Nostalgia for the Raj By Kunwar Idris - Saturday 9th April 2011

THE essential job of civil servants is to maintain public order and punish a breach of law. Doctors are under oath to treat the sick. Both were agitating on the streets of Punjab while criminals roamed free and the sick died at the doorsteps of hospitals.
On being reminded of the traditions of public service, officials of both vocations dismissed it as harking back to the dark colonial age. This is true of politics alone, and it must not go unsaid that the colonial era was also one when trains ran on time and people could travel from one corner of the subcontinent to the other unmolested.
Running trains and preventing crime are just two of a number of duties that career officials then performed, and must perform now, besides collecting revenue to sustain the government. It was not their concern as to who managed politics and it should not be so now. Shouldn’t we be wondering, as a chronicler of the Raj then wondered, how a few thousand men came to administer so large and diverse a territory with such little use of force for 200 years?
Stalin and von Ribbentrop thought it was absurd for so few to rule so many for so long. The explanation is to be found in what Lord Hastings said at the beginning of the colonial era and Lord Wavell when it was coming to an end. “It is on the virtue, not the ability of their servants,” Warren Hastings wrote to his masters in London, “the [East India] Company must rely.” Lord Wavell expressed the same thought more humbly: “The British would be remembered not by this institution or that, but by the ideal they leave behind of what a public servant should be.”
The institutions since then have been crumbling and the public servants, as a class, even if they retain some ability, have lost their virtue. The reconstruction of institutions, if at all attempted, must take generations for many, and conflicting questions surrounding the ideology and laws remain to be resolved.Public servants can rediscover their moral roots more easily and quickly as they lie, whether one likes it or not, in a more recent colonial past. It is no stigma; it is just acknowledging a reality.
The duty of a career public servant — a magistrate, a doctor or an engineer — requires him to do no more than assure the welfare of the citizens and enable them to pursue their vocations in peace and good health.
The Economist in a recent issue identified four strands that have made Pakistan an unstable, intolerant and violent society.
First, differences over the place of religion in the state; second, an urge to wage jihad in neighbouring territories; third, the dominance of the armed forces; fourth, and most important, rotten governance.
The magazine chiefly blames the politics of patronage and dynasty for the uselessness of the government. More to be blamed, in the view of this writer, is vanishing merit and virtue in the permanent civil services. In its wider application, it would include doctors, engineers, judges and whoever else is paid from the public revenues.
The political leaders of the other former British colonies — India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia — in the region have been treating their civil servants much better. And that is the chief reason for their being more stable, less violent and having faster-growing economies. In this context, a particularly disturbing comparison is that of Indonesia and Pakistan. Indonesia spends 20 per cent of its GDP on education, Pakistan only one and a half per cent. In defence it is the other way round; Pakistan spends 16 per cent, Indonesia only four per cent.
Arbitrary and unfair treatment of civil servants in Pakistan has bred indiscipline among them. Their ability and virtue are lost in the very process of recruitment and promotions.
Now they tend to agitate and go on strike as industrial workers do. Whatever the failings of the politicians, or of their own professional superiors, civil servants must seek remedies for their grievances only through means permitted in their code of conduct.
Without meaning to sit on judgment on the demands of the Punjab doctors, it is hard to imagine how they can be paid or otherwise compensated better than their counterparts in engineering and science, magistracy, tax collection, etc.
Already, only a pittance — it is believed less than five per cent of the allocation for health — remains available for medicines after doctors have been paid.
Public servants in the colonial period and for some years after were not only able and virtuous, they were also frugal and compassionate. Here are two instances from my experience. An Englishman who had been district magistrate in Karachi before independence, walked into his old office some time in the 1960s not to see the incumbent (this writer) but to enquire about the welfare of his old peon. He told me he used to travel to Thatta (which was then a part of Karachi district) by bus and go round the city riding a Victoria.
Ten years after independence a batch of 10 civil service probationers, this writer among them, called on the establishment secretary before proceeding abroad for training. There were not enough chairs in his room for all of them. On a hot and humid August day in Karachi, Mr Hardy, last of the ruling caste, sat in a barrack with windows open. Today one has only to go to a complex of Sindh government secretariats to see a horde of local Hardys with their air-conditioners whirring.
The agitating doctors and civil servants must ponder what the people’s verdict would be if their higher wages and perks were to be put to popular vote as nostalgia for the colonial days grows.

Source :

No comments:

Post a Comment