On values, morals, ethics and good governance Mr. Prime Minister!
Let us examine the underpinnings in a democracy such as ours as also the continuities and change in our societal heritage in the backdrop of both ancient and modern practices of our own upbringing, values that transcend socio religious beliefs, public life and duties, private morals and virtues, political governance and personal rights, and responsibilities.
We may have no doubt that such a study is important as it stands at the intersection between the practice of our belief system, our own democratic citizenship, and the exercise of morals, values and political ethics.
This issue has been addressed through the ages in different countries, on law and morality, from the Vedic ages and ancient Mesopotamia to the age of enlightenment to modern times; this millennium’s scientific, technological and information transformations to that of evolving links with various cultures, religions, practices, civilizations and different beliefs. Also intricate and complex ethical issues in domestic and international democratic governance that in varying contexts assume critical importance for our developing economy in today’s globalizing world should be understood before we understand morals, ethics, values and good governance.
I do believe that when a government and its representatives such as ours justify their actions in our name that is the public at large, we not only have the right but also a moral duty to be concerned. Thus public wrong doing or even apathy by the political class or the bureaucrats or for that matter even the judiciary may not be exposed by the fourth estate and that leads to the need for us to separate individual citizens who bear a special responsibility. It is not very infrequent that individual citizens may bear the wrath of failures of their representatives and the state institutions and the intellectual class will have to be responsible and act lest they would be taken to be morally corrupt be complicit. A case in point is the lal batti (beacon light now in different colors) culture of the ruling classes that include all the pillars of our democracy and the clamor for more goodies such as pensions by the elected representatives. The confrontation with the political class of any ideology is a moral dilemma or an ethical challenge that many a times institutional remedies fail to cope with and hence we need a fair discourse on the issue.
Our obligation to participate in the democratic process does make it incumbent on us to question every decision of the political class that tends to believe that it is the master particularly due to the feudal mindset of our polity. It is in this context particularly welcome is the call of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that each of the 125 crore citizen in our country will be his ‘think tank’. We should nonetheless be mindful that obligation to participate in the democratic process is much greater when we risk serving as accomplices in the process. At this juncture I may question whether a country such as ours that is steeped in poverty, ignorance, superstitions, beliefs and identities in the garb of ‘unity in diversity’ be allowed to delay the process of development, prosperity, literacy, scientific temperament and positivity? If the answer is no than it is high time that we should be led by the ‘highest common factor’ and not the ‘least common multiple’. If this be the case than the time is ripe for our country to have a debate on Presidential form of Government where the country is led by the professionals and experts in disparate fields instead of so called public representatives who may be good orators but have little interest in good governance and perhaps negligible understanding of the very complex and intricate policy issues and processes. Having said so based on my own past dealings with the political class in various Ministries of the Government I may assert that more often than not the babus do tend to find an easy way to either discover a via media or be complicit with their political masters much to the detriment of the masses. Thus the two pillars in our democracy more by incidence than by design only fortify each other much to the detriment of the masses. It is also very frequently asserted that the fourth estate is only a fiction and does not exist. The notable exception is judiciary but in most cases justice can be delayed and perhaps denied due to complicity in an archaic and stale framework of eighteenth century Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence that we have inherited from the Raj days.
Now let me briefly delve into the apathy that our bureaucrat and political masters have when it comes to good quality school education for all our children who will be the citizens of tomorrow’s India. I may mention that with all the talk on introducing values and morals in the Universities, it is indeed the Schools that we should be more focused on. There is no denying that over the years we have created a distinct division between the haves and have nots in having government schools that in most cases impart poor quality education on one hand and the convents and the public schools in private hands on the other hand that invariably see a mad rush from desperate parents who spend their savings of a life time and loans in ensuring admissions for their wards. A society that does not care for its future generations has no right to question moral deprivations, and values in society and above all corruption at the political stage. It is amazing that when I questioned a bureaucrat who was incidentally vested with many other charges apart from elementary education in a state government when he replied demurely that the cost would be immense considering over 100,000 schools in the state. My obvious retort to him was to do away with all the unnecessary departments in the state ranging from fisheries development and public works to public enterprises and electricity and to just focus on key areas such as elementary education, health and infrastructure rest being a policy outcome as is being done in most countries.
When it comes to access, equity and quality of education that indeed holds the key to a good and enlightened society we should bank more on policy outcomes such as the concept of neighborhood schools and mid day meals, attract the best in the society to school education particularly government schools and to deliberate on what constitutes good education than on introducing mindless changes in the course content and curricula by the reigning political class and leave it to the academia. It will not be a surprise that the more the political and bureaucrat class control the quality of education more it will be the detrimental to the quality of education.
Postscript: I am reminded of Mahatma Gandhi, who had once noted : “I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and yourself melt away.” Ironically enough, the thumb rule prescribed by the Mahatma seems to have been forgotten completely by the political masters and bureaucrats.