We have a governmental system inherited from the colonial days, and we have a Constitution to make that government democratic. But the operational mode of
the government has, unavoidably, tried to change to keep pace with what Toffler called the geometrical leaps of modernisation.
And yet, the pace of change is both jerky and slow.
Let's first detect the changes. Most of all, computerisation of records in air, rail and now bus travel has relieved us of uncertainties. So also computerisation of driving licences, income tax and other tax transactions, registration of sale deeds and, now, land records have made life so much easier that we have forgotten the malpractices that were part of manually kept records.
On the other hand, computerisation of police records doesnt by itself guarantee ethical handling so long as the police, like the judiciary, continue to have such widespread discretionary powers. If the police can change the character of investigation by deciding what to use and what to omit as evidence in chargesheet, the judiciary can tilt the scales by the simple device of frequent or long adjournments.
If 40% of ration cards are bogus, it shows how manual records can facilitate the grave undermining of the public distribution system (God bless the proposed food security boon). And, so, too, fake electoral rolls facilitate vote rigging. And both still happen so easily, even after 64 years of Azadi !
So, on a scale of 1 to 10, have we lost or won out in the impact of these changes in our governmental system When I joined the IAS in 1973, there were so few bad apples in the system that they stood out like sore thumbs. What is more, such bad apples generally lay low, and it was only their suddenly and quickly successful progeny entrepreneurs flaunting the ill-gotten family wealth.
But the fast-growing consumerism, starting in the 1980s, has, in fact, put pride in ostentatious showmanship, so that now the corrupt are neither inhibited nor ashamed of their ways. A stage has been reached and, unwaveringly, since 1947, in which the straight neta and the proper babu is so fast diminishing and so singularly isolated that such people become objects of ridicule, like the clownish Musaddi Lal in Office Office.
If it is true that 10-30% of the contracted amount in infra projects is used as speed money, if it is true that most property deals are paid half in cheque and half in black, then it must be true also that 33% of our currency in circulation is unaccountablethat is black !
Which means that no matter how much good technological changes have improved the style of governance, the creeping corruption ensures a decline in substantive governance.
Which also explains why we the second-hand school textbook market that flourished till the end of 20th century has vanished because the textbook mafia can now flourish only if textbooks keep changing !
But, of course, not all is dark! Democracy has not only lasted 60 years, but the neta and the babu are increasingly subject to dissent and questioning from the aam admi. When I joined the IAS in 1973, it was the the merciful
and sensitive power guy who saw all visitors. But now all visitors demand to see the neta and babu and have their way too.
* The author is a retired IAS officer