One of the most defining narratives of present-day India is nepotism. Otherwise a simple term – a polite hark back to help out poor dear nephew(s) – that sounds and feels so innocuous, it is hard to believe how this cancer has metastasized and colonized every cell of Indian society. We see it everywhere in India today, even in places which proclaim to be the high priests of the rule of law, so much so that what we see is not democracy but nepocracy (or nepotcracy, if that’s easy on your tongue!) – the rule by nepotism.
Blame it on feudalism or the biradiri culture that pervades popular thinking and our collective unconscious, the damage nepotism – by its seeming legitimacy, by edging out and derecognizing merit – has wrought on a supposedly arm’s length system that bureaucracy pretends to be, is incalculable. It is heartening that the PM has accorded accountability and transparency the pride of place in governance. While the will is admirable, the biggest challenge lies in execution. So firmly entrenched nepotism is and so smug and comfortable most networked practitioners in high social/official perches are with this cuddly abstraction that it will take the most cosmic – even unconscionable and asinine – optimist to believe that this nepo-cart can indeed be upended. Nepotism, to be honest, is a part of the gene-DNA combo of our national character, and followed with such zeal and fervour that it is difficult to see the difference between this brand of fundamentalism and the one called religious – this the holy grail of Nepotistic Fundamentalism!
Nepotism is spawned when the arm’s length system supposedly in place via rules, codes and manuals is given a royal heave-ho and the questionable relationship system takes over, gains traction and trumps the former. While financial dishonesty in our popular template has been accorded legitimate censure and frowned upon as reprehensible, the insidious damages wrought by intellectual dishonesty is often glossed over and not granted its rightful due. We have experienced over the years, particularly in the last decade, how the Teflon-coat of unimpeachable financial honesty shrouded the wanton and relentless intellectual dishonesty, which is unfolding even today.
So inside, beneath, and wrapped around this innocuous nepotism there is the unmistakable touch of intellectual dishonesty. This kind of dishonesty makes a man with zero morality a potentate in an opaque atmosphere where the relationship system is firmly entrenched, duly aided by discretion, and abetted by the surety of no punitive action forthcoming. In cold calculus it can be represented thus: Nepotistic Relationship System (NRS) = Intellectual Dishonesty (ID) + Discretion (D) – No Punitive Action (NPA) – No Instant Transparency (NIT). Or simple put: NRS = ID + D – NPA – NIT.
See the formulaic elements. While instant transparency and quick punitive action, as also discretion, can be taken care of externally either by instituting a system in place as in the case of the first two or by removing or limiting the third, not so the other element –intellectual dishonesty – because it is one which can only be appropriated from within and not taught or imposed from without. In a way, intellectual dishonesty will put pay and decimate all trappings of instant transparency and quick punitive action – and foil foisting an Arm’s Length System (ALS), the ideal to approximate.
Man congenitally is an obsessively possessive epicurean – so aptly captured in the prime minister’s Independence Day speech, mera kya, mujhe kya – the reason why he is more kleptocratic even in a much touted democratic construct; his every behaviour either mimics or at best shrouds through unmistakable posturing such gross instincts. In ideal conditions, his behaviour is impeccable; but when no one is looking around, he does what his primitive instinct prompts him to – to steal and pillage, appropriate unto himself things not Caesar’s, and weave his way around to perpetuate every wrong for himself and his biradiri. It embraces the entire society, every profession and vocation – government, private, corporate – feeding and cross-nepotizing each other and one another as it flits across these divides. Though I would rather not speak to any particular case, it is only the obtuse who can miss out how this cross-fertilization of nepotism shows itself up in today’s world: public officials’ children punching much above their academic weight in bagging blue-chip jobs in the corporate world, postings in high perches and post-retirement sinecures given away as quid pro quo – past, present, and future – are but a few illustrations to emphasize the efficacy of nepotism. Given this scenario, the need is to checkmate this nepotistic man so that the relationship system – spawned in a value-free environ stemming from no scruples and morals – he is congenitally keen to give full rein to, is stymied.
How, then, is one to approximate this? And how likely such a system can be ushered in in an environment where public servants delude telling the world that they are public servants when they are nothing better than serious private servants forever pursuing personal interests, though, to be fair, once in a while – more as an accident than any else – they do something worthy that possibly can qualify as public work? This is when – and why – an arm’s length system that admits of no tinkering needs to be clamped. Inverse the Relationship System (RS) by snuffing out the self-regarding acts and you possibly can think of an Arms’ Length System (ALS) that translates to the following calculus: Arms’ Length System (ALS) = Quick Punitive Action (QPA) + Instant Transparency (IT) – Intellectual Dishonesty (ID) – Discretion (D). More simply put: ALS = QPA + IT – ID – D.
Introducing instant transparency though seemingly easy, isn’t exactly so. While in popular parlance, sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant, it is well to realize that most people are fiercely scared of sunlight. But it is possible, though people will demur at the completeness of wholesale and real-time transparency. Punitive action that is quick and time-bound too doesn’t appear very likely in a democracy where long-winded legal processes and procedures, coupled with legalese mouthed by motormouth lawyers, duly propped up with labyrinthine rules and procedures, can help drag and protect the corrupt for decades on end. It is any one’s guess if we are in a position to work through this maze and bonsai cast-iron punitive measures out of it. Similarly, given the feudal mentality of most networked public officials and the long years of practice they are used to, the issue of discretion that needs to be exercised in a bipartisan manner seems a far cry.