Polity needs Varna ethic – Sandhya Jain

Sandhya Jain“The ancient Hindu Varna system is not an intrinsic social hierarchy (like the British class system) but a hierarchy of values. It commands the intellectual class to pursue and preserve knowledge for the social good, and not misuse monopoly over knowledge to accrue undue profit for itself.” – Sandhya Jain

Pratibha PatilIn a powerful acknowledgement of the national mood towards the questionable accumulation of wealth by persons in high posts, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has suggested President Pratibha Patil consider if she would like to make her assets and those of her family members public, in the manner in which the Prime Minister did for himself and his cabinet in May 2009. Information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi feels this would “set a good example in transparency”, though he lacks the authority to insist on the matter.

At stake for the nation is the issue of the exercise of power without a moral dimension and public good. Amidst growing concerns about corruption in high office, the Prime Minister has moved from demanding annual declaration of assets by cabinet ministers to asking them to dissociate from businesses doing commerce with Government.

In this respect, Dr Manmohan Singh has drawn upon one of the most powerful concepts of Indian civilization, viz. that rulers must maintain a distinction from the commercial classes, and not merge with them to the detriment of society and nation. The ancient Hindu Varna system is not an intrinsic social hierarchy (like the British class system) but a hierarchy of values. It commands the intellectual class to pursue and preserve knowledge for the social good, and not misuse monopoly over knowledge to accrue undue profit for itself.

In like manner, the ruling class (politicians, bureaucrats) is mandated not to (mis)use the power of the State to acquire wealth that would not accrue to it but for the possession of power. In other words, those desirous of acquiring material wealth must pursue it legitimately in trade, industry or the professions. Politics is about regulating the society and protecting the state; it cannot be used to pervert the polity and/or the economy in favour of a chosen few.

Under the mantra of liberalisation and globalization, however, the innate Indian regard for propriety has given way to the mixing of boundaries of politician-bureaucrat-businessman (and now NGO), and thus tainted them all. In the current instance, Dr Singh’s insistence that his colleagues follow a code of conduct follows the surfacing of allegations that the textiles minister was ignobly involved in the 2G spectrum scam.

Manmohan SinghDr Singh, who hoped to soar in the stratosphere of international diplomacy after winning his second tenure in 2009 after convincing the nation that the Indo-US nuclear deal was a good thing, has since been inundated with scams within his government. Picking up the rule book, he has ordered his cabinet colleagues to declare their business interests, assets and liabilities, as also those of their spouses and dependents. Perhaps fittingly, the directive covers ministers in state governments where most of the corruption occurs, particularly in the extraction of natural resources which are national assets.

Interestingly, in response to the Prime Minister’s directive, Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath listed 23 companies in which he or his family has a “business interest”; Corporate Affairs Minister Murli Deora declared his wife has “pecuniary interest” in two companies and each has one proprietorship firm.

Political circles view the timing of the business-link disclosure demand as a signal to Dayanidhi Maran, who, it is alleged, as minister for IT and Communications from 2004 to 2007, favoured associates with telecom licenses and spectrum. Specifically, the CBI is investigating allegations that Mr Maran compelled Sterling Group chairman C. Sivasankaran to sell his stake in Aircel to Malaysian billionaire T. Anand Krishnan’s company Maxis Communications Berhad.

Mr Krishnan is reportedly linked to the Maran family’s Sun TV network. Moreover, in his last declaration to the PM, Maran did not disclose his or his family’s business interests, and merely disclosed his equity shares in DK Enterprises Pvt Ltd and Reliance Industries, and a social organisation in the name of his late father Murasoli Maran.

Dayanidhi MaranEven should the allegations prove untrue, the trend of large business families sending a scion into politics to protect and promote the family interests is alien to the Indian ethos. It originates in the Western corporate culture of circulating a chosen set of individuals through the revolving doors of politics, economics, higher education, think tanks, NGOs, and so on. This is designed to serve the interests of the puppet masters, while outwardly maintaining the forms of democracy and the rhetoric of infusing fresh talent and energy in critical spheres of public life. This is a sham and needs to be discouraged as it is becoming endemic across the political spectrum, and reinforces the rising role of black money in elections and politics.

A welcome aspect of the Prime Minister’s new initiative is the demand for information about the employment of any family member(s) of any minister with a foreign government in India or abroad, or any foreign organization. Given the oblique manner in which foreign agencies make inroads into strategic households in third world countries, this inquiry should cover foreign NGOs like Amnesty International (founded by an MI6 official). The Prime Minister’s missive is explicit that in cases where a wife or dependent is employed with a foreign establishment prior to the person becoming a minister, the PM shall decide whether or not the employment should continue. The general rule, it is stressed, is that there should be total prohibition on employment with a foreign mission.

Adarsh Housing ScamThis is unexceptionable, but the rule should immediately cover IAS officers as well, as over the past two decades many have set up lucrative NGOs in the names of their spouses, which are recipients of generous Western funding.

So far, following the Adarsh housing society scam in Mumbai, where land was procured in the name of Kargil widows and flats distributed to the well-heeled, a group of ministers has submitted its recommendations on restricting ministerial discretionary quota. The sooner these are implemented the better.

In consonance with the growing demand for probity, the CIC has directed the Rajya Sabha Secretariat to disclose details of private and pecuniary interests declared by MPs, including their commercial and business interests and remunerative positions held by them. Chief Information Commissioner Satyendra Mishra said disclosure of the precise business interests of MPs helped avoid conflict between an MP’s business interests and decision-making or legislative activity relating to those interests. In other words, the rule that politicians should not use politics to do business is eternally valid and needs urgent reinstatement.

» Sandhya Jain is the editor of www.vijayvaani.com