unfettered remained poor on the whole. In Weber's words, "The universal reign of absolute unscrupulousness in the pursuit of selfish interests by the making of money has been a specific characteristic of precisely those countries whose bourgeoisie capitalistic development measured according to occidental standards has remained backward".

Those societies progressed on the other hand, which were able to instil a sense of obligation on the part of the individual to society. In these regions of Europe Weber observed one thing was unquestionably new, the valuation of the fulfillment of duty as the highest form which the moral activity of the individual could assume. The only way of living acceptably to God was not to surpass worldly morality in monastic asceticism, but solely through the fulfillment of the obligations imposed upon the individual by his position in the world.

The individual will be well served in deferring to the group, in subordinating his interests to the interests of the society in which he lives. This is a paradox that religion, whether Hindu or Christian or any other, asks us to accept. But this paradox also has a twin, a mirror image that fortunately is far more easily seen and accepted. For it is equally true that the interests of the group are served in deferring to the individual. This latter paradox reciprocates the former. The group progresses not by asserting itself, but in asserting the individual, which is to say the rights and liberties of its citizens. This second paradox is of course the revelation of modern times, in the aftermath of the collapse of communism and the totalitarian state, which has shown once again that only those human societies that are founded on the bedrock of individual freedoms and human values, are protected from decay and ruin.

So we come to this dual paradox whereby the interests of the individual are served in deference to the group, while the interests of the group are served in deference to individual. The reality of the situation, both for the individual as well as the group, is that neither is served in asserting themselves, each is served in asserting the other. Both the individual and society itself must learn to transcend themselves if they are to succeed. And it is managing these confusing paradoxes, the double interdependence of the individual on society and the society on the individual, that governance essentially is all about.

One for all, and all for one, must be the motto for the individual and society to prosper together. It would appear that there are few forms of social organisation which are capable of reconciling such widely disparate interests, but a little reflection will reveal that the most common form of human society, which is to say the human family, lives precisely by such a sentiment and this is true of human families, everywhere in the world, with few distinctions. But to generalize such a sentiment beyond the family, into the wider society as a whole is far more difficult to achieve and something I do not believe really succeeds without the assistance of religious values.

Christianity, through its message of piety, compassion and human brotherhood could build a society in which the reciprocal obligation, the mutual support and solidarity that characterizes the family found expression in the wider social context. By emphasizing both the essential dignity and freedom of the individual and at the same time the individuals civic obligation to his fellow man, both the individual and the group could grow and prosper together. And this is what democracy is really all about. For a democracy is a more than just a society based on the cold, clinical application of the Rule of Law and due process. It may also be seen as a society imbued with the spirit of family, in which both the individual and the group grow and prosper together on mutual support and understanding. That is what religiosity makes possible. And that is why religious beliefs and democracy through the ages have been so closely associated, modern democracy with Christianity, but even earlier, starting from the 8th Century AD, when Europe was still in the Dark Ages, the grand sweep of Islam revolutionized and democratized Arab society, making for its glittering achievements in the scientific, cultural, military and political spheres.

Individual rights and civic obligation. Both hang together or not at all. One side of the equation cannot be stressed to the exclusion of the other, but this has not stopped such claims from being made. It is still said, for example, that within ‘Asian culture’ and tradition the individual has few inherent free-standing rights and liberties and that it is necessary for the stability and progress of society that individual liberties be curtailed and the individual made to conform with the group. This is of course the so called Asian values theory referred to earlier, which has come to be used to justify the authoritarian regimes prevalent in a number of Asian countries.

I do not believe that such hypothesis can stand scrutiny, certainly not in terms of the analysis presented in the preceding paragraphs. If an ideal society is modelled on the lines of the family, as indeed would appear to be the case, then there must always be a reciprocal obligation on the part of the group to the individual. It is impossible to visualize any well functioning society built on the denial of civil rights and liberties for the simple reason that it is impossible to visualize a functional family, whether in Asia or in any other part of the world where the individual has no rights or standing of his or her own. While the group is important too, the Asian values theorists, in stressing the importance of the group before that of the individual cannot even claim to be half right. Half the facts are not half the story. I would not like to belabour this point but simply illustrate it with a story, turning for a moment to Europe in the earlier part of this Century.

From 1939 until 1941, which is to say in the early days of World War II, Nazi Germany was able to inflict quick military defeats, in rapid succession against its neighbours i.e. Poland, Czechoslovakia, France and even Russia initially. The stunning speed with which the German military machine was able to steamroller its neighbours became possible largely because of their military organisation, the tremendous capacity of the German General Staff to deploy, co-ordinate and synchronize the use of widely dispersed military resources, whether land, sea or air, and focus them all on the chosen area of combat. Their skill in this deployment was such that the German Army often did not have to engage the defendants in combat, rather they were able to overwhelm them through the sheer weight of the military machine that they were able to concentrate and bring to bear at vulnerable points in their adversaries defences. Nazi Germany’s triumphant military juggernaut, in other words was built more on its mastery of logistics and planning, rather than its actual fighting or combat record.

The people, who did all this planning and co-ordination, the brains of the Wehrmacht so to speak, were the General Staff. This was the creme de la creme, the supra elite of the Germany Army. Identified by a distinctive stripe on their uniform, members of the General Staff were deferred to by even senior commanding officers in the Wehrmacht, i.e. the Army proper. When the Great War was finally over and Germany lay in ruins, the systems and techniques of the General Staff were analyzed by the victorious Allies in some considerable detail. How was the General Staff manned, what qualities did the men appointed to the General Straff possess, the Allies queried.

The officers of the General Staff were selected not on the basis of the traits they possessed, came the reply, but on the basis of the trait they did not. The main criterion for those selected to be officers of the General Staff was that they be free of the taint of personal ambition. Only those soldiers who met these criteria could hope to gain entry into the top elite of the Nazi Army.

It was this lack of personal ambition, their selflessness and complete identification with the interests of the group that enabled the strategists of the German General Staff to work together as a team, as a smoothly oiled machine, and pull off such stunning victories against their unfortunate adversaries. But the ultimate tragedy of the situation was that while the individuals themselves were selfless, the ultra nationalistic State that they had the misfortune to serve was fatally flawed. The tactical brilliance of the General Saff may have given it a powerful engine of propulsion, but the Nazi State was so blinded by its own arrogance and the evil it nurtured within, that it lacked any antennae to navigate. And so you have the picture of these selfless men, brilliantly directing a flawed nation towards utter disaster.

A sense of Service is required for the integrity, both of the individuals as also the organisation. The question that the votaries of Asian values should actually be asking therefore is not whether the individual should serve the State, which of course he must. The question really is what values and objectives must the State serve. The State cannot merely serve itself, its own self-aggrandisement, for that way, as history has shown time and again, lies disaster. Rather, the very survival of the State demands that it must be defined in terms of Service to its people, and no State which purports to serve the people, can really set itself above the people.

India has been a democracy since its inception. This, as I observed in the beginning of this article is a unique record, one in which every citizen of India takes some measure of pride. And justifiably so, given the unpromising raw material that the founders of the Republic had before them. In 1947,at the time of Independence, India had less than five-percent literacy, persistent hunger and recurring famine. To many outside observers, India was nothing more than a bewildering melange of clashing cultures, languages and dialects, all mired in poverty, superstition and dark beliefs. The British premier, Winston Churchill said at some point that India was no more a nation than was a purely geographical entity such as the Equator. Broken by religion, fractured by caste, trapped in feudalism, revealed by its own history to be weak and divisive society, India in1947 was -- as Nehru said in his Independence day speech --- a country still in deep slumber.

For all these handicaps, democracy in India has survived and grown. What is the reason for this unlikely success? Many would say that it has much to do with the temper of the country, tolerant, even broadminded, certainly open to the invigorating influences of dissent and diversity. It is said that Indian ethos has two distinctive traits. One of them is pacifism, or what we call, Ahimsa, i.e. non-violence. The other is its ability to assimilate new ideas and influences, even those quite alien to the soil of India, were assimilated. Both these traits would have greatly favoured the growth of a democratic culture in the country.

There may be something in this ‘Hindu temper’ theory, but I for one would not invest it with too much significance. For one thing, the great modernisers who took it upon themselves to reform Indian society and make it capable of self rule, people like Raja Ram Mohan Roy in the 19th Century, and Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in the 20th, all had to face tough battles with the forces of religious conservatisms. Indeed, for Mahatma Gandhi, the freedom struggle was as much about reforming Hindu society and freeing it from its internal evils, its abominable treatment if its weaker sections especially its scheduled castes, as it was about freeing India from the British.

The foreign influence on India’s modernisers was considerable though varied. Without such exposures I doubt that they would have become the great reformers that they did. Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru both spent their formative years outside India, training as lawyers in British jurisprudence. Gandhi’s nearly twelve years in South Africa confronted him with the inhuman and uncivilized face of a modernized state that made him a deep humanist trying to evolve the basic concepts of humane governance. After returning to India, he spent as much of his time in confronting Hindu religious conservatives, who were deeply upset at his attempts at reforming and cleansing Hindu society, as he did in confronting the British. Gandhiji remained a devout Hindu till the very end-- In times of trouble, : "I turn to the Bhagavad Gita as a child turns to his mother", he would say--- but his efforts to rid Hindu society of its gross injustices always saw him on the opposite side of his conservative co-religionists.

For Gandhiji, the freedom struggle was as much about reclaiming the lost soul of India, as it was about evicting the British. His great success was in investing the movement with high moral purpose. The spirit of the Indian freedom struggle threw up a political class, imbued with a spirit of idealism, service and a commitment to peaceful and consensual means. This spirit and the people who represented this spirit lived on even after Independence was won, ensuring our democracy would survive and grow strong roots. If there is one single factor which more than any other accounts for Indian democracy, it is to be found in the spirit of the Indian freedom struggle, the universal values of love and brotherhood which this movement stood for, plus of course Gandhijis special emphasis on the use of peaceful and correct means.

 

Today, fifty years after Independence, Indian democracy has moved beyond the drawing rooms of the elite, to permeate the length and breadth of the country. It is genuinely now a peoples movement, no longer just a game that the rich and the powerful play among themselves. Indian society itself has changed over the years to become some what more egalitarian, educated, middle class and cohesive, lesser burdened now by the various taboos and restrictions which fettered it in the past. The winds over India now carry the heady fragrance of freedom, and they may not easily go, but one still has to be cautious, for not all the trends or forebodings are positive.

The unfortunate fact is that over the past fifty years of Independence many of our vital institutions have atrophied and are in danger of withering away. The administration under performs, the law and order machinery is under variety of strains, the courts are clogged, and the political class is generally lacking respect. The aspiration of the people on one hand and economic limitations on the other along with the slow pace of social change are causing widely spread frustrations and disillusionment with the system. Any one who comes to occupy high offices quickly lose his shine. This has given rise to a uniquely Indian political phenomena, what our political analysts term the, anti/ incumbency factor. Its rough import is that the incumbent in any race for public office is ipso facto unpopular, and hence always at a disadvantage. Such widespread public disaffection may not be witnessed elsewhere but it is certainly disturbing.

Another weakness is that Indian democracy is sustained by political parties that are not internally democratic. Almost all of them are captives of a caucuses or a dynasty. Some still project narrow sectarian outlook and beliefs that negate the very foundation of our composite polity that leave limited space for dissent or ideological enquiry. The methodology and practices of Indian democracy do co-relate them with precedents of democracies elsewhere. There is nothing wrong in it. All the same most of the political ideas and ideals are a legacy of the freedom struggle. Secularism, equality, social justice, federalism, and these are supported by an incipent nationalism, but these are not enough, since many in India have yet to imbibe deep understanding of what democracy is all about. If you ask an average Indian what makes for democracy, they will say majority rule. This is true only in part, for democracy must make special provision for minorities, the weak and the underprivileged. Others might say that democracy means popularly elected Government, but by that token Germany's infamous Nazi regime would be the epitome to democracy. Sometimes it is said that democracy is all about the peaceful transfer of power, but that too is patently incorrect since this would include all the erstwhile Soviet style communist regimes.

We are still learning to appreciate that democracy is all about the rule of law, a system of justice and due procedure, which applies equally to

everybody. For any democracy to survive the people, and particularly the politicians and those who occupy public office, must respect and abide by the laws, they must believe that just laws provide the only sure means of finding order in any unruly world and that no society can be strong without a deeply ingrained respect for the law. Neither the wealthy nor the powerful may be allowed to escape the rigors of the law, its reach must be all pervasive, impartial and firm. For it is only the rule of law that allows equality, dignity and freedom to a society. As Aung San Suu Kyi writes in the Burmese context, Just laws do not merely prevent corruption by meeting out impartial punishment to offenders, they also help to create a society in which people can fulfil the basic requirements necessary for the preservation of human dignity without recourse to corrupt practices.

In India, unfortunately, over the years we have come to witness a wilful disregard for the Law, especially on the part of public officials entrusted with its maintenance. No longer seen as an instrument of justice, the Law has become an enfeebled instrument, one that is debased and eroded by its own custodians and seen as a pliant handmaiden of the rich and the powerful. Few of our officials and politicians understand what democracy is about and hence few realize that in showing an arrogant disregard for the Law they are merely undermining the basis of their own authority, like the man cutting the branch of the tree on which he is sitting.

But even this is not the core of the problem. The basic difference between Indian democracy and Western democracy is at heart one of religious cultural training. It has to do with what our notion of obligation to ones fellow citizens is all about. In Western democracy the notion of obligation exists in an impersonal sense, which is to say that one has a civic duty to society--- to keep the streets clean, to drive safely-----irrespective of whether one knows the people concerned or not. In India---such an impersonal notion of duty is still to stabilize. Such obligations are mostly confined within a closed circle of family, relatives and friends. The notion of having a civic duty of obligation to someone one does not know or has never met is something to be imbibed at a wider scale.

The idea that the world at large is but a single family "vasudhaiva kutumbukam", is part and parcel of our faith. It is quoted in books verses and speeches, it is inscribed in the Central Hall of Indian Parliament. This motto provides the foundation of civic society, since it implies that one has the same obligation to society at large, as one has to ones family. This has particular importance for all those who hold a public position, for if they are to honour and fulfil this position they can do longer keep any place for personal ambition, either for themselves or for their family and friends. Society is due an equal loyalty as family and a public person particularly has to be empty of all clannishness, so that the greater good of society can be fulfilled.

Such notions of justice and governance have to be emphasized in building the civil society. In the older democracies such impersonal notions of civic obligation hold, and fewer politicians have been accused of exploiting their position to benefit their family. The social backgrounds, the evolution of Nation State and ending of the feudal attitude provide the needed background for stabilization and extension of the civil society. In most of the former colonial countries, that is still an un-finished or partly finished task. In the meantime narrow family loyalties undermined civic duty. I am not speaking about corruption; the very fact of a public person having a personal agenda should be deemed corruption in itself. And the unfortunate fact is that there will be very few who look beyond the interests of their family to the interests of the nation.

Nor is the politician or the public official himself to blame for he too as an individual is merely reflecting the prevailing social lacuna and bias. In India, there is a good chance that people who become perfect democrats will not be criticized rather than praised, for shirking their responsibility to their family. There is the famous episode in the Ramayana, when Lord Rama, at the behest of a commoner asks his wife, Sita, to undergo an agni pariksha, the fire test. This action of his is not held up as an exemplar of a true democrat, the self sacrifice that Ram Rajya necessarily entails, but rather attacks criticism for the apparent lack of fealty displayed towards Sita.

It was India which gave the world the very concept of Service before Self, it is our religious texts which propagate the virtues of detached and selfless service, it is in our tradition to regard all humanity as but a single family. Though we have still to go a long way to practice what we profess.

Whatever position a public person holds, whether he is a junior civil servant, whether he is a Minister, or a Managing Director in a large Public company, his situation in the scheme of things can be viewed in either of two alternative ways. One, that I occupy this position in order to serve the general welfare by doing the assignment as it is best done. Alternatively my position is my personal privilege, to exploit and do with whatever pleases me most. Both these options are open, the former promising jam tomorrow, and the latter urging jam today. The path one takes; the attitude one adopts is a product purely of social conditioning, the imprint of religion or culture on the mind.

Obligation or Privilege? The answer to this question is fundamental. A society or organisation, which is able to invoke the former sentiment, will grow and prosper, while the latter spirit will inevitably bring forth regression and decay. To hark back to 19th Century Europe, the successful development of the industrial economy there depended on the new attitudes that the Protestant culture brought with it. To recall Weber once again, labour must on the contrary be performed as if it were an end in itself, but such an attitude is by no means a product of nature. It cannot be evoked by low wages or high ones alone, but can only be the product of long and arduous education. Today capitalism, which is in the saddle, can recruit its labouring force with considerable ease. In the past, this was in every case a difficult problem.

Obligation or privilege. It is the former course that the Indian religious texts extol, but we notice that people in public life focus on the obligation they bear to society, none forgets the privilege that they deem to be their due. The very term public service or public servant attracts opprobrium and disapproval as being something below the dignity of a person of good breeding.

Not long back, there was a long debate in the Indian Parliament as to whether Members of Parliament were in fact public servants since many members were against such an appellation. The question of course is that if senior people in public life do not serve the public interest, then what do they serve. And if they do not serve the public interest then why should those organs of Government which do sub-serve, at lease in theory, some public obligation’ i.e. the Army, the Police, the Administration, listen to them. Without this fundamental obligation of service the whole apparatus of the State and the Governing machinery lack legitimacy, and as we have seen most recently in neighbouring Pakistan when this legitimacy is lost, the rule of the tyrant begins. The fact is that democracy does not hold without the foundation of public service. As the new millennium dawns, the Human Development Report of South Asia - recently issued, warns "South Asia has emerged by now as one of the most poorly governed regions in the world, with exclusion of the voiceless majority, unstable political regimes and poor economic management. They systems of governance have become unresponsive and irrelevant to the needs and concerns of people".

It further proceeds to say, "Though the country's GNP has grown and is important for achieving Human Development, it is believed that the main reasons for South Asia's colossal human deprivation are not just economic. These problems go hand-in-hand with social and political factors rooted in poor governance. How does governance relate to people and what has been its impact on human development, this is the central question?"

In the last analysis an effective democracy requires democratic culture and values which emphasize consensus and power sharing. Frequent elections within political parties are as crucial as regular elections at the national level. Internal democracy holds leaders accountable to their own party and workers. When internal democracy is absent, individuals become more important than political parties and popular confidence in the political system is gradually eroded."

I conclude sharing the report's belief that "Humane governance is governance, indeed good governance, which dedicated to securing human development. It requires effective participation of people in state, civil society and private sector activities that are conducive to human development. It further enjoins the state, civil society, and the private sector to help build capacities which will meet the basic needs of all people, particularly women, children and the poor. Humane governance will also ensure that human development is sustainable. Since governance must enable the state, the civil society and the private sector to further broad-based economic growth and social development. Ownership, decency, and accountability are the bedrock principles underlying humane governance."

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Bio-Profile :
Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

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Mrs. Shiela Gujral

Excerpts from the book "A Foreign Policy for India"

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