Friday, December 26, 2014

Bureaucrats as Robber Barons

All over  the subcontinent the bureaucrat has a bad reputation. Files are always pending, money changes hands, there is too close an alliance between bureaucrats and politicians, women are  marginalised. When criminality is rampant, then bribes are seen as being only that ‘mild an event’ as tax evasion. Nepotism and clan loyalties are seen to be normal, as is favouring of friends and loyal subordinates.
Max Weber defined bureaucracy as that which entailed a system of rules, of codification, of accounting and ledger keeping, of objectivity, where time ruled, and measurement was the ultimate index of modernity. The contract is the best example of legal domination, as an aspect of bureaucracy.
 Bureaucracy is about types of legitimate domination. Domination is the probability (according to Weber,) that certain specific commands or all commands will be obeyed by certain persons. He says that obedience intrinsically implies consent. There is an ‘interest’ in obedience.  There is a mutual comprehension of the rules which are laid down. Authority and its order represents the organisation and its staff, which is present. This is a group which is specialised to carry out the commands and to execute specific policy. Material interest is not a sufficient criterion, nor is fear. Something larger keeps the organisation together, and these elements are emotion as well as ideal attributes. There is also the presence of custom and traditional habits, as well as the expectation of personal advantage. Tying it all together is the belief in its overall legitimacy.

Authority thus rests on consent, and it will be different in each location. The authority that the director of an organisation has over the clerks, is different from that which informs the relation between lord and vassal, or lord and slave. Satish Saberwal argued in Wages of Segmentation (Orient Blackswan) that bureaucracy in India is enmeshed in village and caste and clan loyalties, that because industrialisation was imposed on us in the 19th century, the real adaptative process never took place. Namely, the West had four hundred years to adapt to factory and laboratory, and in India, it was imposed on us from above, with no democratic or engaged discussion.
Weber states that there is an appropriate attitude, and a corresponding one in conduct.  Loyalty may be hypocritical or it may be opportunistic and marked by self interest. People may submit because there is no alternative, out of fear or helplessness. Because the type of authority exhibited is seen as valid, whether customary or legal,  the subjects confirm their submission.
Obedience means that the form and the content of imposition coincide and the command is the basis of any action performed for its own sake. What is registered, for Weber, is the formal aspect of consent, not the negotiatory attitude of the actor in relation to the value, or the lack of value, of the content of the command. One of the most classical examples of such an attitude is the case of Nazi brutality recorded by Hannah Arendt, where the bureaucrat is never responsible, for the order came from above. Weber also states that that the chief and his staff presenting themselves as servants to those they rule does not take away the aspect of domination.
The whistle blower therefore becomes imbued with charismatic power, and is welcomed by citizens, because he/she is fearless and able to communicate his version in opposition to that of the  partisan bureaucrat. 
Robber Barons use state machinery to get past laws in the contract by saying that 'the people need it' or 'want it'. They revel in saying that they break rules. This is obviously illegal. In the same way, the bureaucrat, in judicial positions can clear the actions of his  criminal patrons because there are no witnesses, and their families have been killed, neglected or silenced.
The  partisan bureaucrat, when acting in a friendly and intimate fashion, can reorder reality by promoting the good of some people over the good of the citizens whom he  purportedly serves.  Since the process of going to the courts is a disruption of daily duties and obligations, the bureaucrat as robber baron, who has government employees as lawyers working for him, can create tremendous obstacles to the real issues surfacing. He/she is the government, and he/she acts on behalf of the State, but in reality, he/she projects a world view that is both unethical and illegal. Since bureaucracy and its contracts are linked with personages and with codified or inscribed materials, the robber baron bureaucrat is well able to relieve honest officers of their duty or to transfer them, where they cannot be of harm to him/her. Yet,even with digitalisation of files, all materials are up for scrutiny, and so opaque and self gratifying acts become visible to all, unless we are functioning in an oligarchy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Foggy Christmas

I woke up at 4 am, and looked through the grille door to see if the star I had put out was out. My daughter and son in law had bought it  for me, two months ago from Dastkar Dilli Haat, in an obscure metro- end- of- delhi site. It was red embossed paper work, and promised peacefulness to all where ever it was hung. Many of us, born in the 50s, are secular in disposition, which means celebrating all festivals equally. It also means we enjoy all the government holidays: halwa for guru nanak's birthday, oil diyas from the potter at diwali, kheer for Isaac and his brother Ishmael at Eid, and paper stars at christmas. Traders are generally secular in disposition, since they provide goods and utensils and ornaments at fairs around religious sites. Once the international companies joined the fray, then diwali became embossed in cards and gifts in crystal and gold, and equally new year and christmas got incorporated in new styles of merry making. The quiet of home became replaced with traffic jams and shopping. I missed all the new changes in festivities, because I basically stayed home, and never set out to do anything at all. I like the calm of being at home, and experience the joy of the festival, including making kheer on Eid, because nothing takes away the sense of being Here and Now. Sometimes, friends come over on Christmas, but quite often, there is only the children and me at home, sleeping late and generally enjoying the holiday, so the Good Governance day injunction has gone by without any discernible change in our life, rather like Haloween Day, which is now celebrated in Delhi, quite arbitrarily, where Death roves so free and without chains. I suppose the bourgeoisie, even in radical outposts like universities, feel at home in the world wherever they are, since their meals are always taken care of, and they have all the other seven attributes of the human rights charter. Can we make it easier for others? That's the question I always pedagogically ask my self.
The fog has made one wonder if climate change will result in snow one winter in Delhi. Like an artificial desert, we now have extreme climates, which leave one completely breathless, whether it is the sudden plummeting from 22 degrees to 4 degrees C, without warning, or in April, we suddenly let our bodies roast in 36 degrees, after a sudden shift from  blowing dust to white heat. And then it goes upto 46 degrees, and we run out early in the morning to buy cucumbers and melons and limes to see us through the heat of the day. Adaptation is the only trick we have up our sleeve, and while we freeze in winter, we just cannot remember the summer. The fog lifts, the sun comes out, the squirrels and the birds venture out, and so do we. When the sun goes away for two days, we think we are entering a tunnel without light, and hope for it to pass. Yet, when one wears coat and shoes and scarf, the winter is bearable, and the early morning glimmer of light at 8 a.m seems shockingly beautiful.