Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

It is therefore salutary that a Kerala High Court judge has urged that it is time to limit reservation to the truly disadvantaged and not allow it to become a debilitating crutch for earlier beneficiaries who must now propel themselves forward on their own merit.

New Standards for New Decade

Standards are vital for if India is truly to become an emerging “power” it must strive for the highest standards, which are hallmarks of leadership.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 18 January, 2010

The decade 2010-20, just commenced, promises to be transformational for India. Given that things are done right, the country should be able to put dire poverty and its appalling associated human indices (illiteracy, health, hunger, discrimination, atrocities) behind it. Many things must be done to achieve this goal and quite a few are gradually coming into place: resumed growth, inclusivity, a rights approach to development, an equal opportunity regime, and a supporting legislative framework. A reformed criminal justice system based on police reform and zero-tolerance for corruption have yet to overcome stubborn vested interests but the battle has been joined. Civil society has been roused to action.

Not on any formal agenda but implicit in all of this and more is the need to restore values and the moral authority of the state. Standards are vital for if India is truly to become an emerging “power” it must exude excellence and the highest standards which are hallmarks of leadership. Given that knowledge is today the driving force as the fifth factor of production and social growth, human resource development, quantitative and qualitative, is central to India’s ambitions.

It is therefore salutary that a Kerala High Court judge has urged that it is time to limit reservation to the truly disadvantaged and not allow it to become a debilitating crutch for earlier beneficiaries who must now propel themselves forward on their own merit. These is wise counsel.

More disappointing in this context to learn that JNU, one of the country’s premier institutions of higher learning, has, howsoever inadvertently, reserved 89 out of 149 senior faculty positions advertised for professors, associate professors and assistant professors for the physically handicapped and SC and ST candidates as against the previous practice of reserving these posts for only entry level assistant professors. The new departure does no favour to the SC’s, STs or poor as they too deserve the best and India simply must aim for and achieve excellence and strive to exceed world standards and not breed mediocrity under false notions of social justice that pulls everybody down.

Well qualified SCs and STs will make the superior grades on their own, as many have done in several walks of life. For the rest, the place for reservations or affirmative action is, increasingly, at the school or at best in undergraduate studies. Canvassing reservations for every situation, far from being “progressive” is a recipe for national under-achievement. The JNU decision has been widely criticised by many senior faculty members and noted educationists and should be reversed.

The principle is equally true of as prestigious an institution as St Stephen’s College, Delhi which now reserves 50 per cent of its intake for Christians (as a 100 per cent state-subsidised minority institution) and a further 10 per cent forSC/STs, physically handicapped and those excelling in sports. The underlying logic appears to betray a degree of confusion between promoting the faithful and upholding values of the faith, which are universal.

The recent past has witnessed some most unfortunate events that bear on public standards. A former prime minister, Deve Gowda forgot himself and used some most unparliamentary language against the current chief minister of Karnataka, then retracted but later justified his undignified outburst. Top serving Army Generals have been found involved in a land scam and await disciplinary action. This is an admittedly rare case but has tainted the armed forces which enjoy unique prestige and could affect morale unless seen to be set right soon in an exemplary manner that sends out a strong message. One is regrettably more familiar with infractions by police officials but the Ruchika case exemplifies a malaise that must be rooted out. The prolonged foot-dragging witnessed over police reform has sent out all the wrong signals, impinging on the criminal justice system and the war on corruption.

All these ills compound the problems of governance facing the country. Fortunately some measures are contemplated by the Home Minister who has said that all aspects of internal security are to be brought together under MHA. The current National Security Adviser is moving on and his successor’s remit is going to be limited to external security and servicing the National Security Council. All the more reason that both internal and external security are closely coordinated through an appropriate mechanism so that turf problems are avoided and other issues do not fall between the cracks.

More important was the Home Minister’s recommendation that all civil servants, whatever their cadre, be screened at age 50 and only the best be retained so that dead wood does not rise to the top by sheer efflux of time. This reform at the top needs to be augmented by lateral entry of professionals at various levels of administration, including external affairs, imparting a leavening of expertise and innovative ideas to governance.

In this context, those periodically appointed as Governors do not all inspire confidence. Tired and discredited politicians are best put to pasture. They have no contribution to make and if community and region are cited in their favour, there are surely far superior candidates both within and outside the charmed circle of politicians and retired bureaucrats. Governors have a most important role to play as quiet advisers and impartial umpires, with a critical responsibility in Fifth Schedule areas. They must not be fielded as party loyalists as has all too often been the case.

The criminalization of politics, alas, continues unabated with a majority of newly elected MLAs in Jharkand having criminal records, many charged with heinous crime. This is intolerable and the law must be suitably amended to provide integrity criteria for all candidates standing for election. Many recommendations have been made in this regard and it should be possible to construct a fair mechanism to screen out dubious persons.

If justice and integrity are imperative in national life, judges cannot be above the law. There is every reason to applaud the Delhi High Court ruling that the Chief Justice and Judges of the Supreme Court must make a public declaration of their assets as required of other public officials. The hint of risks and embarrassments in this procedure are unconvincing. An appeal by the Supreme Court to itself would be a tragic mistake.

On another plane, Lakshmi Mittal’s lament that India is not yet ripe for mega projects should not go unheeded. His steel venture, like POSCO’s and others in Orissa and elsewhere, has been hanging fire for years on various environmental, land acquisition and R&R considerations all of which can be addressed and sensibly settled to everybody’s benefit given deliberation and mutual adjustment. Participation as stakeholders and partners rather than non-development is the answer to the tribal-poor condition and improvement in their lives.

Finally, the media must heal itself from the terrible self-inflicted wounds of paid news, private treaties and other dubious practices. As trustees of public information they must retain and defend their credibility. The Editor’s Guild has circulated a n integrity pledge for all its members to sign and publish. The outcome will be awaited with interest.

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