The mercenaries

Jan 23 2013, 02:57 IST
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SummaryChautala sentencing should be a reminder of the urgency to dismantle the ‘spoils’ system in public jobs

That Om Prakash Chautala, former chief minister of Haryana and one of its pivotal political figures, has been handed a ten-year sentence by a Rohini court, along with his son Ajay Chautala and 53 others, is a sobering moment but it is not entirely unexpected. They were convicted for their role in a large-scale fraudulent teacher-recruitment exercise in 2000, when the Indian National Lok Dal was in power. Om Prakash Chautala has had run-ins with the law previously. He was indicted by the Justice K.N. Saikia Commission as an accessory after the fact in the killing of a political rival, and corruption charges have chased him for over a decade. Also, Haryana has a culture of patronage-based appointments — the Congress is in a bind of its own, as the Punjab and Haryana High Court has recently questioned a batch of physical training instructor appointments made in 2010 under the Hooda government’s watch, and also declared the Haryana Staff Selection Commission “non-functional”.

These subversions of the system are, arguably, especially brazen in Haryana, but they are by no means confined to the state. Across the country, in many states, public appointments in the police, schools and other government agencies are largely the gift of politicians, and each change in government brings about a fresh wave of appointments. This is a repudiation of the very basis of merit-based work, and it distorts all the institutions it touches. This “spoils system” means that public employees are defined by their loyalty to political leaders and beholden to them for their jobs, in exchange for cash, support or both. During the previous Samajwadi Party dispensation in Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav recruited more than 18,000 police constables, most of them allegedly drawn from his own political base. When it came to power in 2007, the BSP immediately cancelled these recruitments. Patronage-based appointments skew the incentives of employees, making each level of the system hostage to one or the other political party, rather than oriented towards the public.

In this context, the Chautalas’ conviction serves as a reminder that this situation cannot continue — and also that investigative and legal systems have the capacity to contain it. Insulating and strengthening these systems should be the focus, rather than confused anti-corruption flailing. In Tamil Nadu last year, a group of district collectors defied political pressure and instituted an eligibility-based, transparent process for anganwadi worker recruitment. These are glimmers

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