August 07, 2005

Martin Luther & The Overthrow of the Incompetents

Have you ever wondered why administration in India never works ? Why is it that our electricity delivery network crashes every now and then ? Why is that our roads are never repaired in time ? Or for that matter they are dug up within months of being repaired ? Why is it that our disaster management is so amateurish ? Why is it that tax collection system is so leaky and extortionary ?

The colonial 'exploiters' have left us to our fate more than 50 years ago and it is true that the colonial exploitation has been replaced by the exploitation of the criminal-corrupt but why is it that we cannot fight this cancer within ?

Perhaps the cancer of corruption has gnawed us hollow but the most visible manifestation of this malady is the fact that we are ruled by incompetents.

If you look closely enough you will realise that in most of India's institutions the people at the top -- or around the top, that is those who are in a position to take decisive action, are the ones who have reached this point not through excellence of knowledge or proven delivery capability .. but simply because they have (a) connections in the right places or (b) have bought their way to the top. This is true whether it is a lowly position like the OC of Barabazar thana or the high and mighty head of the Planning Commission.

Merit has no role whatsoever in the selection of the incumbent of any worthwhile or decisive position in India and this is even more true where the choice or selection is made by people who have nothing to lose if the person selected is incompetent for the job. In fact the selection is made on the basis of the candidate's competency in areas that are directly antithetical to the demands of the job -- for example in his or her ability to reward unjustly the person or persons responsible for the selection by 'returning' the favour in cash or kind!

Net-net any major decision that is taken in India, whether it is as simple as which way should a one-way traffic system run to complex stuff like the contents of the educational syllabi or the location of a major dam, is taken either by a person who is incompentent or one who has goal in mind that is not aligned to the one that is expected from his office.

That is why India remains bound up in the chains of its own folly.

Is there a way out ? Is there a way that we could rid ourselves of this rule of incompetents ? The way that we used to rid ourselves -- for good or for worse -- the rule of the colonial power ? Perhaps there is a way but we have not found it as yet. The political movement that pushed out the British had drawn inspiration and models from many sources ... the French Revolution ? Cromwells England ? the American War of Independence ?

But do we have a model where merit and meritocracy prevailed over the corrupt-incompetent ? The closest analogy that I can think of is Martin Luther and his Protestant movement that toppled the hedgemony of the decadent Catholic Church and paved the way for the Reformation, Counter-reformation and the subsequent Renaissance. This was 16th century Europe.

In the India of the 21st century, who is Martin Luther ? When and where will he reveal himself ? And will he be called Kalki ?

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